Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wild Bees

I finally went up with Max to look at the bees that have taken over some abandoned hives in a neighbour's garden. The hives themselves are fairly rotten although one of them might be usable for this season and another brood box in fairly good condition was lying next to them (fairly good is a relative term - it's fairly good next to the one that is crumbling!) But inside these abandoned hives the bees have been busy constructing comb wherever they can.

The two colonies have clearly been there for a while and look strong and healthy. They are far enough away from our own hives that there is no risk of cross-contamination if there are any diseases lurking around. Each time we come back I soak the hive tools and the gloves in a bleach solution.

All we have to do now is transfer the comb into frames and then into a hive in better condition. I think we have a fifty fifty chance of being successful - as usual it all depends on the queen being transferred and we are unlikely to know this for sure for some time.

But there was a bonus today. Some of the comb was stuck to the roof of the hive and we took the opportunity to take some of this away with us. Honey in the comb was part of my childhood but you don't find it very often nowadays. It's harder for the bees to produce as they have to build the fresh comb as well as fill it with honey but I suspect too that people just don't like eating wax with their honey and there is very little demand. I usually put four small frames (which fit into one normal size super frame) into each hive after the OSR honey has been taken off and we keep it carefully for people we know appreciate it.

But today's comb honey doesn't come neatly packaged:

Just dripping in golden goodness.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A busy day

Yesterday we took another 25 kilos of honey. This makes a total of 45 kilos of spring honey from four hives. For us, that is a good harvest and certainly the artifical swarms played a part. If the bees swarm, we lose about half the honey.

So today I spent the morning bottling the liquid gold. It takes time and organisation. We don't have a handy little tap so the ladle is used - lots of drips. I start with a bowl of water and two (clean) sponges to mop up drips and also to wipe the jars clean. The photo shows a frame of honey, totally capped with wax, just before it went into the extractor. In case you are interested, one frame such as this holds approximately 2kilos of honey.

Then we had an afternoon building shelves - or at least Max and Ralph did. Last week I visited our neighbour who is selling her house. She has given me all her preserving jars which is a really generous if you check the prices. However, we need somewhere to store so many and we finally sorted out a shed and put in some DIY shelving.

In the past I have used these jars for chutneys and tomato ketchups, but I have never preserved fruit and vegetables. Since she also gave (yes, GAVE) us a steriliser and burner, this year will be one of new experiences and experiments.

Max took the opportunity of emptying the shed to wash the empty bottles so that they would be ready for filling in two weeks. We buy red wine "en vrac" and then bottle it here. We have carefully kept bottles for this purpose. The wine is a good table wine and buying it this way is a lot cheaper. Please note - the picture shows a bottle collection of many months!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Spring harvest 2011

The same day that we inspected the artifical swarm we also decided to collect some of the spring harvest. The oil seed rape is very early this year and you are advised to harvest the honey as soon as the petals start to fall so that it doesn't crystallise in the frames - at which point you can't get it out. We only took the frames with the honey covered with wax so a second harvest will be needed this week.

It was a fun day. Some neighbours have young children and they came over to help us with the extracting. Everyone takes a turn spinning the honey out and watching it run from the extractor is a great reward.

And of course they bought an empty pot with them! For once we managed to keep all the bees out of the kitchen while we were working which made it a more relaxed operation. We took a honey bet on how much there would be - the prize was honey of course - and the final score was 23 kilos.

Artificial Swarm part two

Well, it worked! We went down to the hives earlier this week and had a quick look. Sure enough, there was a small patch of new brood in a very busy hive. We didn't look for the queen herself as it seemed pointless to upset the bees during the OSR season but we did take the opportunity to put on a super.

The original hive is obviously less busy - less bees - but there was fresh brood so the queen is still laying. We have decided not to unite these two hives. I have two queens arriving shortly and we will replace the original queen and then work on building up both colonies for the summer harvest.

We also did an artificial swarm with a second hive back at the house. It was packed with bees and brood but queen cells were there in force so we decided to deal with it in the same way.

In case you are wondering, the blue mark on the bottom of the hive means that we found and marked the queen. Blue was last year's colour - this year, 2011, is white.