6 November 2017

Feeding our bees.

Sometimes our bees need a bit of a top up feed. It might be because the weather is being unkind and they can’t get out to collect nectar, because there’s a gap in local forage e.g. June Gap, because we want to top up their supplies for winter, or because we want to give a new colony a helping hand – this would be a nuc or a collected swarm.

What to feed?
We should always use white granulated sugar or a product made from white granulated sugar – never ‘raw’ or ‘unbleached’ sugar because these types of sugar contains too many impurities that can make our bees very sick. White granulated sugar is as clean a food as our bees need.

Historically, and if fairly urgent, some beekeepers would just simply cut an X into a 2lb packet of white granulated sugar, pour in a cup of water and leave it for a few moments, then invert the pack over the bees. When the paper was thrown out of the front it meant two things – the colony was still alive and that they might want some more. So feeding bees doesn’t have to be hard or complicated and all the fancy measuring isn’t as crucial as we’re led to believe.

What to feed, and when.
For most commercial beekeepers there’s no real choice; it’s a commercially produced invert syrup or nothing. These syrups, which only come in one strength, are more expensive but then time is also expensive. It would take one lone bee farmer many, many, hours to mix enough gallons of syrup to feed several hundreds of colonies; time that is better spent on other beekeeping-related tasks.

26 June 2017

A June Gap

The June Gap usually refers to a time when there is little natural forage for bees because the Spring flowering plants have all finished and the summer ones have yet to get started. It's a time when some beekeepers may need to give their colonies a bit of a top-up syrup feed.

We don't seem to have a forage gap in the small apiary this year, but there has been a rather long gap between posts. This one is just a top-up!


20 January 2017

When life gets in the way of writing a beekeeping blog.

The blog has been very quiet for the past few months, not because we got bored with writing things down but because there have been a lot of things going on in our lives that have been more important than writing about beekeeping on the internet.

These 'things' don't look set to get any easier over the coming months and years, but hopefully we'll find time to put fingers on keyboard again before too long.

The bees are fine, and we're all looking forward to a good beekeeping year.


14 June 2016

Tree Bumbles and swarms of Honey Bees

By this time last year we had been inundated with requests to collect swarms of honey bees. This year there have been far fewer calls and, so far, only two have been for honey bees. The rest have been about 'swarms' of bumble bees.

As much as I'd love to be able to spend time talking to people about bumblebees and their lifecycle I'm afraid that I have other calls on my time, so I end up suggesting they look online for more information and, you never know, they may even end up here on my small apiary's blog so I thought it might be a good idea to add post that might help.

The most commonly reported bee is the Tree Bumble, Bombus hypnorum. This species was first recorded in Britain in 2001 and has since spread northwards at a remarkable rate. Here's a picture from the BWARS site.

23 April 2016

Orientation flights.

Orientation Flights are the first flights bees take, it's how they learn the position of the hive in relation to local landmarks. We more often refer to orientation flights as the forward and hive-facing flying we see when colonies are expanding, where it seems that new flyers are learning what the front of their home looks like so they can recognise it, and pinpoint its location. But that isn't all they do, and it's hard for a beekeeper to see how bees learn the location of their home within the wider local environment when a colony has been in the same spot for a long time because older bees get in the way.

It's actually amazing to watch a colony orientate en masse, something that will only happen when a colony finds itself somewhere new - when a beekeeper moves a hive, or perhaps when a swarm relocates from a tree to a permanent nesting site, or maybe even when a tree containing a nest falls down and the colony suddenly finds itself at ground level.

When the first two colonies of bees arrived at the small apiary it was intensely interesting (because they were new, because I was a new beekeeper and having bees was exciting) and so, of course, the hives were closely observed for hours on end - but I'll always remember those first few minutes.

31 March 2016

Winter bees and Summer bees

There's a neat evolutionary trick or two that enables colonies of honey bees to overwinter, and it isn't just the bees ability to cluster for days (weeks) on end when it's cold. Clustering, don't forget, is essentially an emergency measure to protect the queen and to keep her warm and safe.

Bees cluster when they collect around the queen whilst they're searching for a new place to live after swarming from the parent colony, and they will cluster when the inside of their nest is too cold for them to be able to safely walk around on their own without freezing to death. It's a pretty dangerous thing to do though, because a clustered winter colony will always settle over brood – the future of the colony - and can starve to death a mere inch or so away from food, which is why choosing the right nesting site after swarming is pretty important,

15 February 2016

BBKA Basic - Swarm Control for Beginners

The BBKA has made changes to the Basic syllabus and the way the assessment is to be carried out and marked. These changes apply from 2016.

The main change is that there is now a whole section on swarming and swarm control because it had been noted that those taking the assessment weren't really confident enough with their answers.

The BBKA asks that those taking the assessment are able to answer "Oral questioning on Swarming, Swarm Control and effects". A pass mark is 50%.

The syllabus is still quite clear  :-
The Candidate will be:
3.1 able to give an elementary description of swarming in a honeybee colony;
3.2 able to give *an elementary account of one method of swarm control; 
3.3 able to describe how to take a honeybee swarm and how to hive it; 
3.4 able to describe the signs of a queenless colony and how to test if a colony is queenless; 
3.5 able to describe the signs of laying workers and of a drone laying queen; 
3.6 able to describe a simple method of queen introduction; 
3.7 able to describe one method of uniting colonies and precautions to be taken;
* "An elementary method of swarm control" is not one which requires the beekeeper to search for the queen and then remember to manipulate doors in a special board or move boxes after a fixed number of days. There is no need to make things so difficult to remember, and so easy to get wrong.

An elementary method of swarm control is the one described by FERA as "Swarm Control When You Can't Find the Queen" or the one in the BBKA leaflet "Swarm Control for Beginners"

Swarm control doesn't have to be hard, it can be very easy.