Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Life of a Beekeeper - July & 'The Swarm'

8 July 2012 The Hive has Swarmed

As soon as we removed the roof we knew the hive had swarmed as there were only one or two bees in the top super now so we removed this completely. The second super also had a lot less bees in it and not much more had been capped. It was similar in the first super. The weather had again been awful all week with just one day of sunshine.

So, to the brood chamber. The first comb had a queen cell and another three queen cells were found on the third comb from the far end. No sign of the original queen who had obviously cleared off with the swarm. We decided to leave all the queen cells on and let nature sort it out.

We spent a fruitless hour wandering around the garden trying to find the swarm, in the hope that they hadn't gone far and we could rescue it, but to no avail.

During the week the bees have been warning us away from the hive, so we took it that no queen was present yet.

14 July 2012 New Queenie and Our First Swarm

What an exciting day. On the way down to inspect the hive, we could hear a swarm on the other side of our hedge. We decided to go ahead with our inspection and deal with that afterwards. Butterflies already starting in the stomach!

On inspecting the hive we found a new queen and lots more queen cells. The first, third, fourth and fifth frames all had at least one queen cell on. We found the new queen on the sixth frame. She looks completely different to the original queen but most definitely a queen. At least two of the queen cells were open and the bees were tending all of them. We put everything back as it was, again trusting them to sort themselves out as we had no way of knowing if the new queen had taken her maiden flight yet and mated. We decided that apart from having a quick look through the glass crown board we would leave them alone for the next two weeks.

So, the swarm.... As it was in next door's field we felt we should really deal with it. After all, we had a second hive standing empty. I think we thought we would either buy another nuc or split the original hive but dealing with a swarm seemed like the next step in our life as beekeepers. We strolled round nonchalantly to the farm next door and told them they had a swarm in their hedge and could we have a look to see if we could capture it.

After reassuring them it was relatively safe for us all to take a look, they turned the electric fence off in the cowfield and we all had a look. It was in the hawthorn hedge. It was obviously too much to ask that it would be hanging off a nice, overhanging branch. We took on the challenge and went back to ours to get kitted up, telling them we'd let them know when it was safe.

Kitted up and armed with the smoker, secateurs, bee brush, nuc box and a bedsheet we went back round. Butterflies were now doing cartwheels. On the way round we passed another neighbour with their grandchildren. The little boy of about 4, recognised us as beekeepers which was great, as if he had been older he might have thought we were coming to deal with a nuclear outbreak or something.

Back in the field we had to climb over the now unclipped electric fence and then the outer fence, giving us a long strip to work in which was only about 3 feet wide. We laid the sheet on the ground making our first mistake as we didn't spread it out enough. I held the nuc box up, having been warned by Pete that about 2-3 pounds of bees were about to land in it and I needed to make sure I was ready and not drop it. As if! Luckily I managed to brace it in the hedge so didn't notice the weight too much.

Pete then took the box and put it upside down on the sheet which we'd put a frame of foundation onto. He then used the lid of the box to prop one corner up so that the rest of the bees would be encouraged to enter it (the queen bee likes to be in the dark and the rest follow her). The bees that had been flying around gathered back in the hedge. Knowing that we had to capture the queen we cut the branch they were on and knocked them onto the sheet with the others, doing this twice more until we were satisfied we had got as many as possible. We waited about 10 minutes to see if they were going to stay where they were and went to tell our obliging neighbours that we felt we'd captured the bees but needed to let them settle down for a couple of hours before collecting them.

The weather started to draw in again and it looked like a storm was coming, so earlier than planned, at about 5.30pm we headed round to collect them. Back over the fence and most of the bees were still in the nuc box. Pete gathered up the sheet around it which would have been easier if we'd spread it out more and we put the lid on top. He lowered the box over the fence and while I held on to the top he climbed back over the fence. We then had a very adrenalin filled walk back round to our house and down the garden with what was basically a bottomless box with a large amount of bees hanging down below it, being kept in by my finest cotton sheet.

