Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The importance of beeing a beekeeper -Part 2

We become beekeepers

Bright and early on Saturday 2nd May, we drove to Mann Lake UK near Canterbury in Kent, to collect our nucleus of bees. In my mind a nucleus is something quite small, maybe I'm thinking of atoms or something. But a nucleus  (or nuc) of bees is actually approximately 5000 of these amazing little creatures, shut inside something that looks not much bigger than a shoebox!

Mann Lake UK is a fascinating place to visit. The shop is tucked away at the end of a trading estate on farmland, in a big farm building, overlooking beautiful orchards. Inside is an Aladdin's cave, filled to the rafters (literally) with beekeeping paraphernalia.

I felt a little daunted, but Mr PB walked straight in, gripping a shopping list of essential items. We were greeted by some friendly members of staff, and explained we had come to collect our bees. While they went off to get our nuc, we picked up a red hive tool, a pack of sting wipes, some Pro-Sweet Invert Bee Syrup, a Boardman Entrance Feeder and a Jack's Scale honey colour grader (feeling optimistic!).

Another couple offered us some advice on transporting the bees in the car, we have a hatchback, and I really didn't fancy a car full of bees should anything untoward happen on the half hour drive home! Thankfully it was uneventful, there was just a constant low buzz coming from the back seat of the car.

beekeeping suit gauntlets
Suiting Up!
Note the jeans tucked into the socks :)
Beekeeping installing bees Top Bar Hive TBH
I keep a safe distance
As soon as we were home, Mr PB donned his beekeepers jacket with integral hood and veil (purchased from ebay), and took the nuc box out to the Top Bar Hive at the end of our garden.

Now, we don't have a particularly large garden, approximately  13m x 13m, and I had some serious concerns about the bees and whether I'd still be able to garden during 'flying hours'. Was the garden going to be inundated by a plague of bees? Was I going to be chased and stung every time I ventured outside minding my own business? But it was too late, and Mr PB really wanted this, so I couldn't object too hard.

We'd bought a nuc box rather than a 'package', which is a box of loose bees. With a nuc, the bees and Queen are already populating five 'frames', the sort that fit a National or WBC hive, contained in a special cardboard box with a bung plugging the entrance. The fledgling colony use the wax foundation to squirrel away collected stores, and there is brood already developing in the brood cells. The idea being that you simply, and with as little stress to the bees as possible, pop the nuc frames straight into your hive. But normally bees for Top Bar Hives are purchased in a package, and the bees are treated a bit like a collected swarm, being shaken into the top of the hive and left to start building their own comb from scratch, which is obviously a lot of work for a young colony. The main reason for this is to do with the comb bees make when left to their own devices. Natural comb is a beautiful 'U' shape, the bees form themselves into daisy chains, one bee hanging from the one before. Imagine the shape a piece of string when it is held between two points. It drapes in a beautiful  curve... that's what the bees do too, I've seen it!

Beekeeping bees
Release the bees!
Beekeeping nucleus Top Bar Hive TBHTop Bar hives are trapezoidal in cross section, which echoes the natural shape of the comb, but manmade frames are rectangular ... probably because it's easier to manufacture! But trying to fit a rectangle into a similarly sized trapezoid doesn't work, the frame can't sit down deep enough in the hive. The only option is to be drastic, and cut the bottom corners off the frame, pry the bottom and side bars away from the foundation, and using a bread knife trim the foundation until the remaining bar rests perfectly on the side walls of the hive and the remaining foundation is able to hang perfectly vertical.

Beekeeping bees entrance Top Bar Hive (TBH)
Making themselves at home
But Mr PB was concerned that the bees had endured a long car journey, and probably wouldn't be very impressed about a 'chop & crop' job (demonstrated here by Phil Chandler the Barefoot Beekeeper)! After removing the bung from the nuc box, Mr PB made a space in between the 'bars' of the hive, and positioned the entire box inside. The bees got the hang of the entrance location and within minutes they were taking off, circling to orientate themselves, and then zipping off into the big blue sky.

After just a few hours Mr PB realised that the nuc box would need to be removed and the frames installed into the hive properly, but that was a job for tomorrow...

