Our best ever harvest

This year our hives at Hughenden have given us more than 208 lbs of honey. We plough everything back into our project and take pleasure in sharing with the public who come to our regular ‘Meet the Beekeeper’ sessions during the summer. Most recently we held these on both Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th October. The weather was kind and we had plenty of honey for visitors. Due to the mild weather, the bees seemed to want to try and get their honey back as we were based in the sheltered walled garden.  There must be an increase in the popularity of sewing as a hobby, as we use some of the beeswax to make what we call sewing eggs.  This means people can use them to wax thread which makes it easier to use and less likely to tangle.IMG_00642014-08-19 15.26.192013-08-23 12.24.08

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Listen to the buzz

Our whole team benefits from interaction with other beekeepers – and even our visitors enlighten us at times.  Some of the team had been to a talk about Arnia equipment at HWBKA.  We are lucky enough to have some of the monitors but the latest versions have some advantages – for example using solar power for the gateway, and the chance that a swarm could be predicted. One of the other options later than our original purchase is the scales for a hive.  There was some discussion about the forecast of a swarm.  I mentioned the Woods Apidictor which not everyone had come across.  There is a summary here. At one stage it looked as though there would be an iPhone app I could download but unfortunately it has been discontinued and though the source code is still available, my programming skills aren’t up to it.

The sound of swarming must have been on our minds as we completed our inspection, especially as one of our number was manning HWBKA swarm line phone. Suddenly we did hear what sounded like a swarm and our eyes searched the surroundings for that tell  tale dark clump of bees. Then I spotted the culprit – a drone darting about just above us.  Odd because NT properties should be drone free zones. So, if you spot any footage that includes a gaggle of beekeepers staring up from the ground, do let us know!

They seem quite an orange bunch

This swarm seems quite an orange bunch

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May in our apiary

May 1st was a ‘Meet the Beekeepers’ session at Hughenden. Despite the rain at times, the audience just raised their umbrellas rather than disappear inside.  So heartwarming to know so many people think fondly about bees.

We have changed our regular inspection day from Tuesday afternoon toWednesday morning.  It is weekly during the summer. Today was glorious day and even before we opened the hives the bees were very active.  There was also a bumble bee bumbling around in the sunshine.

Once a month (on the 2nd Wednesday of the month) we have a meeting first.  Today one of our members brought along some fabric his wife had dyed using a hammering method.IMG_0060

The (second hand) description we had explained fabric, hammer and greaseproof paper was required.  I found a link which seems to echo this though was to print on paper and used kitchen towel rather than greaseproof.

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The beekeeping cycle

The wonderful yearly rhythm of our beekeeping means we have almost always previously covered what is happening at the moment.

In the last few weeks we harvested the honey for the year as we head for the quieter winter season. It is selling like hot cakes and the clear golden liquid shines with freshness.


It takes the bees twice as much effort to make beeswax as honey. In the first episode of the new serial ‘Victoria’ there was some discussion about economy in the palace and they tried inferior tallow candles which caused some problems. In the early Victorian era we still relied on candles, though gaslight became more common during her reign before electricity was available everywhere. A tale from my family is that an Aunt said she loved the coming of electricity as she could see better to light the gas lamps. Today, our electricity could be generated from solar energy.

We have also continued to monitor pollen brought into our hives as part of a research project and we have welcomed more lovely visitors to our Meet the beekeepers events.

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We have made more candles and used our new extractor.

The life of the bees has not altered much, unless it is from threats our human activity throws at them.

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Thermal imaging – another tool to help our visitors understand our beekeeping?

I’ve just been reading up about thermal imaging – in particular the FLIR camera lens for IOS.

There is a great article here http://honeybeesuite.com/thermal-images-of-winter-bees/ – this blog from Rusty is so good that every beekeeper should read it – regularly.  One aspect that caught my attention was the fact she said it was male beekeepers sending her these geeky images.  At school and beyond I have often found myself more in tune with males than females and I certainly lust after this wonderful lens.  However, there is a certain irony in the fact a hive of honeybees is female dominated.

