Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Winter 09: End of 1st season

Another Halloween is done and dusted; winter has well and truly arrived. Bar hefting my hive all that needed to be done for the bees are done: Feeding, Varroa teating and mouse guarding. Looking over my first season it has been an interesting year. I started thinking that I may have some honey, but soon realised that the colony must have its chance to build itself up before I shall see any surplus.

I have learned a lot from the bees and they have proved to be gentle and calm to work with. The pleasure of just watching the comings and goings of the bees in warm sunny days is something that everyone should experience. Every hive inspection reaffirm, for me, the meaning of "close to nature". The location of my hive has proved to be an excellent choice and I am expecting it to provide the kind of shelter spot that will be needed to see the colony through the winter.
Despite recent wet and much cooler days I have seen activities at the hive. They are still working! Only yesterday my wife and I saw quite a few bees bring pollen back to the hive. Its hard to see from where they are collecting the pollen.

If you have been following this blog through the year, thanks for reading, and thank you, to some of you, for leaving useful comments and suyggestiuons. If you are one of my freinds who were expecting honey this year- sorry you have to wait. Have a good winter, and this blog shall return in the new year.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Treatment number 2

The good Septembr weather is continuing, and I am taking advantage of it to do one more inspection of the hive. It is also time for the second and final treatment with another Apiguard.

Over the last 2 weeks I had a total varroa drop of 90. This gives an average varroa drop of about 6.4 per day, which is not bad I suppose. When I open the hive today the bees are calm and going about their business. On close inspection I found that the number has definitely grew. Leaving it alone for quite a number of weeks has helped. nearly all the frame, apart from three, are full of honey, and there are some signs of sealed brood cells, which means the queen is about and still laying.

In today's newspaper there is an item of the dreaded Asian honet. It would seems that the French is having a bad time of it. Needless to say we are thinking of when rather then if the little beasts will jump the Channel and get over here. I suppose we shall worry about that when it happens. 'Experts' reckon we have 10 years to get use to the idea. You can read about it here:


Last week I bought some honey from a local beekeeper whoes bees are a mere one mile away. The honey is good so I am hoping that it's an indication what mine will be like. Can't wait.

Monday, 21 September 2009

They drop like...Varroas

Autumn is easing itself into our days. Since my last post I have checked my hive for Varroa drops. It'd shot up to 50 over a 6 day period. The counts before, over the similar period, was in low single figures. Clearly the hive has more of the natsy little mites then I though.

The Apigurad treatment is half way through its course. After this week I shall leave it for two weeks and do the same things one final time for another two week period. It would be interested to see what the drops will be. I want this hive to do well over winter. I may treat Varroa using sugar powder next year. The main problem with this non-chemical treatment (which I like) is that I am not sure now effective it is. I am getting mixed advice about this. Of course I want to go non-chemical, but I also want to be sure whatever method I use does the job. So far the Apiguard is working well - if the drop is anything to go by.

As always the September weather is strangely warm with occasional heavy rain. When the sun is out, like today, the bees are busy foraging. I can see many are still bringing in pollens. I am beginnig to feel that I should give the hive one more inspection just to be sure they are ok inside. The last time I look they had two empty frames in the brood box. The colony has not make enough honey so I am looking to increase my sugar bill this winter: sweet dreams.

Friday, 11 September 2009

This is an Eke

What, you may asked, is an eke? Today I install one in my hive. It's basically a square wooden frame- I made mine yesterday. The purpose of the eke is to create a space, above the brood box, into which you can place an Apiguard which is for treating the colony for the dreaded varroa. I am more or less leaving the hive alone at the moment though I am not quite sure if I should inspect it again before the air turns really cold.

We are now in the middle of September as usual we are having all kind of weather: last week it was cold and couldy last week, but this week we are having an Indian summer. Since I was told that Apigurad works best when the air temperature is 15 degree C or above I thought it's time I decide whether I will treat the bees or not. After much though I decided to do so because as one experienced fellow beekeeper pointed out should the number of varroa increases over winter (it's a really possibility) the colony will get really stressed out. Once agian keeping bees is rather like having children- sometime your are damn if you do and damn if you don't. In any case I though I should at lease treat the hive this season and see how things go. My main concern is that the colony should survive this winter, and be in good condition when next spring comes.

While cleaning the hive today I got some honey on my hive tool. We have a tiny little taste and it's good. Well for this season at least all the honey ( about 4 frames) are going to the hard working colony. We shall see what next years brings. My fingers are firmly crossed.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The leaves are turning borwn

A weeks ago I attended a meeting at our divisional apiary. It occupies a large green space amid an urban residential area which is ideal for bees. At the mreting novice beekeepers were told it's time to prepare our bees for winter. Looking at the warm sunny afternoon it was hard to believe that my first beekeeping season is already ending . We were advised to treat our hives for varroas, and to start feeding the hive.

Prior to the meeting I inspected my hive and decided to remove the super, which the bees had hardly touched since I installed it a month ago. As I didn't get my nuc till mid June I am assuming that the colony is too busy building itself up to strength to start on the super. In spite of the empty super I could see that the brood box is in good shape. There are many sealed cells and honey store which means that the queen is laying, and the worker bees had been working hard collecting. It's difficult to judge how much the colony had grown over the last two and half months. I estimated it has double in size, which means that it now numbers at around 8 to 10 thousand bees. I saw no drones throughout this inpection which is yet another sign of the season coming to an end. My son (photo) helped me to remove the frames from the super. Where previously he was only allow to watch this time he had a great time getting to do something with the hive.

