Thursday, 14 August 2008

Bees and Honey

Last year we entered the world of beekeeping. Our son had met a beekeeper when he was 12 and was fascinated and it was really thanks to R that a year later we bought our first two hives and honeybee colonies.

However, last year was not a good year to start! We might have had a full 24 hours without rain but if so I was asleep and missed it. In any case, the nectar in the flowers and crops around us were saturated and of not much interest to the poor bees. We had to feed them huge amounts of syrup to build up their supplies for the winter but even so we lost one of the colonies - probably through ignorance as well as the meterological circumstances.

Our remaining colony came through the winter and built itself up during the spring - largely thanks to the oil seed rape in the area. With great excitement we added a super (which is where the bees put our honey as opposed to the brood box where they keep theirs) and gradually they started to build this up and fill it.

At some point the colony swarm. I was irritated as I had been checking the hive and as it's in our garden I pass it several times a day; but I neither anticipated the swarm nor saw it leave or in the area. That's life and again probably due to our inexperience. When a colony swarms you lose about half of the honey collecting bees so your harvest will be badly affected. That's the problem! In addition, I have noticed since this happened that there is very little brood in the hive which worries me as the colony will not be strong enough to survive the winter.

So we decided to take action on two fronts. The first was to harvest the honey already in the super straightaway. The second was to requeen.

We had a great time on Sunday extracting the honey from the frames. I bought a second hand extractor last year and was very grateful to have done so as it makes the job a lot easier and less sticky!! We left the honey to settle for three days and then yesterday we potted it up. Oh the joy of having our own honey at last! We have estimated 5.5 kilos - not exactly enough to make a fortune but certainly enough to keep us in honeyed toast for a while! )We can't resist calculating how much we might get in a good year)

The second decision to requeen was more complicated. It is late in the season to do this and we are taking a risk. I wanted therefore, to find a queen that was a good egg layer and would do her best to build up the colony in a short time. Strange though it may seem I bought a queen from Cyprus as they appear to have a fantastic reputation and the supplier is extremely helpful. She was sent on Monday and arrived TODAY by standard post. Not bad at all.

This afternoon we will start the process by making up a small nucleus colony (six frames instead of 12) and introduce the new queen still in her cage. After a couple of days we will check to see if the bees have accepted her and if so will let her out of the cage. Then about a week later we will re-unite the nucleus with the original hive.

If anyone is interested in the subject of beekeeping I do have some books in my online bookshop (run by Amazon). These are the books I have on my own bookshelf and the Clive de Bruyn especially is one I look at almost every week. Either click the link or click on the pile of books on the right of this page.


Amber said...

Ooh, congrats on the honey harvest! I can't wait to have enough land to start up a few hives.

Found you through entrecard! Keep up the good work!

Ivory Soap said...

This is a fantastic post. We're considering getting a couple of hives for the house and I was curious how it went for beginners. Very informative. I'll be bookmarking this for when I get mine soon.

Up The Garden Path said...

Good luck to both of you. Becoming a beekeeper is a steep learning curve and utterly absorbing. I dread the winter coming when I won't be able to take a quick peak!