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 -

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!