Friday, 24 July 2009

The swarm revisited

This morning was lovely and sunny so Max and I went out and dealt with the swarm I had collected with Ralph on Wednesday evening. By dealt with I simply mean fix the comb they had made in the box onto a frame.

Unfortunately (sic) in the wild bees don't make their comb in frame size pieces; it tends to be sort of oval shaped with curved edges. So attaching it to a frame is rather like trying to put a jigsaw together with pieces from different puzzles. In the past I've leant the comb against the central wires and then tied string around it (other people use elastic bands but I never have any big enough). This works up to a point but any rough handling means the loose pieces of comb just drop down.

I read on the BBKA Forum about someone's father who used to use chicken wire. We have plenty of odd bits so I decided to give it a go. Using a wired up frame Max fixed a piece of chicken wire to one side and so created a sort of envelope.

You can just see in this rather bad photo the central wires underneath the chicken wire.

Up at the hive we then slipped the comb in between the two sets of wire, pressing gently so that some of the wax would be attached to the chicken wire. We closed the envelope with three pieces of string - not easy tying knots in rubber gloves!

You can see very clearly in the brood in this "wild" comb. I don't know if we were quick enough to save it - the bees cover the brood to keep it at the correct temperature - but failing all else they will rearrange this frame as they want, filling in the holes with more wax. There is one potential problem: will the bees be able to leave a gap between this frame and the neighbouring ones or will they become stuck together? Time will tell and I am quite certain the bees will work out what's best.

In the meantime the swarm was happily sitting on the three frames I'd put in the box on Wednesday evening. We didn't take these out to check but I hope very much the queen is doing her bit and laying lots of eggs! The photo below is looking down into the hive. Not a huge swarm but satisfactory nonetheless!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

It's started...

The season of plentywhen every day brings a fresh tomato or two, an enormous lettuce, a courgette or six and of course cucumbers. Remember last year? Well, I fear this year might surpass that quantity.

I don't mind as next week also sees the start of the visitor season starting with 17 over the weekend. I am on cooking duty for the first three days (these guests are well trained and understand rotas!) and hope that most of the food will come from the garden. I just hope they like cucumbers and potatoes!

But in addition to the vegetables we have a bonus this year for some of our favoured visitors. After harvesting the honey from the Oil Seed Rape we put four small honeycomb frames into one of the hives. On Tuesday Max and I did our usual check of the hives and to our total surprise these small frames were full. We exchanged the frame for an empty one and now have four of these wonderful honeycombs waiting to be devoured.

Our generosity definitely does know its boundaries though. One of the honeycombs is in the fridge but the whereabouts of the other three is a VERY well guarded secret!

Swarm Collection

Yesterday evening at exactly 8pm the telephone rang. I know it was 8pm because I listen to a radio programme every evening at 8.02pm and I was wondering which member of the family had decided to deprive me of that possibility.

But I was wrong; it was in fact a lady about 20kms away who had found my details on the internet where I am listed as "willing" to collect swarms of bees. She sounded a little stressed to say the least and on closer questionning it appeared her friend had been stung twice that afternoon when they'd discovered a colony of bees living under a wooden box that they use as a garden seat. The box had moved slightly and life heated up a bit.

At the time Max was busy trying to persuade a light switch that at only 8 years old it really should carry on functionning so instead I took our son Ralph. Early evening is a good time to collect swarms as the workers have come in and you have a good chance of collecting up most of the bees. We packed up the car with the usual equipment: bee suits, gloves, boots, hive tool and brush, swarm box, smoker and fuel, matches, sharp knife, basket and sheet, camera. As it turned out the only thing we omitted was a garden spade and I have to admit it never occurred to me it might come in useful!

When we arrived the two ladies came running out of the house and were indeed stressed and very worried. Ralph and I gathered up everything and got changed by the car then went down to the bottom of this wonderful garden which they had created out of a farm field. When I remarked on the green grass (ours turned brown some weeks ago) she told me there was a number of small streams running underneath the land down to the river; the farmer next door never had to water his crop of maize for the same reason.

The swarm collection was straightforward. You can see in the pictures where the swarm was situated.

The bees had obviously been there for a while because there was quite a lot of comb and sealed brood in the nest. Ralph cut the comb off the bottom of the box and having gathered that we brushed as many bees as possible in there too.

The spade, in case you are wondering, was used to scoop up a number of bees sitting on the ground. A couple of shovels and they were in the box. The rest we left to march up the sheet which I always consider one of the marvels of swarm collection - and also reassuring as it confirms the presence of the queen in the box.

The march can take a while and when the two ladies saw us sitting on the grass waiting, they came over with handfuls of fruit which 30 seconds earlier had been on their trees. Apricots and juicy, tasty plums which were delicious.

Back home Ralph put the hive in our field and opened the entrance hole at the front. Now all that remains is to fix the comb onto a frame. Unfortunately it's raining this morning but perhaps this evening or tomorrow we'll be able to do that. It's important to do it as soon as possible otherwise the bees just carry on building, starting with the roof!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A year of fruit

We have now lived here for 11 years and I can only remember one other year like this one for fruit.

There were so many cherries on the trees that even the birds couldn't eat them all, leaving more than enough for us.

Strawberries were the next delight and although we didn't exactly struggle to eat them all we came very close to striking strawberries from the luxury fruit to be savoured list. We only had a few raspberries but then we only planted them a few short months ago so they are forgiven.

For the past two weeks we have been gathering mirabelles - small yellow prunes with enough flavour to eat raw but not enough, in my opinion, to bother cooking with. We had so many that this year we squeezed a lot and now have about three litres of juice in the freezer ready for sauce on the ice cream. The pigs love mirabelles and we gather about half a bucket for them each day. (They also loved the strawberries!)

Our peach tree, which has struggled to provide more than one edible fruit per year, has this year gone mad and there must be at least 30 peaches which, if I don't pick them today, will be devoured by the wasps - I just hope they will finish ripening off the tree.

The pear trees are in danger of breaking their branches despite the fact that I thinned them vigorously.

And finally the fig trees are promising HUGE amounts of fruit.

Our real worry are the six new trees we planted in the autumn - four apples and two plums. They are showing severe signs of thirst despite having masses of water during the winter and regular watering by Max and I now. If we can get them through to the winter I think they'll survive - but there's August to deal with first.