Followed the meeting at the apiary I immediately made up a sugar solution for the bees. Yesterday I checked and saw the feed has all but gone, so I mad up another feed. When I poured the solution into the feeder I noted the bees are much less active. Yes, autumn is here.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Back from hoiliday

I have been away for the last two weeks - on holiday up North. That's me (photo) laying on a rock pool, trying to catch a crab for the children. So first thing I had to do this morning was hive inspection. I didn't update this blog after my last inspection (31/7) and when I looked at my record today I saw that there had been a gap of 22 days between the last two inspections.

Disappointingly frames in the super remain largely untouched. There is some very minor effort of drawing out, otherwise no change since the last inspection.

In the bood box things are looking better. Only the end frames still need to be fully drwan out. All the others are heavy with honey. Frame 6 to 10 have many sealed cells. I spent a fair bit of time watching a young bee emerging from its cell. It is a really pleasure to see nature at work. The Queen was busy as usual running around I have yet actually seen her lays an egg. She must have been busy other wise there wouldn't be so many bees. I have now learnt to place the frame very close to mty face and by peering over my galsses I could see the cells much better.

The plan now is to allow the colony to build up its strength for winter. I am not expecting any surplus honey this year. This will be a disappointment to all those freinds who are expecting a jar, but I think given that I did not get the bees till the middle of June , and the wet summer weather, it would be very lucky indeed to have any surplus. The big test now is to make sure the colony will survive the winter.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bees hanging out

Last Wednesday I went to a local neighbourhood policing meeting. We discussed the problem of groups, (usually youths) hanging around outside each other's house. I couldn't help think this is exactly what my bees do.

I have been  observing the hive at different times of the day. It is noticeable that the bees are more active (as expected) at certain times of the day. In mid-afternoon, and when the air temperature is high it is then a large number of bees appear to be just 'hanging out'. At their most vigorous mode the hustle and bustle outside the hive must resemble some kind of rush hour traffic.

Before I had the bees I had always assumed they will come and go very much like planes do at an airport. What I had not expected is this 'hanging out' together. When they do this many bees would just be milling around outside the entrance seemingly just chilling out. Maybe there is something we don't know about honey bees. 

Saturday, 18 July 2009

HIve inposection

Since the last inspection I took a good friend's advice and left the bees alone to "get on with things" for over 2 weeks. The weather last week was very poor. We had regular down pours. Some part of the country got a whole month's worth of rain in just 24 hours.

My son was very excited so my wife put a veil and a big coat over him and asked him to stand a little distance away and watch. He is asking for a proper bee suit.

On opening the hive I saw that none of the foundation frames in the super, which I added 2 week's ago, have been worked on. I did expect some sign of these foundations being drawn. Moving on to the brood box the picture was very different. All but two frames are now fully drawn. Frame 2 is half drawn and already has some honey. That leaves frame 1 still waiting for the bees to work on. The next few frames are all full of honey, but there are no obvious signs of brood cells. Then came frame 7  which has quite a few sealed brood cells. The following three frames also have plenty of brood.  I saw one bee emerging and also some grubs. But no sign of the queen this time round. There are a few drone cells. My eyesight is not the best and I am still finding it difficult to see any eggs. I shall properly get a more experienced keeper to come and have a look at my hive just to make sure things are as they should be.

Without doubt there will be no honey for me this year and am happy to let the colony to build itself up for the rest of the season.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Second inspection

My pear trees are full of fruits, and the two Buddleias on either ends of my hive are now in full bloom, so my bees have not got far to go for food. Yesterday I woke up rather early at 5 am and noted that the bees were already going out foraging.

I have been very busy with work this week so hive inspection was delay until today. I found the bees calm as before. They have not yet drawn the first three new frames at the near end, that I put down when they first arrived. From the fourth frame on ward there definite signs of recent activities. 

The original frames from the nuc are now well developed. The new drawn frames are full of store. The one empty new foundation that I placed at one end, right next to the original nuc frames, are now drawn and heavy with honey. I saw the queen again still loitering on one of the original nuc frames. There are seal brood cella some of which are drone cells, Everything look healthy enough. I tried but cannot see any eggs, or grubs. It's not easy seeing through the veil. I am thinking of getting someone who is more experience to have a look for me. Just for now I am happy that they are alright.

I am planning to put a super on top soon this will give them more space for storing food. As yet I have not decided if I should have a super as half of a brood chamber. This will give the hive a 'brood and a half' and should build up the colony nicely. Again I need to consult a more experience keeper. After the recent robbing incident I reduced the entrance with a mouse guard. This seemed to have done the trick. Yesterday as things appear to be better I finally removed the guard and now the entrance is back to normal.

Monday, 22 June 2009

First inspection

It's been ten days since I hive the nuc so today I had my first  inspection.  A friend, Christine, also a beekeeper came and help. My wife, Gina, took the photos.

Since yesterday's excitement with the robber bees I wasn't sure what we shall find.  After the normal smoke treatment I opened the crown board. The bees were calm and going about their business. 

