Blog

Winter Preparations

The temperatures have noticeably dropped this week and my son and I had to walk to the school bus in the dark this morning!  Rob and Gabriel have been working hard making sure all our nucs and hives have plenty of food stores ready for winter. Most of the full colonies stocked up on heather honey when they were at the New Forest but many of our nucs will need food throughout winter.  The lighter ones have been offered another lot of syrup this week but it really is getting too cold for syrup now however all our nucs are polystyrene so a little late feeding of syrup for them will be ok.  All the other colonies and nucs will be given a block of fondant.  On the nucs we use an eke to create a space between the the roof and the frames so that we can place the fondant directly on top of the frames.

Did I mention we have a warehouse move? It’s not a move by choice as the units we are in will be pulled down shortly.  They are being demolished to make way for some brand new large warehouses.  The new ones are way too big for us, and too expensive, but the owner has renovated an old building for us and its beginning to take shape now.

We are all very excited about our upcoming move.  The new unit will have a bigger honey processing room, which will have enough space to take our new purchase this year – our uncapping machine (see picture above).  I myself have not used it, but I am told it was the best buy we have made for a long time.  The labour it saves is phenomenal and although it looks a nightmare to clean, our apprentice has the great idea of using a pressure washer which proved to work perfectly.  Well done Gabe 🙂

Our new unit will also have a half mezzanine floor which will be much needed space.  There will be a work space for frame assembly and hive repairs and best of all we have a toilet!! No more using the farm toilet, which has lots a creepy crawlies in it yahoo… (I don’t do eight legged things)

Just before I sign off I will mention that our apprentice is off on a block training week this coming week 22nd October, we hope he has a good week and learns lots.  As part of the week they will be the National Honey Show, if you have not been before its a great day out with lots of people to meet, plenty to buy and there are also lots of lectures on various bee topics.

Catch up

I can’t quite believe how quickly the season has flown by.  I seriously planned to write a bit every week but we have been so run off our feet it just didn’t happen.

The start of the season was very rocky with high winter losses for many beekeepers across the UK and Europe.  But, once the sun came out it was just full steam ahead for everyone here.  We had one of the best harvests for many years with the summer honey and along with a record number of nucs and mated queens going out it proved to be a very good year for us.

Our seasonal worker this year was a lovely young lady called Sian.  She worked mostly with the bees but also covered the office as well.  Sian fitted in with us all really well, it felt like we had all worked together for years.  Rob nicknamed her Little Becky (not actually sure if Sian knew that was her nickname but she will now!), he said she was almost a double of me in her approach to working with the bees and with our customers- I think that is a compliment to both of us!

We all had lots of fun working with Sian, there was never a dull day and she was always smiling and happy.  We miss her now that the season is over and we are all have our fingers & toes crossed that she will return again next year to work with us.

This photos shows her and Gabriel hitching a lift along with bees…

IMG_1949

We picked our bees up from the New Forest last week and Rob and I took the last of the heather honey off today.  The harvest was very poor compared to last year but what we have is lovely. I love the smell of heather honey and it’s just wonderful on hot toast.

IMG_2701

It was really nice working with the bees today.  I have to confess that although I do enjoy the office work and I love talking with our customers, I have missed working with the bees.  It was such a lovely sunny day today as well.  A proper autumnal day with the sun shining, leaves changing colours and the ground covered with conkers and acorns, this really is a wonderful time of the year.  Roxy, my cocker spaniel, loves it too as she gets to chase squirrels that are busying themselves collecting their winter food!

We are now busy sorting out all the used brood boxes and supers, cleaning, fixing and painting as needed ready for storing for next year once they have new frames in.  We had a pallet load of new frames delivered today, when you see them stacked like that it makes your heart sink as you know they all have to be assembled and even though we use a nail gun it really is a mountain of work!!

As well as all the equipment to sort out we also have to move our main warehouse as the unit we are in is due to be knocked down shortly!  We have a new unit lined up but we have a lot of work to do before it’s ready for the big move.  The floor was concreted yesterday so work is progressing but we have to build a new honey room and as the shape of the new unit is different we also need to install an upstairs.  The only bonus to the move is that it is literally only about 15 yards!!

Finally before I break off I have some really good news. Sian has decided to come back to work for us again next year.  And even more exciting is our plans for a new queen rearing station – watch this space!

 

Happy days

The sun is out and boy does it make us all feel good.  The bees are happy too, very busy collecting nectar and pollen; it was a long time coming but at last the season seems to have kicked off.

A few years ago I did a talk to a gardening club on pollination and beekeeping in general and afterwards one of club members asked me if I could provide a hive to pollinate his fruit cage.  It proved to be very successful for both of us and has become a regular thing each year.  The crop that he has been achieving each year has been much better since he started getting the bees in for a few weeks.

So, today was the day to take the hive over for him.

IMG_1907

Due to the dire weather we have only just started checking our bees and I will need to go back and check these in a couple of days to make sure all is well.  The super also needs to be taken out from under the brood box and put on top with a queen excluder.  Last year we had a bumper crop of honey of this single hive, the chap who grows the fruit and veg got a bumper crop too so we were all very happy.  I am hoping for the same this year, the honey we got off it was amazing as well.

The boys, if I can get away with calling Rob a boy – he is my work partner and just a little bit older than me (that will make him smile!), were setting out the sites for our nucs today.  It does feel as if we are weeks behind but I don’t think we are really.  The winter weather and rain just seemed never ending, I can’t recall a period of rain that lasted so long before.  Fingers crossed that the cold miserable weather is behind us; it was great being out in a t-shirt today.

