Harvest Festival

  • by Thirteen Bees
  • 12 Oct, 2016

Reaping the good life...

After weeks of high temperatures and blazing sunshine, autumn has suddenly arrived. We still have clear blue skies but it's goose-pimply chilly and flip-flops have been replaced with socks and boots, perfect for crunching through all the golden leaves that have appeared on the ground. Time to see what the bees have been up to...

In the past month we removed around half of the honey-filled frames from our hives, leaving the rest for the bees as winter stores, and managed to extract around 30kg of sweet amber nectar. Slicing the pure white wax cappings from the frames and watching the honey spool silently into the settling tank was a magical moment; we felt humble in the face of our bees' hard work, knowing that a single bee produces only a teaspoonful of honey in its lifetime.  We put the sticky honey-drained frames outside for the bees to clean, along with the wax cappings, and after an hour or so were able to retrieve completely dry wax and frames to store away until Spring. We also cut some pure honeycomb, so delicious on toast!

Beeswax can be used for many purposes, but I decided to make some salve with it, given how many minor cuts, scratches and insect bites we seem to gather between us. Earlier in the summer I had infused sunflower oil with dried calendula petals, and so I melted some of the cleaned beeswax into the vibrant orange liquid, then poured the mixture into small pots and left it to solidify. Hey presto, the result was a pure salve perfect for chapped lips, skin rashes, burns, bites etc.

We rewarded the bees with a few litres of sugar syrup to feed them up in preparation for the winter months, and to ensure that, despite our plundering, their stores are adequate to see them through to next year.

Given how well our courgettes did this summer, we decided to dig an even bigger veggie patch and are now planning what we can grow in it - leeks, rhubarb, beetroot, carrots and parsnips get my vote (garlic can also be planted now but as I'm allergic to it, that's a big thumbs-down!). Tomatoes and potatoes have done exceptionally well in grow-bags (and were easy to move around and harvest in this way) so we'll repeat those next year too - we'll be living on ratatouille and mash this winter! It appears that we are making headway towards living the good life; now I just have to work on achieving a bottom like Felicity Kendall's....

13 Bees Blog

by Thirteen Bees 20 Jul, 2017
Our afternoon beekeeping taster sessions incorporate a short break for tea and cake, which seems to go down so well that I have decided to share the recipes here (I serve either the cake shown in the picture above, or small beehive cakes). The cake in the picture is a Honey Lemon Cake made in a Nordicware Honeycomb Pull Apart Cake Pan - yes, it's American...The tin can be bought on Amazon or from Lakeland, which seems to be cheaper than going to Nordicware direct - or you can just use a large cake tin of your own! The beehive tins are also from Nordicware, but you can use bun trays with silicone or paper cases.

Honey Lemon Pull Apart Cake
Ingredients:
375g self-raising flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
0.25 tsp salt
250g softened butter
300g caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
190g sour cream or natural yogurt

Glaze:
3 tbsp honey
50g icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

Method: Heat the oven to 175c, and grease and flour the cake tin. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl beat the sugar and butter together until blended then beat the eggs and add these, mix well. Add the flour mixture, sour cream/yogurt and lemon rind and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile, make the glaze - combine all the ingredients in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and the glaze is warm. Brush the cake with the honey glaze.


Honey Beehive Cakes
Ingredients
125g polenta or cornmeal (maize flour)
125g plain flour
0.5 tbsp baking powder
85g sugar
0.5 tsp salt
120g milk
2 small eggs
2 tbsp melted butter
25g honey

Glaze:
25g icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey

Method: Heat the oven to 180c. Grease and flour the beehive moulds or put paper/silicone cases in 12 bun tray.
In a medium bowl mix all the cake ingredients together. Pour the resulting batter into the moulds or cases and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool and turn out onto a plate. For the glaze, warm the ingredients together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves, then brush over the cakes.

Bon appetit!


by Thirteen Bees 13 Jul, 2017
After all the fun and games we've had this year with queenless colonies and trying to encourage our bees to raise new queens, imagine our surprise when we found a supersedure cell in one of our hives. This is a special cell containing the pupa of a new queen bee, and is different to when the bees make swarm cells. For one thing, it is usually found on the face of a frame rather than along the sides and bottom of the frame, and there is usually only one rather than lots.