Last Saturday I put six new frames down. The first four frames of new foundations remained undrawn though some bees were milling around.  The fifth frames shows sign of building activities. There was even some capped honey stores. The sixth frames had definitely been worked on.  We were watching out for the queen all the time. Once we got to the nuc frames it is obvious that a lot of work has been going on. It felt much heavier then when I picked them up last weekend. Some frames were very heavy with honey and pollen. We saw a few grabs and even a new bee emerging from a cell. Because of my eye ( I saw stung on my cheek on Sunday and by now my left eye lips had closed up) I couldn't see properly to search for signs of new eggs.

On the eight frames Christine spotted the Queen bee (click on the photo to get a better view). There she was  dotted in green.  She was just busy moving around, we assumed, searching for cells to lay her eggs in. It was surprising how fast she actually moves. One minute she is on one side the frame the next minute she disappeared and reappeared on the other side.

To finished off I placed frame one, which is new, at the other end of the hive so that the bees can work on it and give the hive a more even development. We closed up and sat down for a cup of tea.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Robber Bees!

Today we had a cool start then as the day progressed the temperature climbed slowly till it became quite hot. After a morning trip away I took a casual look at the hive. There appeared to be more then the usual number of bees at the entrance. I was first puzzled then became a little concerned because of the amount of noise they were making. Someone was not very happy.

I could see many workers returning with pollen, but there were also quite a number of bees just hovering in front of the hive. Something was happening though I wasn't quite sure what. Were they too hot, or something else? I watched for a while then to my horror I saw two bees tumbling out of the entrance fighting! Robbing!  I thought. I ran into the house and jumped into my bee suit and lit the smoker. I needed to reduce the entrance. Grabbing a handful of grass I got close to the hive and after a few puffs of smoke some of the bees flew away I stuffed some grass into the entrance. Some returning workers were a bit confused by the changes and started to walk to and fro on the entrance block. After a while things seems to calm down a bit. As things had been settling down so well up till now I was a bit shocked by this sudden turn of events. 

When I looked again, a few minutes ago, things seemed to have improved a lot. The bees are getting back to their normal rhythm.  Some of the grass has been removed by the bees. I am waiting for the sun to go down so that I can do a proper job in reducing the entrance. I am thinking of using my mouse guard and tape some of the holes up. There must be more bee hives near me than I expected.

Friday, 19 June 2009


It has been very busy for me this last two weeks. This is unusual but good because 'busy' means paid work. The down side is that I have hardly any time this week to enjoy my bees. I had been rising early and spending  all day in some small spaces only merging at the end of the day with juts enough time to take a peek at the hive to make sure the bees are feed.

Since hiving my bees lat Saturday they have taken five lots of feeds (1 kg of sugar to 1 pint of warm water per feed). At first I wasn't sure if I should continue with the feed, but a kind member of my local association, Jenny, told me that I should especially with the current weather pattern over our area being so strange, and the honey flow is not brilliant.

When my bees arrived last weekend the sun was smiling and all's well with the world. If anything it was too hot. Then  came Monday and poor weather was forecasted. I was a bit worry about the bees so I went to the bottom of the garden to take a look. I stopped quite near the hive and watched the comings and goings. I must have been there for minutes when the sky darken and there were sounds of distant thunders. As the bees hadn't bother me so far I thought I was alright where I was. One lone bee (probably bothered by the sudden change in weather) decided otherwise and started to buzz me. 

It's true what people say about the different sounds that bees make. This buzz was definitely a "go away, haven't you got a home to go to" sort. It got louder and in my face. I walked away quickly. It followed me, down the garden, buzzing. Then the inevitable happened: I felt a sharp pin on my unprotected head. It must have been a 'gentle' stab because I saw it flew away. As I nursed my wound indoor the heaven opened up. It was hailing, and this is June! I still have a little lump after three days. I shall remember to wear a hat next time.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Home sweet home

Day 2: The advantage of having a hive at the bottom of the garden is ease of access. Early this morning I popped into the garden to see how the bees are doing.

We had a hot day yesterday. Over night it rained and cooled thing down a little. The air is once again warming up and some bees are already out and about. I took a quick look at the sugar feed I put in the hive yesterday. The bees are busy feeding and much of the liquid has disappeared.

I spent some minutes just observing the coming and going of the hive. I was pleased to see that some bees are returning from their foraging with pollen on their legs (see top right of photo). June can be a difficult month for bees as Spring nectar flow comes to an end. I am wondering if I should replenish the feeder today, or just leave them to fend of themselves, as should be. While I am deciding on this I am just enjoying the  the gentle humming sound of the bees, and the sight of them dancing in the early morning sun.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Bees R us!

I got up early this morning, drove to Greenwich and collected the bees. My beeman said I have to hive them today! This is not what I expected and planned. After reading a few books I thought I would have time to let them settle down in the nuc first before moving to their new home, but I could see that the nuc I am supplied with simply doesn't allow that kind of operation. The bees are either in or out!

I drove home quickly and as soon as I arrived our house was buzzing with excitement and activity. My son, Jake, quickly put his bee veil on while I got myself ready. My wife helped to make the sugar solution. We then marched into the garden and the fun really began. To keep the bees a little calmer I covered over the nuc's mesh screen with a cloth.

As soon as I opened the nuc box the bees just poured out. They were a little upset and confused, which is natural. I quickly put the frames in the brood box. I made a quick check for the queen, but didn't see her. Rather than spending time searching for her, and risk upsetting the whole colony I decided to have a proper check next time; after they had a chance to settle down. After placing the sugar feed inside I closed up the hive. A few hours later I checked and found the bees happily flying in and out the hive. I certainly hope so.

