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.