Supersedure is when the colony makes the decision to replace its existing queen, and it raises a new one to take her place. The reason is usually because the bees have detected that the queen is getting too old, running out of viable eggs and/or sperm, or is weak in some way. Quite often scrub queens or emergency queens are replaced once they have done the job of getting the colony through whatever sticky situation they found themselves in. Some gratitude, eh?! The existing queen in this particular colony is quite small and so is probably an emergency queen. Little does she know that her work is almost done....

An existing old queen will quite often live alongside the new queen for a short while until she has mated and has started to lay.  As this supersedure cell is not yet sealed we have a few more days to wait until we meet the new queen, and it will be interesting to see what she's like. Watch this space!
by Thirteen Bees 03 Jun, 2017
It's been an exciting week as our new 'Frère Adam' queen bee was delivered in the post - the poor postie must have wondered what on earth was going on when the small cardboard box she put in our letter box started buzzing! We'd decided to buy a new fertilised queen to re-queen one of our hives rather than try to persuade the bees to raise a queen from donor brood, mainly because we want to change the temperament of this hive. It's become decidedly grumpy in recent weeks, so the best way of changing this is to introduce some new genetic characteristics. Frère Adam, or Brother Adam/Buckfast bees are supposedly calm and good-natured, so we're hoping our new queen will produce lots of new bees with a similar outlook on life.

We searched online for a French bee-rearing company, found one and then, in a typically French way, had to download a form and send it together with a cheque in the post....our queen then promptly turned up a few days later! She was in a small plastic cage, accompanied by a few worker bees who were taking care of her.  She's not very big, more orange than we expected, and marked with a yellow dot to indicate that she's a 2017 queen. She'll be easy to spot!

The cage had slots in it, and was plugged with a lump of candy. All the books we have say 'put the queen in the hive'...er, yes, but how? Good old YouTube....one suggestion was to put an elastic band around a frame and wedge the cage under it. It seemed to be the most workable solution, so that's what we decided to do. However, having searched high and low for a big-enough elastic band to no avail, we used some frame wire. We wrapped this around one of the frames in the hive, wiring the cage in next to some sealed brood, and gently lowered the frame back in. The theory is that the candy plug will be chewed through by the bees in the hive, eventually releasing the queen; during the time it takes to do this they will have tasted and smelled the queen and hopefully accepted her. If we just dropped a queen into the hive then the bees would kill her as an unknown intruder.

We will leave the hive alone for 48 hours, then remove the cage (provided they haven't already built wax around it or propolised it into place!), and will check in a few more days to see if the queen is alive. With a bit of luck we'll see some eggs and larvae and know that she has started work. Watch this space for an update...
by Thirteen Bees 27 May, 2017
What a busy month May has been! Even the weather hasn't rested on its laurels, keeping us guessing as to what mood it will be in each day, but after several days of cold drizzle, summer appears to have arrived with a bang. The bees haven't been idle either; they've not been making hay while the sun shines but instead have been out foraging for pollen to feed the thousands of new bees that are emerging in the hives.

The colour of pollen is purely down to the plant that provided it and recently we've seen cells full of bright orange pollen from dandelions. However, we had a bit of a surprise when we inspected our newest hive the other day; it's in a different part of the garden and clearly the bees have decided to ignore the hawthorn and gorse that the other colonies are currently visiting. The pollen being stored in this hive (see the picture above) is a strange purplish/dark-grey colour which sent us straight to the Pollen Identification cards (available from IBRA, the International Bee Research Association) where we were reliably informed it is probably  'phacelia'. This is none other than the wild tansy that we have growing in the meadow, so maybe the pollen is from there....or is it from the field beans being grown in the allotments on the other side of the river, which also provides grey/mauve pollen? We can only be sure by tagging our bees and we weren't that keen on getting that involved...! We're just happy that the baby bees will have something to eat this month.
by Thirteen Bees 19 Apr, 2017
During the last fortnight, when carrying out our hive inspections, we noticed that one of our colonies had a large propensity of drone brood and not much else. This usually means that instead of a queen laying the eggs, the majority of which would turn into flat sealed worker brood in an even pattern, there were laying worker bees in the colony. Worker bees are able to lay eggs as they are female and have ovaries, but as they cannot mate they can only produce drone bees, males, and therefore the colony is doomed. They lay in an inconsistent pattern, and the sealed brood looks  distorted as the cells expand to accommodate the drone larvae. We couldn't find the queen, or any flat sealed brood, so drew the conclusion that the colony was queenless.