Friday, 5 June 2009

At Last!

To borrow the line from Etta James's famous song: At last my bees have come along...

I called my beeman yesterday and he confirmed that I shall have my nuc of bees in a week's time. The long wait is sort of over. I better get on and make a few deep frames, which is sitting in a box at the moment.

Meanwhile down at the bottom of my garden something interesting is happening. The small bamboo plant, which got from one of my neighbour's garden, over a year ago, has suddenly decided to shoot up. I always intended this to be the last part of the screen to my hive. Now some of the shoots have reached over 10 feet tall and once the leaves unfold the bamboo will completely screen that area. In the photo you are just see the top of my hive at the bottom right corner.

I grew up in the Far East and bamboo are considered to be lucky things: Peace and prosperities. long may it be so.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Are we there yet?

Two of my friends, who follow this blog, complained that I haven't written anything since 18th May. Sorry about that. I simple truth is that I have nothing to say because my bees are still not here yet. The delivery date (last Saturday) came and gone. My beeman is most apologetic saying that I am near to the the top of his list for a delivery; weather is to blame. To be fair it had been very changeable and I also know that there is a rise in demand in bees, so I just to be patient.

I am, once again, expecting the little darlings to be here next Saturday on the 6th May. We shall see. The weather is very good at the moment; today we must be near the high 20 degree C. so fingers cross. We just spent the last three lovely days down by the cost camping at my friends' garden. Jane, my beekeeping friend, her bees are not doing too well. The swarm I mentioned (in a earlier blog) had not stay. The other hive is still queenless so there is a fair bit to do yet.

I shall contact my beeman later this week lets hope the news is good.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Rain stop play...

My bee man emailed me today to say that I am 7th on his list to have my bees delivered. He said "deliver", but it's more a case I have to go and collect it. Although he is just across the River Thames from me the uncertain 'delivering date' is causing a bit of a problem in terms of organising my weekends with my family. Until I know for certain which Saturday it will be all family arrangements for the next few weekends are up in the air. Naturally this does not endear me to my love ones especially as there is a bank holiday and a school holiday next week.

The weather, according to my bee man, is to blame. It is true that after brief periods of May sunshine we are (in London) having what we laughingly call our early summer weather. Last weekend I was down in Kent, by the coast, visiting my good friends, Jane and Richard. It was sunny and warm, but by the time I drove back to London, yesterday afternoon, it felt as if I had been in a different country. 

During my visit I took the opportunity to look at my friends' bees. Jane caught a swarm on Thursday and it was still in the cardboard box when I got there on Saturday. We installed them in a nuc, but couldn't locate the queen. Later on we decided (by watching the bees) she must be there. We also checked Jane's one remaining hive from last year. She lost two. It turned out that the remaining one is queenless. When I left on Sunday my friends were deciding if they should get a queen, or wait to see how the nuc is doing and may be merge the two. I did not have my bee suit or my veil, but still managed to look at the hive without any problem. Jane has this theory that bees can sense if a person is nervous around them. I wasn't so I didn't get stung. I did move very slowly though. Until my own bees arrive I can only 'enjoy' beekeeping by proxy I suppose.

"Rain rain go away. Come again another day"

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Now is the Month of Maying

It's May Day and my nose is starting to itch. There must be a great deal of pollen in the air! I suffer from hay fever, which in the past has lasted from June till beginning of July. Over the years this has changed. In the last few years my hay fever has started earlier in the season, and this year is the earliest yet. I think that whatever plants I am allergic to are flowering earlier. I have noticed as I get older my pollen allergy seems to get better. People have told me over the years that consuming local honey would cure hay fever. Well, we shall see.

Beekeeping  is making me take more notice of which plants are flowering. At the moment it is Holly, Hawthorne, Photinia (my neighbour's is covered in big clumps of blooms), and many more than I can name. I am counting all that lovely nectar my (long awaited) bees are not getting this year! As far as I know the nearest beekeeper is some two miles away so all the gardens up and down my neighbouring streets are well under used as far as honey making goes. 

I am told that that a young beekeeper, who has his bees further into the city, managed to get nearly 1000 lb of honey last year. A bit of an urban myth perhaps. But if it is true it may be due in a large part to a lack of competition for his bees. As awareness of the importance of bees and beekeeping grows competition for nectar in the future (from more bee hives) will also increase. This can't be a bad thing.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Armchair Beekeeper

While I wait for my nuc of bees to arrive (will they ever come?) I am forced to be a bit of an armchair beekeeper. My wife is finding my current choice of topics of conversation a bit dull: It is either bees, or plumbing. Just don't get me started on plumbing.

Having written about the bee programme on the BBC (last post). Another even better one popped up last night on TV. It's a documentary following a British beekeeper's journey to Nepal to take part in the annual local wild honey collection. 

This is an amazing programme - the stars are the bees, of course. These giant honey bees (Apis Laboriosa -twice the size of ours) build their hives high up on the side of cliffs, and the hives are enormous! The wild honey hunters have to climb down rope ladders to get at the honey comb while being attacked by millions of angry bees. It is destructive up to a point, but as with these old traditional practices they are wise enough to take just enough as not to affect the overall population of the bees. The honey is supposed to be very good. I just to have to take their word for it.