Between capturing the swarm and collecting it, we'd been avidly reading the books and had got two feeders ready, one for the old hive and one for the new. At the new hive we realised we hadn't taken the empty supers down for the feeders to go in and had left the feed behind. We carefully lowered the bees to the ground and went back for the supers and feed. Back at the hive and now we'd forgotten the door bar; we'd already decided which process to use to get the bees into the hive and didn't want to lose the queen immediately by leaving the door open and letting her escape straightaway so it was a run back to the house to collect it – not easy in full beekeeping kit.

Okay, now we're back at the hive and think we have everything with us. We had a choice now – let the bees walk up a board into the hive, which is the cool thing to do, especially if you can sit and watch them but with the weather closing in we decided to knock them straight into the hive. They went into the brood chamber like a treat and we then gently filled it with foundation combs, making sure we didn't press down and damage any bees. On went the crown board and feeder. After a minute of two we removed the entrance bar and hurrah, the bees stayed in the hive and one or two soon started to come out and explore the area. We then put a feeder on the new hive.

We felt like real beekeepers now but thoroughly exhausted after an adrenalin filled afternoon. Barely managed a glass of wine before falling asleep in the evening.

The following day the bees at both hives were happily going about their business. We put the entrance bar back on the new hive in order to reduce the entrance and help them defend it against any predators, such as wasps.

Next week we need to inspect the new hive to see if there are any eggs which will tell us if we have a mated queen or not. As we're rubbish at spotting eggs it could be a bit frustrating.

So we learnt a few lessons today – spread the sheet out more and make sure you have everything you need with you although the books say you always seem to have forgotten something.

21 July 2012 First Inspection of the Swarm Hive

Spotted the queen and some capped honey but no sign of any grubs or eggs (which we can't see anyway). The queen looked like our original one but as this was definitely a second swarm, it may not have been. We decided to leave the new hive for 2 weeks before inspecting it again to give them time to settle down.

28 July 2012 Big hive, Inspection following Swarm

I'm to take the lead on the inspection this time. Took the feeder off and placed carefully on the floor as still some bees on it even though there was no food left. The glass crownboard wouldn't come off straightaway and I struggled a bit using the hive tool to help remove it as this was my first time and I was unsure of what pressure to apply. Some frames in the top super were being drawn out and quite a few frames in the bottom super were covered in bees and some more capping had taken place.

It took some effort to take the queen excluder off without upsetting the bees as it was stuck in several places. There were three queen cells on the first frame and they were occupied. The second frame had lots of stores but no sign of the queen. The bees were starting to get a bit annoyed at this point, indicated by a notable increase in their volume. There were more queen cells on the fourth frame which we removed as we knew we had occupied cells on the first frame and if we didn't spot the queen we could leave those to develop. We found the queen on the fifth frame which also had queen cells but as she was on the edge of the frame I put her back in as quickly as possible. In the brood chamber the bees were running about the frames and clearly not happy which we believe is because they had no eggs or grubs to tend to. Sixth frame in and I was now getting nervous and taking too long as the bees weren't really reacting to the smoker and there were so many bees on the frames that Pete took over handling them. The rest of the frames were okay and we quickly went back through removing as many queen cells as possible.

We then decided we would leave this hive for two weeks to allow them to settle down.

The Life of a Beekeeper - June 2012

2 June 2012

As most of the feed had been taken at the last inspection we put a block of ambrosia on during the week and now virtually all the frames have been drawn out with many, many, fat grubs on the new frames, proving that the queen is still present. We spotted her on the middle frame, about twice the size of the workers and nutbrown in colour. I thought she looked a bit weird but found some pictures of the same type of queen on the internet, so happy.

About half the frames in the super were drawn out but no honey as yet. Lots of honey in the brood chamber and some capped. Bees coming back to the hive with yellow and red pollen. Two fields of rape seed oil one field away, which was good to see. Perhaps we can learn to ignore the hayfever we both get from it, if it means we have a good hive and the honey should, of course, help with the hayfever.

10 June 2012

Unexpectedly sunny day giving the amount of rain we have had. High level of activity at the hive. Queen spotted on the outermost frame next to the dummy board and the outermost frames now virtually full of capped brood.