The last time we had a queenless colony we were able to correct this by uniting them with another colony given to us by a Bee Club colleague, but this time round the 'proximity rule' means we are unable to unite our own colonies. This rule is about moving bees - you can move them three metres or three miles, either just next door to where they were or a long way away. Anything in between, e.g. 100 metres, and the bees will become disoriented and lose their way home. So, that option isn't open to us. The next way to requeen a colony is to persuade them to raise a queen from some donor eggs, and this is a tried and trusted method. The only issue we had was a bunch of laying worker bees who believed they were little princesses - why would they want to raise a queen when they were quite happy laying themselves, thank you very much?!

The harsh reality is that we had to remove the laying workers before putting in the frames of donor eggs, and so we spread a white sheet over a ramp in front of the hive then shook out all the bees onto this sheet. Bees will naturally walk upwards and towards the dark, so the majority of the bees set off up the sheet back into the hive, leaving the disoriented laying workers behind. It seemed cruel but...in the meantime we removed a couple of frames of unwanted drone brood and replaced them with donor frames from a thriving colony. Now is the waiting time - with a bit of luck the bees' behaviour pattern has been broken and they are back on track to raise a new queen from the eggs they've been given. In a couple of weeks we'll know if our therapy has worked!
by Thirteen Bees 05 Apr, 2017
Last week's sunshine and warm temperatures meant that we were busier than usual with our bees. The first inspections of the year revealed that one colony had not survived the winter; it was the weakest one, so it was sad but not a surprise to lose it. We cleaned the hive by blow-torching the wooden brood box, burning the frames and washing the plastic floor, and will filter the wax for candle-making later in the year.

The other colonies however are thriving, so much so that we took the decision to split one of them, moving the queen and three frames of brood, food and bees with her into another hive. Those left in the original hive had already started to make a new queen, evidenced by cells containing royal jelly.  We left them with one cell, breaking down the others, and will leave that colony alone for a couple of weeks to allow the virgin queen to emerge, mate and begin to lay.

We also decided to put out some bait boxes - small hives with just a few frames of foundation in them, liberally sprayed with 'bee charm', designed to attract any swarms that happen to be in the neighbourhood. Bait boxes are also a safety net of sorts - we may catch our own swarms if we've missed any queen cells in our hives! A friend from Bee Club, Tony Dixon, made us two superb bait boxes, which we then hoisted up into a couple of trees at the top of our garden. (When I say 'we' I mean Kevin aided by my dad, Alan, while I looked on and mum, Vera, took photos..!) We'll check these regularly and hopefully will add some more bees to our collection. Luckily the new hives we bought last week are now painted and ready to receive their first inhabitants.
by Thirteen Bees 24 Mar, 2017
Question: What does a beekeeper do when the weather is awful?
Answer: The same as anyone else - he/she goes shopping!

In just a matter of days the 'false Spring' has disappeared and the temperatures have plummeted from 21c to 6c, and the rain clouds appear to have taken up residence over our garden. The bees have beaten a hasty retreat and are clustered once again in their hives, sending out messages that they'd really appreciate some more sugar syrup in the feeders, please. Having cleaned all the equipment and made our plans to manage swarm behaviour, there was only one other thing to do: buy some more hives ready for all the new colonies we'll hopefully have in a couple of months.

Given that our bees have come through the winter, and are growing quickly (all the pollen being carried in when the sun was shining means that in all likelihood the queens are laying), we will be splitting the colonies and raising new queens in April. We therefore need somewhere for them to live!

Kevin spent several hours researching all the companies who provide hives, complete or in kit form, and narrowed down the choice to a couple of competitively priced firms. Then we had to sit down and take a deep breath when we looked at the delivery charges. Ok, hives are heavy but seriously, that much to bring them to us?! We worked out that we may as well travel to collect them ourselves and so earlier this week when "il pleut comme vache qui pisse" (polite translation: raining cats and dogs...!) we set off on the 2-hour drive to a supplier near Poitiers, and bought what we could fit in the car. As you can see from the photo above, we got a lot in - four complete hives: brood boxes, floors, supers, crown boards and roofs...now we just have to paint them ready for their new residents. Luckily my parents are visiting next week - guess what jobs we have in store for them?!
by Thirteen Bees 15 Mar, 2017
At this time of year, with the temperatures rising and the sky achingly blue, thoughts turn to spring cleaning, but the sight of dust motes in sunshine doesn't have me reaching for the vacuum cleaner....instead I flee out into the garden to see what's going on there.