If you want to see it go to the BBC web site and look for it among the i-player programmes. It is a must for all bee lovers. BBC TV at it's best. Here is a link 

Friday, 24 April 2009

What I did last night

Last night the BBC devoted a hourly long TV programme on the plight of the honey bees - five people called me to tell me to watch it! Big thanks. It covers the whole range of problems facing honey bees: CCD, commercial beekeeping, stress, mono-crop, chemical poisoning... 

It was interesting (and disturbing) to see how commercial operations works. This is beekeeping - if you can call it that - as industrial production. It's a pity that the programme didn't spend  more time examining the stress factor cause by these operations. Although everyone agrees that trucking millions of bees across vast distance to pollinate crops "can't be good" for them. In order to solve problem of CCD in the US they fly bee packages from Australia!

It was also interesting to learn that urban bees has less of a problem ( chemical poisoning, and mono-crop) in comparison with bees in the country side. It seemed to suggest that urban beekeepers are less affected by CCD. Is this true? There was no mentioning of Top bar/ natural beekeeping, which is a bad omission.

Although we don't know exactly is killing the bees, we do know what the problems are - so what is the solution to arrest the decline? To me the best answer came from one contributor just so happen his bees are not far from where I live in London). He said people should be encouraged to keep a few hives of bees locally. I agree with this totally. This is one of the main reasons I have bees. If, say, 20 percent of a local population keep just a few hives surely that would help to solve the local pollination problem. We can still have commercial bees, but at a much reduced and localised scale. 'Small' as they say 'is beautiful'.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Bees on my head

This is the time of years when beekeepers are finely tune to what nature is doing. For seasoned beekeepers blooming flowers mean the all important honey flow. It is a busy time for both bees and for beekeepers. While the little worker bees buzz around foraging, collecting pollen and nectar, beekeepers have to keep a constant lookout for signs of swarming. New queen cells and over crowding are some of the signs which would spur many into preventative actions. 

Swarming is of course a huge inconvenience to beekeepers mainly because it weakens the existing colony, which would then greatly reduce honey production. In some cases the entire colony is lost. In beekeeping books, after bee diseases, swarming and prevention methods are the most written about subject. Inconvenience aside there is also the embarrassment factor, although most keepers accept swarming as a fact of nature's way most beekeepers consider it to be the fault of the owner. This is nothing compare to the 'horrify neighbour' factor: Murphy's law dictates that a swarm always managed to land in the garden of the (nervous) neighbour who doesn't like bees. 

The good news, for me, is that I don't have to worry about my bees swarming - not this year at least. In the first season my bees should be to busy building up the colony. Having said that I have read that even nucs could swarm. Have I mentioned keeping bees is like having teenage children around the house? 

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Bees in the forest

As mentioned in my last post, yesterday I attended an organised apiary visit. The hives belong to some members of our local association and are situated in beautiful surroundings, on the eastern edge of Epping Forest. For Londoners this large peaceful green open space is a welcome relief to the hustle bustle of the city.

Each year, at the end of every beginners bee class students are taken to these hives and get a real feel for beekeeping. It coincides with the opening of many of the hives. We all got to lay our gloved hands on the frames and peered at thousands of bees going about their business on the frames - and many more buzzing around us. We learned to identify a worker from a drone, and for my group we even spotted the queen! We were also shown the bands of brood, pollen and honey on the frames. The hives we saw were not too troubled by varroa - I counted 6 on a section of cut out drone cells. 

We were moving about with barely suppressed excitement. The warm sun shone through the forest, saturated the site with shades of vibrant spring greens. Only two of us managed to get a small sting on their fingers. A good day for all - I would say.


Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Waiting for Godot

Easter came and gone. We did our normal spring holiday routine and went up north for a long weekend, to spend some time with family and friends. Unusually, for England, we had a few lovely days of spring sunshine while, down south, London had some miserable weather.

Before I went away I left the newly painted hive in the bee spot. I wanted to weather the hive a little, to see if it will keep dry (it does), and to get rid of the smell of the paint. So the poor weather in London helped.  My pear tree has shed it's blossom in the poor weather. Before we know it spring will be over.

My hive is now ready and waiting for the bees to move in. This Saturday coming, weather permitting, I shall be visiting an apiary. The trip is part of our bee class and everyone in the class is looking forward to. It will be my first 'hands on' experience with bees. Well my hive is looking good although the waiting is getting to me. I suspect once my bees arrive it will be all hands on deck.

Friday, 3 April 2009

It's not a boy

The bee I mentioned in my last post was not a drone after all. I was told it is in fact a Miner bee. A quick search on the Net reveals that this little creature is a very important garden pollinator. One site said, though solitary, it is not a bumble bee. By chance the radio this morning was talking about the decline of bumble bees in Britain and how important they are to our ecology.

This week we have the world's G20 leaders in town for talks. Some people (the media, the police, anarchists) are getting over excited, as usual. Students of Chaos theory would know that the fate of this little bee, sunning itself in my garden, is just as important as the G20 economic talks that went on in London.

To borrow Robert Browning's phrase - ' The bee is in its place and all's well with the world.' 

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Bees (not mine) in my garden

Six more weeks and my bees should be here. The days are definitely getting warmer and my pear trees are in full bloom. These blossoms were buzzed by local bees; sadly they are not mine though I have a fair idea who they belong to. One local association member keeps his only a mile away so the ones in my garden today could well be his. I also saw what I thought to be a drone sunning himself on my garden wall - not busy working please note. I shall post a photo of it in a day or so.

