Basking in the late summer sinshine, Hughenden seemed to have an air of magic today. The fruitfulness of autumn seemed to ooze from every nook and cranny. The earlier rain seemed to make the birdsong braver, louder and more insistent. Families with children were just enjoying the warmth and space, no doubt all too aware that when term starts in a few days it will become harder to find time to to bide awhile in such a carefree manner.
Only two of the beekeepting team managed to attend this afternoon, Ray and myself. So we spent a few moments making a plan of campaign. There is honey to be jarred and we had both come equipped with jugs to ease the task. However, with just two we felt we’d not be able to get through in one session and it made more sense to wait until there were more of us so we could get it done in one fell swoop.
I’d come with batteries as our hive monitors were both registering low batteries. The gateway’s chunkier batteries had also been replaced and it had been sent back for an upgrade just a few days before. Ray had wanted to be able to put apiguard on all hives but we were waiting for some to be replaced by one of the team who had borrowed some of our stock so only had 3 treatments. We decided that changing the batteries and putting on the treatments on 3 of the hives was achievable.
Some of the visiting families were intrigued to see us at the hives so we involved them in what we were doing, showing them the debris on the varroa board and there was the rare opportunity for them to see the actual monitoring equipment and the internal workings as I changed the batteries.
When I opened the second monitor I realised the batteries seemed to be loose rather than well held in place. Possibly with the back panel reasonable tightly screwed the batteries still had the connections needed. When the new batteries were inserted they did not seem to be held firmly either, in addition, though new batteries still shrink wrapped were used, they felt slightly moist almost as though they had been packed whilst the paint was still wet so I’ll need to monitor how well it seems to work in case we need to repeat this process.
At this time of year, I know the female school children, especially if they have brothers, seem to delight in how the girls deal with the drones as winter approaches so that is an anecdote I enjoy repeating.
We managed to finish about 4pm having accomplished what we intended, met some lovely visitors interested in our project and still with time to complete the errands we both had on our to do list. As I left, the birds were just as much a joy to listen to as when I arrived.
After a few years with a disappointing amount of honey, we even had two supers on many hives. Our 9 colonies were for the majority 2014 swarms so most honey came frrom the three that had overwintered. We’d hoped to end up with about 60 or 70 lbs of honey so there was great teamwork. My lazier role was to take some photos.
In particular, our competition frame looks as though it could be in with a chance at the honey show.
There have been so many problems recently, that we worry when things are normal. When an abnormality comes around we worry even more and even clam up. That is exactly why there have been fewer posts on here of late. However, our intention was to voice our experiences both good and bad so really we do need to document everything.
A few weeks ago, the seasonal bee inspector called. All was declared well and we relaxed after the tension that is inevitable when we get the call to say she is coming. It is perhaps unfair to mention tension, as the bee inspectors have never been anything but helpful and constructive and I would recommend every beekeeper registers their colonies. However, a couple of days later we received a call that all was not well with a swarm we had just acquired. It had come from an area with EFB and though it looked clear because there was not much comb or brood, the test taken at the time later showed positive.
This meant we had to find a new hive so they could be moved and their old one scorched. The frames needed to be burnt and this meant a pit in the ground – an added complication when our apiary is part of the preserved view in a National Trust property. I had a spare hive which I’d promised the group could borrow for a talk, but it was new and I wasn’t keen to lend it for a colony with disease problems and then return it to my stock. In the end I ‘sold’ it to the group for the price I paid.
Link to EFB information
After the day of burning and moving to a new hive, we had a period of time after which a second inspection would establish whether the colony had become clear or not. During all this time we were not allowed to move bees on or off the site – we were in a sort of quarantine. We had to be extra careful about cleaning hive tools between inspecting different hives and hive hygiene. Those of us with our own bees always are very careful. My strategy is to have two sets of clothes and keep them separate as well as washing them.
We have now had our follow up visit and been given the all clear. It does however remind us that obtaining a swarm is not always the bounty it first appears. In my mind, I also wonder about the way the disease is passed on. In many ways a swarm which leaves behind all young and comb and is housed in a clean hive is much the same as the treatment we had to give to the colony once we knew it had the problem.
Sighs of relief all round and a chance to look forward to the honey harvest.
There won’t be a general National Trust presence but the intrepid beekeepers will be there with some beeswax candles and a new souvenir, some beautifully turned honey dippers.
We’ve been very busy in the apiary and the last entry about swarms was a key to what was happening.
Statutory honey sampling
We’d been on the swarm list to get another colony or two. For those who aren’t beekeepers, each beekeeping association has a swarm line – a phone number that the public can use if they have a swarm appear in their garden which they would rather have removed. Local beekeepers add their name to the list stating whether they can collect themselves or need help and how many colonies they would like. When the public notifies the line of a swarm, the next name on the list will be phoned. Some years there are few swarms and even at the end of the season there are disappointed members. This year has been swarm crazy so we had our allocation as did everyone else on the list. This meant that when a member of the public phoned we could not help them. We had sufficient equipment and so when the an appeal went out either for people to agree to take more colonies or even to temporarily house a colony we felt we should agree. And still the swarms arrived.
In amongst this the bee inspector needed to inspect our bees as there is EFB locally. On the appointed day I was unable to attend but my colleagues were and sent some photos, in particular illustrating the way our honey was to be tested.
At the time of the inspection, it was thought our hives were all completely clear. A week later we had the disappointing news that there was a weak infection in a swarm we had collected. It didn’t show up immediately because it was weak but a few hours later the tell tale signs were visible in the test kit. This mean a panic to get sufficient equipment so we could have the frames all burnt and could clean and scorch the brood box, floor and roof. A pit has to be dug so that the frames to be burnt are actually underground but we couldn’t do that right by our apiary because fires can’t be lit in parts of the property we guard so carefully for the nation..
Our apiary will be checked over the next few weeks and we have a restriction on moving bees and equipment on or off the site. Let’s hope all will be well. It is a worrying time but talking about it is part of our remit to share our experiences.
The swarm arrives.
Brood frames are placed in the new hive.
The swarm is unwrapped.
Having been tipped in, the bees explore their new home.
To close the hive, a crown board is placed on top of the brood box.
A super and feeder are put on top of the crown board.
Finally the roof is put in place
Good weather undoubtedly played its part in encouraging a large number of visitors to make Hughenden their May Bank Holiday destination.
We were delighted that ‘Meet the Beekeepers’ proved extremely popular, though self-satisfaction concerning the size of the audience was quickly dispelled on learning that, from a distance, some had mistaken the stainless steel honey extractor for a tea urn!
No-one seemed disappointed on finding out that we offered instead lots of information about bees and beekeeping, and all our audiences were really interested in learning what was involved. For children our ‘Be-a-Bee’ trail round the garden was a big hit, and the junior bee suit was apparently just the ticket, not only for beekeeping, but also for a trip in a space ship.
The afternoon flew by, but that wasn’t the end of the team’s activities: news of a swarm was received as we were packing up, so we set up another hive and two hurried off, luckily to a pub, for the capture. (Post coming soon)