Our bees are reacting to the warm weather the same way we are, out and about, stretching their legs (and wings), and I swear they are smiling - we've all had enough of the rain, thank you very much. I'm pleased to say that the bees seem to be thriving, taking lots of yellow pollen into the hives from the crocuses that are springing up all over the meadow.

Pollen usually means that the queen is laying, so the colonies are increasing in size, and that all points to the urgent need for more hives. When bees run out of room they look for somewhere bigger - before you know it, half of your bees can be swarming off in search of new accommodation! This year we plan to steal a march on them and split our colonies before they decide to zoom off on their own accord, but that means new hives and somewhere to put them.

You'd think we'd have plenty of space with three acres but you can't just plonk hives anywhere. The positioning of an apiary is key to the well-being of the colonies, and to the general safety of any humans who happen to be nearby...So, Operation Bramble commenced at the weekend as we attacked a huge section of wild brambles, the idea being to cut them back to create a space where our new hives could face south and were protected from the wind by trees behind.

Kevin was armed with 'man tools', a petrol-powered brushcutter and evil chainsaw, while I was the whirling dervish with a pair of shears. The picture above may not look that impressive but the cleared space is the result of three days of hard labour. We now have a clear site for our new apiary and are awaiting delivery of our new hives. Watch this (cleared) space for an update!
by Thirteen Bees 07 Mar, 2017
I admit it, I was fooled by the warm sunshine, the cherry blossom and the cranes returning from their winter feeding grounds. Here it is, I thought, Spring at last, and delightfully early. Don't be fooled, warned a friend, this often happens, then all of a sudden it's winter again. Surely not, I thought, as I enjoyed a Sunday pint outside, soaking up the welcome rays. The bees were clearly of the same mind as out of the hives they came, shaking the winter blues off their wings, exploring the world in 2017. It was wonderful to see them again and to see them so active - in no time at all they were foraging for pollen, carrying back heavy loads of bright yellow grains. Aha, they found the mahonia and yellow crocuses!

It's still a bit too chilly to open the hives for a full inspection, but I have exchanged the candy feed for sugar syrup to give them a boost, and they are now happily slurping this. On one of our hives I was very surprised to see the queen on the candy as normally she'd be tucked away in the midst of the colony. She soon disappeared back into the hive but it was gratifying to see her, large and clearly healthy.

That period of balmy Spring weather was short-lived as soon enough we were plunged back into winter, with strong winds, lashings of rain and low temperatures. Not for the first time did I think how much I would hate to be a sailor in these conditions...! Checking the hives after a particularly stormy night, just to make sure that none had been blown over or hit by falling branches, I was concerned to see one of the lids had come off. The crown board had a centimetre or so of rain on it, but the bees were still busy inside the feeder as if nothing had happened. Phew!

The combination of good weather followed by a wet couple of weeks probably means that by the time the sun next appears the bees will be fed-up of being cooped up inside, so we have to be ready for potential swarms. We have bait boxes and spare hives ready, and hope that we won't lose any bees - fingers crossed that we'll be able to split the colonies before they beat us to it and decide for themselves. Watch this space!




by Thirteen Bees 01 Feb, 2017
Here's a snippet from our latest monthly update for the lovely people at French Entrée on what's happening in the hives in February...

"It’s been a bitterly cold couple of weeks in the Charente, but the returning cranes reassure me that we’re now heading towards Spring and better weather. Given the amount of icing sugar our bees have been consuming this winter, I am expecting them to emerge into the sunshine with fat tums. They’ll be thirsty too so I’ll be putting out water for them, taking care that they won’t drown in it. Saucers of water with bee-rafts (pieces of floating wood) and plant pots full of soil sitting in small pots of water (the soil soaks up the water and the bees can take the moisture from the soil) are ideal. It’s at this time of year that bemused owners may observe bees drinking at the edge of their swimming pools; they’re not fussy."....  Read More (external, SAFE, link)

Let us know what you think :-)

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