I am trying to get my local allotment, where I have a vegetable plot, to allow beekeeping on its site. It is strange (but true) that at present there is a rule against plot holders keeping bees. You would have thought all vegetable growers would welcome the prospect of have these little pollinators on site, and on side, but not everyone is happy with the idea. The thought of having bees around is enough to send some people into a state. It's a case of fear over (logical) mind. As anyone who bother to read about bees knows the person who is most likely to get stung by bees are beekeepers. The further one is away from the hive the less likely one would get stung. Fear is an odd thing. Reason and logic find it hard to penetrate the fearful mind. The people I feel for are the ones who really want to keep bees on site. Having decided to have mine in my garden is not really an issue for me - thank goodness and the wife.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Spring time for...

The clock will be going into summer time this sunday - naturally we had a brief hail storm this afternoon - it's England after all. We like our weather being odd.

Last Sunday the whole country bathed in glorious sunshine; the days were getting longer and most of us thought 'this is it!' We were down in the country visiting our good friends Jane and Richard, who have a hive of bees in their garden. They had three last year but lost two. They have put an iron gate in front of the hive because of badgers!

I spent some time  with my son watching the comings and goings of the hive. Jake was delighted to see the bees with their little pollen baskets on their legs. Soon we'll be able to do this in our own garden. By tea time (when the photo was taken) the bees had disappeared back into the hive. I put my ear on the roof and heard a low contended hum.

Monday came and the cloud and the rain came and washed the early sign of spring away. Next week I shall be painting my hive - light green I think.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Meet Baz

Meet our resident bumble bee. We call it Baz. It started to appear a few days ago when the warm weather seems to be here to stay. It buzzes around in our garden, takes in the sun, then after a while pops back into its tiny home which is at the bottom of the Buddha garden.

Baz is very different , size aside, from its honey producing sisters. It is solitary whereas honey bees are social insects. Beekeepers are encouraged to think of bees as a collective being, rather than a collection of beings, and to care for them accordingly. Although we tend to anthropomorphise them, in reality honey bees could not be more different from us humans. We choose to be social beings whereas bees are social beings by nature. Their social structure is as complicated as ours but cannot be explained in simple human social political analogy. That said in the current economic climate it would be interesting to think what would happen to bankers et al if they were bees. Indeed, what type of bees would they be? Drones perhaps. I digress.

Yesterday, being a good citizen, I registered myself as a beekeeper, which according to a recent (badly written) article in the Times, is an issue with the government's bee inspectorate. I hope that they don't decide to come and look at my bees just yet - they are not here till May.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Spring and the Natural way

Outside my front door the cherry tree is in blossom - spring has sprung at last. Yesterday and today, London bathed in glorious sunshine. I spent some time in the garden just sitting and taking things in. I watched two honey bees buzzing around, flying from plant to plant and wondered whose bees were they? Our resident bumble bee was also out and about.

With the beekeeping hardware taken care of I am starting to concentrate a bit more on other aspects of beekeeping: hive management. This, of course, is the important bit. As with all hobbies there are different approaches to hive management - different schools of thought. These can be broadly classified as 'Traditional' and 'Natural'. 

Traditionalists, by definition, manage their hives very much as it has always been done. They focus much more on honey production. Honey is the raison d'etre of healthy bees. The Naturalists, on the other hand, take a more holistic, even empathic, approach: bees first, honey second.  As bees face the crisis of population decline these different approaches matter a great deal. 

The Naturalists are arguing for a more empathic way of beekeeping: caring, rather than managing the bees in order that they are better equipped in dealing with diseases. Natural beekeepers oppose the use of chemicals in the management of hives. "Listen to the bees" is the key issue here. From what I have read so far the natural beekeepers' arguments are persuasive, and to my mind has certain environmental logic. "The jury is still out", as one natural beekeeper said, but what we know is that modern beekeeping methods may be causing some of the problems we are facing, so we must look for better ways to do things in order to arrest the decline of bees.

Friday, 13 March 2009

The hive that Chi built

Voila here it is! 

Once I got going it didn't take that long. This is the National hive for the bees. It consists of the base (if you look closely you can see the small entrance for the bees), the Brood box, two Suppers, and the roof on the top.

There is nothing inside yet. The frame, which is where the bees will draw the comb for living and storing the honey, is the next thing to be assembled then place inside. There are 22 frames in total. More woodwork! It needs a coat of paint. I have plenty of time before the bees are here. I shall be collecting the bees in mid-May at the earliest. It's like waiting for Christmas. 

Some people name their hives. What shall I call this one, I wonder?

Woodwork and a spoonful of honey

I have begun the task of put the flat pack bee hive together. This is the Brood box, which is where the queen will spend her time laying and the nursery bees feeding the larvae. 

The pack consists of 1 Brood box, 2 Supers, a roof, and a base. The Supers are exactly like the Brood in design except that they are shallower - for a good reason. This is where the bees will store their honey. In my bee class, last night, we had the chance of handling a frame of honey - it's quite heavy. These boxes can accommodate about 11 frames, which for a super, in a National hive, will weight a total of around 3o lb (16Kg). Other type of hives are much bigger, so one can imagine the weight of the honey in those. It takes thousands of flights to produce a tea spoon of honey, and they fly at a speed of 15 miles an hour. So next time you see a jar of honey think about the air mile. 