The super is now getting very heavy. There is still some undrawn comb so they have plenty of space left to expand into. No capped honey in the super yet. The ambrosia is about half eaten so we left it on. Left it on, after dropping it on the floor with lots of bees still on it! They were not happy but we did apologise.

17 June 2012

Yay, queen spotted again. Some capped honey in the super now, but not a lot. We removed some brood cells hanging over the bottom of the frames. We checked the varroa floor, as we have at each inspection and thought we could see some varroa but weren't absolutely sure. Sometimes being a newbie is very frustrating.

The ambrosia was now finished, so we put a small sugar feeder on as the weather has been appalling, with lots and lots of rain. You may wonder how we knew to get a sugar feeder ready. We have a glass crown board which lets us remove the lid during the week without disturbing the bees and gives us a good idea of how things are in the hive.

Back in the house and out came the books (Guide to Bees and Honey, Ted Hooper MBE; Bees at the bottom of the garden, Alan Campion and Gay Hodgson) and  leaflets we were given on the course at Thornes, produced by Fera, the most useful of which was Managing Varroa. They said if you weren't sure about disease you could take some cells off and inspect them. As we had removed some brood cells overlapping the frame, I went out to the shed and took some cells apart. Yeuch, what a job. It did, however, confirm presence of varroa, so another lesson learnt and we can now recognise them and measure how many there are on the varroa floor.

30 June 2012

The rain, ever present this year, started before we finished inspecting the brood chamber which was disappointing as we had to rush everything. We didn't see the queen this time but still plenty of grubs which there should be, with us spotting her on the 17th. However, we now had queen cells which was very disconcerting. We removed a few of them but daren't take them all off in case we didn't have a queen any more. We put some Apiguard strips in to reduce the number of varroa. Apparently, you can't get rid of them altogether but need to reduce the number so that the hive is healthy enough to get through the winter.

All the syrup had been taken so we removed the feeder and installed a second super. Inspecting through the glass crown board later in the week showed they had moved into the second super and were drawing the frames out but by the end of the week they had almost abandoned it. Nervously waiting for good weather so that we can inspect again.

Now feeling really nervous as fairly certain there will be a swarm. There are so many views on what you should do when you see queen cells, remove them all and install a mated queen, leave all but a couple of cells and let nature take its course. Whatever you choose, the waiting time to the next inspection is not easy.

The Life of a Beekeeper - First Inspection

26 May 2012

Four of the five new frames placed last week were already fully drawn out and being filled with honey, with the fifth frame being started. We added a super and left the remainder of the syrup on (only about 10%). Lots of grubs and bees emerging. We didn't spot any eggs or the queen this time. There were no grubs in the new frames so we must check these fully next week to ensure the queen is present and laying.

No sign of any queen cells being produced. Pete had his first sting, on the thumb. We'll keep a better eye out for them on hands in future.

I can't tell you how hard it is to walk away not knowing if the queen is still there or not. We're having to develop a whole new level of patience.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Life of a Beekeeper - The Big Day Arrives

20 May 2012  The 'Big Day' has arrived. All the preparation done: hives bought in kit form and built, lessons attended, books and websites read.

Practical workshop today at Thornes near Lincoln and they very kindly let us pick our bees up at the same time. Felt slightly nervy on the drive back, with a few thousand bees strapped into the back seat but thankfully only one was loose. Only one, she says, which unfortunately we had to let out of the window after about 40 miles as it became too interested in me, the driver!

We placed the nuc on the hive stand and left it until evening. We then transferred the 6 frame nucleus which was very full of bees, into the hive. Our smoker went out almost immediately but because of the practical we had had earlier, when we had the same problem, having inspected so many hives, we were confident enough to go ahead. The bees seemed very calm which added to our confidence. We thought we spotted the queen, unmarked, but couldn't be absolutely certain and we couldn't hang around as the priority was to get them into the hive. Five new frames of foundation were added and a gallon of syrup in a contact feeder.

When making the feeder up it would have been useful to know that when you turn it over the syrup pours out. We thought the feeder was leaking but it actually stops very quickly and some of the syrup running into the hive doesn't do it any harm, as it tells the bees that there is food for them.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Oh what Folly!

