Nice little explanation video

We have been quite impressed by our Arnia equipment though we feel we are still on a learning curve.  It gives us valuable data and we need to learn then refine our interpretation of the data – we are probably still just using it simplistically.  This BBC video gives a good overview. BBC video, Arnia bee hive monitor

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Hughenden beekeepers join the C.S.I. Pollen Project by Janet Pascoe

Janet is sending the photos soon, but I thought I’d publish and add them later as it is so long since we posted.

Next time you see bees on flowers, look closely to try and spot the pollen basket contents on each of the bees’ hind legs: usually you’ll see a yellow blob, a mixture of dry pollen and nectar and/or honey.

Pollen is an important protein source for bee larvae (grubs): 120–145 mg is needed to rear a single worker from larva to adult and there can be up to 50 000 workers in a hive in summer. Pollen composition varies between different plants: 16–30% protein, 1–10% fat, 1–7% starch though little sugar, and many vitamins. It seems that pollen from many different plants may be needed to rear healthy bees.

Although an international study found associations between heavy colony losses and regions where bees have access to intensively grown flowering crops such as oilseed rape, it’s yet not known whether these losses are the result of pesticide use, or lack of different pollen types and thus poor colony nutrition.

We know little about pollen diversity in Britain and Ireland, so last year (2014) citizen scientists joined those from Europe and elsewhere to gather more information. Now, in 2015, thanks to the gift of three pollen traps from the C.B. Dennis British Beekeepers’ Research Trust, Hughenden beekeepers are taking part in this study.

When the trap is set, bees must pass through a vertical mesh screen to get into the hive – you can see the end of it on the right hand side – and the pollen is knocked off their legs into the basket below. After 24 hours we open the trap, collect the sample and count the number of different colours.

Probably every colour comes from a different plant (for example, black pollen is likely to have come from poppies), though this will have to be confirmed by examining the grains under a microscope. You can see that each colony has worked different plant combinations.

We’ve sent our data to the University of Graz in Austria where, together with everyone else’s results, it’ll be subjected to statistical analysis. With such a large amount of evidence we are confident that the information gained will help us improve survival chances both for bees and other pollinators. Disraeli’s assertion that ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics’ definitely won’t apply to these results!

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Honey prices 2014

After a few years without much of a honey harvest, we at least have some for our visitors.  We find many visitors (especially the young) like a small jar they can obtain at pocket money prices but we do also have larger jars.  Rather than price them up we ask for donations with a guideline to avoid our bees work being undervalued too much.


I thought I’d look at supermarket prices of honey and was shocked to see prices as low as about £2.  We had a lovely note from someone who had a large jar of our honey saying it was the best honey she had ever tasted.  It is always so nice to receive some thanks and these days something by snail mail is at a premium especially when it is on pretty notepaper. It made me wonder about the quality of supermarket honey – perhaps a huge portion of the nation have only ever had supermarket blended honey and thus when given the real thing they are delighted.  On the other hand perhaps this lady is a real expert on local honey and her assertion means our honey really is really superior?

And is it harder for us beekeepers to charge a fair price when there are alternatives that are so cheap?

I’m going to add a couple of polls here.  If you are a beekeeper, let us know the price you are charging this year and if you are a consumer, let us know about your buying preferences.





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A magical day

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.

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Honey harvest

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.

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In particular, our competition frame looks as though it could be in with a chance at the honey show.

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We beekeepers worry about our bees most of the time …

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.

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Will we see you at Hughenden Village Day, July 19th?

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.2014-07-15 17.32.54

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