Like many hobbies beekeeping has it's share of related activities: reading (lots), gardening (a little), and woodwork (as much as one likes). Although strictly speaking what I am doing is not woodwork just assembling the parts together, there is still a demand of attention to details during the process and the satisfaction of seeing, and touching, the finished product. This I suppose is the essence of why so many people like doing craft. My task was made harder by a lack of written instructions. I was sent a wrong set of plan although I managed to worked most of it out, and later had it confirmed by the supplier of my hive. Yesterday during my experiment with fitting the parts together my front room resemble a workshop!  When the whole hive is done I shall post a photo of it. It's looking good.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Hive in Bee Flat

You are looking my new hive (in Bee flat). Somewhere among this lot of wood is a national hive - waiting to be put together. When I took the parts out of the box - to take a photo - the room was filled with a lovely scent of cedar wood, and better still, bees wax.

I got the hive from a supplier on the other side of the river (South London side to you). The shop owner, Mr Munro, a beekeeper of 25 years standing, is a kindly looking man and very helpful. His shop is stuffed with all manner of beekeeping things. He turned out to be an ex-plumber! 

While we were in the shop another beekeeper came in and when I asked him where his hives are, he said "at the back of Walthamstow town hall", which is very near me! Two coincidences in a day.

I have also ordered my bees, which will be with me in May. There is a bit of a surge in demand for bees this year, according to Mr Munro. My own research confirms this.  This is no surprise given how much publicity beekeeping has had in the media in the recent month. 

I am now waiting for the fitting instructions for the hive, which will be sent to me by email. Where is my hammer?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Bees Fence

My 'Bees Fence' plants arrived yesterday, and we planted them this morning. To the right is the Spottisporum with the Photinia next to it. Today the sun is out but it's quite cool with a strong breeze. Gina and I deliberated for sometime and finally decided on the exact positions for the plants. The space they are in were empty for some years. Now it is filled by the plants it looks just right.

Yesterday I got my latest plumbing exams results. I passed with good marks and to celebrate  I shall get my hive this coming week. Very exciting.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Fools rush in

The weather has again turned a few notches down in the last few days. I suppose it's the cold season having one last big heave before the spring makes it's proper entrance. This week we actually had brief periods of hail storm! Today the sun is shining.

Gina and I  have finally chosen the plants for the garden, which will be a barrier to the bees' flight path (straight into the main part of our garden). The plants we chose are Photinia (red robin) and  Pittosporum. Both are of GAS quality (Gina Approves Standard). 

As the both plans are too tall of our car we are having them delivered. When we first moved into this home eight years ago I planted a pear tree and in the early years I shaped it into an espalier. It now stood nicely against the bottom wall of our garden and gives us lots of pears every year. The bees will love it.  The new plants we are getting will need regular pruning, to keep it at reasonable height, I am looking forward to shaping these.

Last night's bee class was devoted entirely to bee diseases. We were told about some of the major diseases and what to do if they occur, and had a look at some Varroa mites under a microscope. They look nasty. Their life cycle is so dove tailed to the development of the bees it's truly amazing. Beekeeping must be one of the very few hobby that requires you to be knowledgeable about the downside (disease, swarming ect)  before you actually have the fun bit (honey). Focusing so much on disease has inevitably taken its toll on our class, a number of people are rethinking about keeping bees as a hobby. My moto here is " where angel fear to tread...". Sometime there is worse thing in life then being a fool.

Monday, 2 March 2009


Gina and I are looking into what kind of natural barrier we shall have to 'fence' off the bees when they arrived. Yesterday I was down at the local garden centre and spoke to a nice nurseryman. He suggested a Laurel, or a Red Robin (Phontinia) hedge. Both are evergreen and will, if allow to, grow pretty high. Whichever I choose will need trimming from time to time (extra gardening for me). I quite like the Phontinia with its red leaves on the top. Whatever hedge we decide on will occupy the space across the area where the pot is in the photo above. It will have to be just high enough to encourage the bees to fly high while not hiding the pear tree completely. This photo shows how the hive will be boxed in nicely on all side.

I have spoken to a couple of neighbours about the bees. One of them, whose English is a bit elementary, doesn't seems to know what I meant while the other gave an 'Oh No' reaction until her young son said he loves to come and watch them when they are here! Bless that child I say. 

Yesterday I mentioned my bees to someone at my local conservation group, and she told me that she had some local honey and it tasted really good. This is encouraging. The weather is turning cold again. Looking out to the grey sky summer seems a long way away. 

Friday, 27 February 2009

Bees mark the spot

Gina agreed that we can have the hive in our garden. Hurrah! Although she is still a little concern. We are looking into ways to control the bees' flight path, to and from the hive, ensuring that they leave and return the hive at a great height.

On sunday morning I took advantage of the fair weather, and domestic entente cordiale, to give our messy wintering garden a good tidying up. The main objective was, of course to prepare my bees spot. Two local foxes had been practically living (and yes they did) in our garden for the last few months. Time they move out.

In order to get some working space, when the hive is in place, I have to reclaim part of my small vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden right next to my pear tree. I placed wooden planks on the ground to make it more stable to stand on. The bees spot will be where my compost bin used to be. It is a great little spot. When the hive comes it will have a high wall and a pear tree to the north , a tall buddleia behind it, and a small bamboo bush to the south of it. The morning sun should touches it at around 9:30. 

Throughout this week I had been reading an excellent book: Practical Manual of Beekeeping -by David Cramp. It's well written and informative, though, once again, the chapter on bee disease can be really off putting though very interesting. While reading this chapter honey was the last thing on my mind. I do like the way that Cramp tells how things went wrong in his early bee keeping days including exploding jars of honey!

