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

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