IMG_0114
OSR right on the doorstep, literally!

IMG_0239

Don’t they look great.  There are 65 nuc boxes set up there, my back is aching just looking at them!!   I love raising the nucs, seeing how much they progress each week and then packing them up for our customers.  I am a little bit sad this year though as unfortunately I am not going to have as much fun with the bees this year as we have hired someone who has beekeeping experience to work with us.  Normally we hire someone to work in the office so I can spend half my day working bees and half my day in the office.  I am not sure quite how I feel about it all at the moment but if it means having someone experienced in the office full time (that’s me) that has to be good for our customers, I am just not convinced that it will be good for me….   I will find some bee time some how even if I have to chain Rob to the office chair for half a day here and there!

First real work of the season

We had a lovely day yesterday, there was not a honey bee in sight but we did manage to make it to one of our new apiaries to set up the first nuc boxes ready to make up 14×12 nucs.  All we need now is some nice warm weather and a bit of sunshine and of course mated queens would be really helpful!!

IMG_1877

This winter seems to have been so long; I can’t actually recall having not opened hives in April before. I am sitting here now looking out of the window and its raining again, even the dog looks glum when we go out for walk – come on sunshine break out and make us all smile.

I spoke to one of the farm owners this morning, he said the weather has set them back 5 to 6 weeks, the spring OSR (oil seed rape) has not been planted yet, if the weather does not improve it may not be worth sowing it!!

One good thing I did see yesterday was my first dandelion of the year, albeit a little late, and it really did make me smile – I actually stopped and took a photo…  What a beautiful sight 🙂

IMG_1881

So the season for us as bee farmers is about 3 weeks late and the first lot of mated queens that should have been ready this week are delayed.  Most of our customers are pleased because they too can’t open their hives.  Temperatures are slowing rising so hopefully next week will be a different story.

 

Denmark

What can I say about our trip to Denmark – eye opening.  If we thought we have forage problems here in the UK it is nothing compared to what they face in Denmark.  They don’t have any winter OSR now and with only a spring crop they are in trouble if it fails.  They do have clover and of course there is the Heather, but as with our heather its does not always yield.

We met up with two bee farmers who talked about their set up and what problems they face today, mainly this is lack of forage but also the varroa mite is big issue.  They did have a big problem with EFB but they have reduced this by changing the brood foundation every year.  They were both big outfits, one has 2000 colonies and the other has 600 plus 300 with young queens; oh and they call them “families” which I think is lovely. I did say I was going to start referring to my bees as families rather than colonies but I am not sure that would really work over here.

We also visited one of the queen breeders over there, Keld Branstrup.  That was really interesting and such a nice man,  He talked about this days working with Brother Adam which was amusing.  It turns out that Brother Adam was not easy to work with….

Kelds set up is amazing and so clean!  He gave us the run of the place so were able to nose about to our hearts content.  Although they change their brood wax every season they do re-use their frames.  Unlike us they use wired frames and not wired foundation so it works really well.  The frames are bundled up as shown in the photos below and put into big wax melters.  The wax is processed and cleaned and reused to make new foundation.  The frames are washed in caustic soda and rinsed in water heated to 90 degrees and then and they are ready to be used again.  Easy!  Keld has a big industrial dish washer that he uses to rinse his frames in, see middle top photo below.

 

I must thank my fellow bee farmers for arranging my ride in a very noisy Unimog – it made my day and I am sure you were all jealous 🙂

The hotel we stayed in was lovely and the food was amazing.  The packed lunches were big enough to share and like no packed lunch I had ever had before – banquet picnic would be a better description!  Well done BFA a really enjoyable trip, looking forward to the next one…

 

A little bit about me

I started beekeeping way back when my youngest son was just 3 years old.  The journey has taken me along a path that even in my wildest dreams I had never imagined.  All I planned on was 1 or 2 colonies of honey bees to enjoy in my spare time. I am now a honey bee farmer in Hampshire, UK and we manage anywhere from 150 to 300 colonies during the year.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

I mentioned my youngest son earlier, he does help with the bees sometimes but somehow he always manages to get stung so he prefers to help in other ways. One thing he is really good at is helping to jar honey. What he is even better at is eating honey and if given half a chance he can quite easily spoon his way through an entire jar!

In my blog I plan to talk all about my life with the honey bees and hopefully share a few laughs and experiences, good and bad as well as offering advice.

I can currently very excited as I and 30+ other bee farmers are all off to Denmark on a 4 day jam packed trip. We will be visiting queen breeders, factories that produce honey processing equipment and one of the big companies that make bee feed.  I checked out the hotel, it looks lovely, sadly there is no gym but it does have a bar – not the sort that you work out at….  Bee farmers in ballet skirts, that would be an hilarious sight!!!

Before I dash off I just wanted to say please don’t open your hives yet. I know the temperatures were up yesterday, even I was in a t-shirt (with vest underneath!) and we did record temperatures of 14 degrees in the afternoon but it’s still only mid-march and it really is not warm enough to expose the brood.  The temperature drops quite early in the afternoon and by opening your hives you will make your bees work really hard to restore the brood nest to a temperature of 34.5 degrees.  Instead sit and watch the entrance, if you bees are bringing back pollen loads that is a really good sign the queen is OK and laying.  You can heft the hive as well, it if feels light give them a block of fondant on the crown board.

I will be back to tell you all about the Denmark trip.

The start

IMG_1538

When the flower opens the bee will come…

Hi and welcome to my blog, its been a long time coming and a struggle to get this far but perseverance is such a great thing – only taken me about 5 hours just to get this bit done!!!