I had my second bee class last night. Learn how to make frames - good fun. We had a good look at some ex-honey bee (cue Monty Python). The tiny pretty insects reminded me of my children when they were babies. Ahh...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

A 'small' garden

This week the weather is warming up at last. There is a real feeling of spring in the air. It's warm enough today for me to venture out into the garden, with just my short sleeve top, to measure the size of my garden: It's about 13 m (39 ft)x 4.7 m (14.1 ft).

Gina and I cannot agree if our garden is big enough for my hive of bees - she thinks it's too small. She needs to be convinced that the bees will not bother her when she uses the garden in the summer. I plan to place the hive some 5 m (15 ft) away from where we usually sit, and if I put a high fence around the hive the bees' flight path will make it even less likely that we, or our immediate neighbours, will be disturbed by them. Our negotiation continues.

Early in the year I found an alternative site for my hive. A good friend agreed that I can put a hive in her back garden, which is bigger then ours. Since then my research into all things bees has led me to think that this site may not be the best place because of a large pears tree, which may put the hive in the shade for most of the day. Bees need early sun on their hive. I am also in the process of persuading my local allotment committee to allow bees in their allotment. It is strange, but true, that beekeeping is not permitted on this particular allotment, though I know a number of plot holders had said they would like to have bees on their plots.

I shall order a hive soon having decided, for practical reasons, to have a National hive after all. I am still looking to have a Top bar hive eventually. Yesterday I emailed a number os suppliers about hives and bees. To me surprise some have already stopped take order for bees! It's still only February.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Bee class on snowy night

On Thursday evening Dave, my neighbour, and I drove through the damp and snowy streets of North East London to our first beekeeping class. I had been looking forward to this for weeks. The class took place in the local horticultural hall; a building a little bigger then a hut. Even though it was a cold evening eighteen budding beekeepers turned up. Our age range from 'youth' to 'elderly' with the average leaning towards middle age. 

The class was run by Ken and Jenny; both long time beekeepers. He has the demeanour of an keen knowledgeable amateur.  They began by cutting  tiny pieces of white cotton threads into our palms. This, Ken informed us, is the size of a bee's egg!  A useful reminder for everyone what to look out for in our hives. After an hour of talk on the generality on beekeeping: how many eggs the queen bee will lay in a day (1000), how many bees there are in a hive (around 70,000) Ken moved onto the subject of diseases. Though it is all very useful and important to know about such things clearly it was all a bit too much, and  off putting, for some in the class. After all it was only our first lesson. One poor student was clearly troubled by the precarious nature of beekeeping. To Ken it's all in a season of beekeeping. 

Next lesson  we shall be learning how to make up frames for the hive. Where is my hammer and Stanley knife?

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Bee welfare and sustainability

A hive is a box where one keeps bees. Simple enough you'd think. But, out there there are an array of different types of hives and for a novice like me, and given the costs of a new hive, it can be hard to decide which type to have. In the last few days this is further complicated, for me, by the notion that I should give more thoughts to the welfare of the bees with regards to sustainability. 

Until a few days ago I was weighing up the choice between a National or a Langstorth hive. They are, in fact, very similar and my concern was based purely on which is more practical in terms of handling. Then I came across the Top Bar bee hive and more specifically a web site dedicated to Top Bar beekeeping where I read about some of the issues of bee welfare and sustainability. Until now I had not given too much thoughts about the intensive nature of honey production in 'normal' bee hives. Bee hives as we know it was invented to encourage high yield in honey production. It is argued by some Top Bar beekeepers that traditional hives, by it's construction, is affecting the biology and the welfare of the bees. Top Bar beekeeping aims to allow the bees to build their comb in a fashion that is more natural to the bees, though this has implication on honey production. 

Honey, and general interest, aside the other main reason I want to keep bees is the fact that bee population, in the UK and elsewhere, is suffering a decline. Many, in the bee keeping community, believe this is due largely to human activities: use of pesticide in farming. As bees are crucial to our own survival this is more then an academic debate. I am still thinking about what hive I should start with, but now I am starting to think more about sustainability and bee welfare. If you are interested  to read more about Top Bar beekeeping you can go to this site - www.biobees.com

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

My Bee Project

Welcome to my Bee Blog

This blog is primarily to keep friends and families informed about my beekeeping activities. After many years of wanting to keep bees I am finally doing something about it. So far I have signed up for a beekeeping class (starts next week), read up on beekeeping (again), and more importantly found a place to put my first hive (3 miles from my home).

I live in the city and by all accounts London honey is good. This is due largely to the fact that there are many gardens here. Not sure how much honey my hive will eventually produce, but I shall do my best. My father-in-law wondered: with the decline in bee population whether it's a good time to start keeping bees. Ye of little faith.

At the moment there isn't much to do other than waiting for Spring to arrive. Beekeeping is strictly a fair weather activity. Last week I contacted a good friend who has a hive of bees in her garden in Kent: She told me that she will not be opening her hive till March. We are having unusually cold weather this year so I expect this is a factor.

My choice of hive is the next big decision. I had almost decided on a National hive, but after much reading and thoughts I am turning my attention to the Langstroth hive. The former is more popular in Britain, and the latter more popular worldwide, especially in North America. Decisions, decisions. More reading and research I suppose. I haven't got to the bees yet!