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...