I think part of the intrigue I have for this is the level of information it can give. At our volunteer project sited at Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire, UK we constantly strive to impart our knowledge to our visitors. So many seem as concerned as we are for the plight of the bees and yet we cannot easily show them the fascination of the inside of the hive without risking stings.

This video https://youtu.be/0_Vj-i8kSII is from another interested beekeeper and shows some stills over winter 2011 / 2012.  he explains he has removed some data as he was interested in the position of the cluster and the different temperature profiles in different hives – such as polystyrene versus wooden.  With an indication of temperature in different parts of the hive location of the colony should be straightforward in winter without diturbing the colony.  It should also be possible to determine whether there is ny brood present – for example last winter I avoided giving oxalic acid treatment because the bees seemed still to have young. The additional data from a thermal image would be great.

It crosses my mind that if a local beekeeping group had access to such a camera – whether a BKA or a volunteer group such as that which runs our project – then letting others use that camera or lens can gve quite a number of people the extra knowledge that helps them manage their colonies effectively. A continuous recording of thh data is not really necessary.  In winter, a beekeeper thermal imaging safari round the apiaries of several beekeepers could be very interesting.  I wonder whether there is anyone out there who could lend us a camera or lens? Perhaps a supplier or manufacturer would let us borrow one in exchange for photos they could use for advertisement?  FLIR seem to be market leaders, but I wonder whether GOPro have any intention to move into this area?

Certainly it is something I will share with the project at our next meeting.  I doubt we can justify the expense though the help it could provide with our educational remit could be significant. It looks as though the man who posted the thermal images has had to give up beekeeping – read why here http://mikesbeekeeping.blogspot.co.uk/


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Tuesday afternoon inspections

During the Summer season, Tuesday afternoons, weather permitting, the Hughenden beekeepers can be found at work.  We look at the bees to check all is well.

We have had a busy few weeks as we adjust to the various issues. For example, we combined two hives neither of which was doing very well.  If you looked at this combined hive you might have wondered why we had given them a newspaper to read. When small colonies are combined, we need to make sure there is only one queen. We also need to guard against bees in one colony rejecting the other colony to the extent the queen could be killed. If we separate the two with a sheet of newspaper, there is every chance that the various indicators that show a bee is from a different colony will have merged to such an extent that the bees from the two colonies can live in harmony by the time shey have eaten through the sheet of newsprint.

A young visitor at our Tuesday afternoon inspection.

A young visitor at our Tuesday afternoon inspection.

We have also replaced a couple of queen bees, to improve our stock.  When buying queens, they are purchased with a small entourage of worker bees. In a similar way, if we just emptied them into a colony, they would be identified as ‘foreign’ and risk being killed.  If they arrive by post, they will be in a tiny ventilated cage with a small plug of sugar paste at one end.  If this can be suspended inside the cage, there is a chance that by the time the bees have eaten the plug of sugar, they forget they wanted to kill the alien queen.

Amongst this we have also taken part in a research project which involves putting on pollen traps and reporting the pattern of pollen from 3 of our hives as well as our ongoing task of speaking to those visitors who stop and ask us what we are up to.  Today we spoke to several people, including a young visitor intrigued with the electronic monitoring equipment inside the hives.  He had just built his own computer, having costed everything on a spreadsheet and tested each step of the build.

To read more about our pollen project

Or about our hive monitoring equipment

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It warms the heart…


We love going into schools and sharing our enthusiasm about bees. We have even had schools come for a Bee Day at Hughenden Manor and we are frequently pleased at our young visitors enthusiasm.  It is usually Keith who visits schools. In my mind he looks the part and he enchants his audiences.

Last week he shared with me some of his thank you letters.

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Illustrated thank you letters

One pair of thank you letters

One pair of thank you letters

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