Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Donald the goose...

Remember this?

My, hasn't he grown!

He now has his very own pen in an outhouse for nightime (too many foxes around) and during the day he has a great time walking around "his" patch (he's not penned but seems to have adopted an area) and of course, swims very happily on the moat!

Bees again!

I had yesterday all planned out. Basically, to work all day and really get ahead with a chair that is promised for Tuesday next week. Things didn't work out that way...

On Monday Max took a call from a friend of ours saying that there was a lot of trees being cut down in a wood near her and there was a swarm of bees - could we collect it? Well, yes please and for several reasons. Firstly we've never taken a swarm before and getting some experience with a swarm at ground level is always better than one twenty feet up in the air! Secondly, I really want to increase our number of hives this year and swarms, if you can get them, are free. Thirdly, well, the chair is well on the road to being finished and I could work a bit this weekend...

So off we went. A-L wasn't there but a retired neighbour had been asked to look out for us and he solemnly took us to this swarm...which had flown away. A little disappointed we removed what remained of the honey comb and decided that wild honey made the trip worthwhile.

However, it turned out that Roger knew of a second swarm, this one inside the trunk of a tree which had been felled and, if we didn't take it the forestry company would simply gas the bees. (And I thought killing bees was illegal...) We went to have a look and realised very quickly that there was no way we were going to be able to get our hands through a hole the size of a tennis ball and remove a swarm of bees who had most likely been in residence for many years! Yes, they seemed quite docile but we were 100% certain that any enforced eviction order would soon change that!

Disappointed, but still looking forward to the wild honey, we went away swarmless. Roger rang us in the evening. He'd spoken to the forestry people and they were quite happy for us to chainsaw the trunk and take away the log with the swarm inside. The fact that the trunk is about a metre in diametre and we were talking about a log approximately 1.5 metres long didn't seem to worry Roger one bit. His 70+ years are not for nothing and he'd worked out a system to get it into the back of our (small) van.

Max went along this morning early (before the bees were awake was, I think, the theory!) and the operation was carried out after plugging the entrance with a piece of wood. Of course, Max and Roger could only estimate how much space the bees had created for themselves on the inside; they didn't want to cut right through the middle of the swarm and nest. Roger tackled the trunk with his chainsaw and was clever enough to notice that the sawdust changed indicating the proximity of the bees. So he moved up a bit and tried again. In this way they managed to cut the log leaving the nest inside completely intact.

There was, however, a hole at both ends where the wood had rotted so bees started to get a little interested in the proceedings - still very calmly though. Max put a cotton sheet at each end. That was the easy part of the operation; now for Roger's cunning system to get this trunk into the back of the car. It turned out to be a tractor with a grab.

The log rolled out of the car and lifted upright in the field. The top hole is cleary visible, as is the bees side entrance

When Max came back we then managed to roll it out into the field near the other hives and lift it upright; we put a lid temporarily on the top hole to stop any heat from coming out (the bottom hole I'm not worried about - all our hives have open mesh floors which are presumably the same thing) and then took the wood out of the entrance hole. A wedge under the front will prevent it from toppling over. So far so good.

The bees natural entrance

However, the top lid was not ideal as it had plenty of gaps between it and the trunk and I was worried that all that precious heat would be lost out the top; the nights are still cold at the moment, something had to be done.

We hummed and haahed and finally came up with a solution that "will either work or it won't". Max cut a piece of wood to fit over the trunk and cut a medium size hole in the middle. We then screwed this to the trunk. On top of this wood we put a super (which is where hived bees store surplus honey, ie. ours) with frames and then the crown board and finally the lid.

Max standing next to the final des res with adjoining larder.

We hope we have created an ideal home with attached delux larder for these wild bees. There is no guarantee they will stay of course; in fact they will almost certainly swarm in April and as far as I know we will have no way of preventing it as we can't get into the nest. If they go we will at least have the most amazing tree trunk to keep us warm in the winter - after extracting any remaining honey of course! I'll keep you posted on how this "hive" continues.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

I have an ETSY shop

Just in case you are interested in my working life I now have an ETSY shop: L'Atelier du Grand Gennetay. I've put a link in the side bar or you can look at it here. Please don't hesitate to let me have your comments - I need all the help I can get! If you are interested in reading about my working life (it's actually pretty dull!) you can go to The English Armchair Abroad

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Bee Season

We finally opened up the hives this afternoon. Last year I lost a hive, leaving me with just one after the winter. But we restocked and finished with four hives. Then the original hive lost its queen - I suspect that the bees had replaced the old queen and the new queen was very possibly eaten by a bird on her mating flight. This hive was in serious trouble and it was getting late in the season for the bees to raise a new queen so I decided to buy a queen that had already been mated and introduced her successfully - so successfully that this hive, the weakest of the four in September, is now the strongest!

Today's inspection was the first of the season and an opportunity of looking for trouble and hopefully averting it. During February we had a dreadful storm that took the lid off one of the hives and I was worried about this one. However, there was brood in all four hives which means that there is a queen laying in each one. First box ticked.

Another thing to look for is adequate food. I still have sugar candy on all the hives and we replaced the almost empty ones. There is also plenty of honey and pollen in all of the hives so I am reassured. I believe though that a lot of hives are lost at this time of year because winter stores are low and there are not many nectar giving plants around. At the moment, though, we are ok. Second box ticked.

The third box I can't yet tick because I don't yet know. This is the dreaded varroa box. This horrible parasite lives off the bees and weakens them making the colony weak and eventually unable to survive. I put anti varroa tabs in each hive during the autumn for six weeks and then I did a follow up Oxalic Acid treatment in December. At the next inspection I will put in test floors - these slide in underneath the open mesh permanent floor and after a week you count how many varroa have fallen through. A small number is "ok" - it's believed that all colonies have some varroa - but a large number requires treatment.

The next inspection will be in approximately nine days, depending on the weather. Not cold, not too windy and no rain.