Continued in Part 3

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Importance of Beeing a Beekeeper - part 1

Building the Top Bar Hive kit

For years now, Mr PB has been reading about and talking about beekeeping.

You may remember that we bought a Beepol Bumble Bee lodge from Dragonfli, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having a Bumble Bee colony in the garden. They were fascinating!

We were devastated when the lodge became infested with Wax Moth larvae and we lost all the bees. It would appear that other people had experienced the same issues though, because the following year when we ordered another Beepol, Dragonfli had added some Wax Moth deterrents to their range.

We tried, we really did. We installed the special anti-Wax Moth door, but again, the colony were overcome by the horrid larvae and the crazy silky webs they create. Dragonfli have since introduced a Wax Moth Concentrated Repellent, which you dilute and spray all over the hive every 2-3 weeks for full protection. We haven't tried it, so can't comment on it's effectiveness.

This year, Mr PB decided he was going to put all his research into practice, and build himself a Top Bar Hive, a more natural method of keeping honeybees which is championed here in the UK by Phil Chandler, The Barefoot Beekeeper. I made contact with Phil via Twitter, and asked him if he felt there were any advantages to a Warre (pron: Wah rey) hive over a Horizontal Top Bar Hive. Phil was incredibly helpful, and we decided that we would stick with the horizontal type.

beekeeping top bar hive kit
Hive on it's back, showing long bee entrance
Beekeeping top bar hive kit
Two ends on
After investigating the options and cost implications of either building from scratch, or building from a kit, Mr PB bought a cedar self assembly kit from Bees n Blossom on Ebay. It looked really good, but the instructions were absolutely impossible to follow, and building was a lengthy, sweary process!!

beekeeping top bar hive kit
Mesh grille fitted to the bottom
Beekeeping top bar hive kit             
Part of the ventilation underneath
These are some photos of the early stages, it took so long that I kind of lost interest (oops) and didn't bother to document any more than this.
Time was against us though, as this was the end of April (2015), and our bees were going to be ready for collection at the beginning of May!!
Eventually the darn thing was finished, and sited next to the greenhouse, it looked super!

Beekeeping top bar hive kit
Hive with legs on, showing the viewing panel on the front

Now on to Part 2...

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Garden and Life Progress - Three years later - Mind the gap please!

It's almost 3 years since my last post, but so much has happened in that space of time.


I am not surprised I was feeling a little 'blah' about gardening when I wrote my last post. It turns out I was quite ill. I had been diagnosed with Endometriosis, but later I found out I also had Folate Deficiency Anaemia and Adenomyosis! Aren't I greedy! I was in constant, agonising pain, feeling dizzy and faint, and in a hormonal nightmare.

I'm 41 now, and never had any intention of having children, so after evaluating the risk factors, having a lot of discussion and a lot of soul searching I went into hospital in February this year, and had a total abdominal hysterectomy. It has taken a long time to recover, my 15cm scar can be quite sore at times and oddly numb, but I've pushed myself a little more each day, and six months later I can honestly say I have never felt so well. I don't need horribly strong painkillers or constant hot water bottles anymore. I'm on Hormone Replacement Therapy, and take a minute Folic Acid tablet to keep my Folate level up. No more pain, no more bleeding, no more fainting! Whoohoo!

Gardener's Society:

I decided to withdraw from the Gardener's Society in it's entirety. As my crafting and jewellery making flourished, and my involvement with the Society increased, my gardening time reduced and it became such a chore - that surely isn't the point of being a gardening society member. I get too involved in things too quickly and this was just the same. As a Committee member I felt obligated to go to every talk, every excursion, every meeting. It just wasn't for me. I'm delighted that my resignation had no detrimental affect on the Society and it continues without me.

Felling Leylandii trees
The wall of green from our upstairs window


Having repeatedly discussed the monumental Leylandii hedge, which was in our neighbour's garden, forming part of the boundary between our garden and theirs, both parties agreed that if we took responsibility for removing the trees, then we could have the land that they stood on. It was the full width of our garden, approximately 13 metres, and would add about 3 metres to the length. That may not sound much, but the trees overhung our garden so far and so densely that only half the garden would get wet when it rained. The trees constantly shed dead 'needles', turning the lovely soil mix in the raised beds into inhospitable acid, and the grass was parched and yellowing.

