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.