Felling Leylandii trees
Leylandii half felled
Getting the trees taken down by a tree surgeon was the easy part, taking one man a week and a half. The next challenge was getting the stump and roots out, so that we could drop the soil level down by about a metre to match our finished garden level. The stumps and roots were enormous! The fibres were so dense that they seemed to be fossilised. The trees had been planted on a spoil heap containing bricks, tiles, broken asbestos sheets and goodness knows what. It was impossible to get a stump grinder up to the top of the stump, the roots would not yield to encouragement from mechanical diggers, and chainsaws were instantly blunted by the detritus embedded in the roots. The tree surgeon, a second tree surgeon and our builder Fred (from Just Patios) all scratched their heads.

We'd started, so we had to finish! In desperation we went out and bought a jet washer and a chainsaw of our own.

Leylandii tree stumps felling
This remaining stump was below the original ground level
Felling Leylandii trees
They WILL come out!!
We  washed those stumps 'til the bark peeled off, the clay soil turned to pudding and I looked like I'd been dumped head first into a First World War trench. Every now and again we'd attack the mud with spades and hand trowels. The chainsaw and reciprocating saw nearly disassembled themselves trying to cut through the soaking wet, fibrous timber. Finally, after about 2 weeks of constant battle after work and at weekends, aided during the day by our builder and his brother Mark, the first stump fell! The sense of relief was enormous. During that week the builder, spurred on by our physical endeavour, managed to remove all the stumps - it was a hard-fought victory.

Garden hard landscaping
Fred begins the final stage of hard landscaping
Garden hard landscaping
Where the Leylandii tree stumps were
Fred progressed with the rest of the landscaping very quickly. Retaining walls, fences and patio were completed at the end of the garden, where the Leylandii had once stood. Fred took a little rest from us (probably in a darkened room!).

A note about Fred - He is awesome! He is fast, thorough, is very accurate with his time estimations for jobs, arrives when he says he will and works like a demon. Fred landscaped our first garden, front and back, and then we broke it to him that we had bought a plot of land to self-build on. He demolished the old building that stood on the plot, laid out and dug all the footings, unofficially project managed, sourced tradesmen, helped us lay out the under floor heating, fitted plasterboard throughout and landscaped the garden front and back - he is a machine! I'm sad that we've run out of jobs for him to do, because he is a brilliant, trust-worthy, devilishly witty contractor, and we miss him.

Garden hard landscaping
Perimeter fencing and raised beds done
When Fred returned, he built me two long raised brick beds and one taller square one. We bought in cubic metre bags of 20mm gravel, sand, compost and course-grade vermiculite. Weed suppressing membrane was laid at the bottom of each bed, a layer of gravel, then sand, and then a mix of compost and vermiculite were added. The square bed became home to a small apple tree on M27 rootstock, variety 'Scrumptious' from The Potted Garden, Bearsted. We then created a hedge around it in lavender 'Munstead' from Stone Green Nurseries, Pluckley.

 The two long raised beds became Square Foot Gardening beds, with the addition of wooden grids laid on the surface. Once Fred had completed the paving between the Square Foot beds, we took the opportunity to buy a beautiful Swallow Greenhouse and potting shed.

Garden Square Foot vegetable beds planted
Square Foot veg beds planted up

I purchased some excellent vegetable plug plants from Victoriana Nursery, Challock for Autumn, mostly brassicas. All performed very well, and in fact, some are still in the ground. I also purchased Asparagus plants, Strawberry plants and over-wintering peas. The peas were not successful, but I put that down to me and the manky weather. The Asparagus and Strawberries are doing superbly well. The Asparagus may not crop for a year or two, but the strawberries have been delicious, even the little mouse that lives in the tree ivy thinks so!

That just left two major life goals to achieve...bees and chickens!

Garden Swallow Potting Shed
Swallow Potting Shed
Garden Swallow Greenhouse
Swallow Greenhouse