OK, we dug a pond, a few years ago.  It was a big pond and as we had very few beds at that time, there was nowhere to put the soil, so we made a 'mound'.  Well, we figured as we live in a flat area it would, and it does, give us a view over the surrounding farmland.  We sowed some grass seed and a couple of pounds of wildflower seeds and it looked fantastic the first year.  After that, it wasn't so good, mainly as the poppies didn't appear again and the more invasive wildflowers took over, something we have now seen repeated at a garden and nursery we like to visit, Breezy Knees, outside York.

We stripped it off earlier this year and sowed some Medallion lawn seed, available from Rolawn Ltd.  It looked very nice but needed something on top.  I favoured a hololith but they're expensive.  So being the recyclers that we are, we decided to build a folly from a pollarded willow.  We'd already created a new willow tree and a willow arch from it, so why not a folly?  After a very hot morning digging deep holes to bury the willow in and tying it together, we were pleased with the result.  It will take several months to know if it has worked but should be worth the wait and will be a lovely picnic spot. Or it may be complete and utter folly! What's gardening without experimentation.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

It's Red, Wooden and Californian

Having been blown away by the Californian Redwoods on the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive in the New Forest and in the Peebles area of Scotland, as soon as we had a garden large enough we purchased two redwoods and planted them in the middle of the garden.  This was in 2008 and we then proceeded to build the rest of the garden round them.  We planted them to what I am assured allows for the width they will eventually become, although I suspect we will have to cut an archway through them, if we want to be able to continue to access the orchard through the existing arch!

We positioned the summerhouse so that they will provide some shade on the hottest days.  If I'm honest, we didn't really think this one through but there are plenty of other areas we can sunbathe in, in 10 years time, when there probably won't be much sun at the summerhouse at all.  South is the direction behind us, so the only thing they will provide shade for is the summerhouse which give us plenty of apples and pears for the scrumpy as the orchard develops.

The Redwoods are growing at a rate of knots and each year we take a photograph to map their growth.  Our little cat, Missi, usually joins in as she doesn't like to be left out and loves a walk round the garden.

I have now dug a decent border for them and underplanted them with dwarf echium raised from seed and forget-me-nots transplanted from self-seedlings, for the bees to enjoy.  We have honey bees for the first time this year and a bumblebee nest under the summerhouse decking so a few more bee friendly plants won't go amiss.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Dandelion Wine

Dandelions are out in force at the moment, so why not benefit from them and make yourself some wine. There are so many of them that there will still be plenty of little rays of sunshine left to brighten your day, or not, depending on where they are growing!

Best picked in the morning, in sunshine. It will take you about half an hour but all that bending will be good for the waistline.

Pick enough heads so that the petals loosely fill a gallon container
4.5 litres of water
1.5kg sugar
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g raisins, chopped or squashed by putting in a carrier bag and pounding, or 200ml can of white grape juice concentrate
1 sachet of white wine yeast
Yeast nutrient

Hold the base of the head of the flower and snip the petals off. You will get sticky fingers!
Boil the water and pour over the petals, cover and leave for a couple of days, giving the mixture an occasional stir.
Pour the mixture into a large saucepan and add the lemon zest (try not to include pith as that can make it bitter).  Bring to the boil then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Continue to boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and the crushed raisins or grape juice concentrate.
Pour the mix into a clean fermenting bucket and cover until cool, then add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover once again. If your fermentation bucket has a lid, still cover it with a cloth to make sure fruit flies can't enter it. 
Ferment for three or four days then transfer into a demijohn using a sterilised sieve and funnel. Fit a bubble trap and allow to ferment for a couple of months. Rack off into a fresh demijohn, leave it until clear then bottle. Enjoy.

Compost Awareness Week 6-12 May

It's International Compost Awareness Week from 6-12 May 2012, so a compost blog seemed apt.

Instead of filling up the bins for the council and increasing what goes to landfill why not have a go at making your own compost. You can compost most things – green waste includes
uncooked kitchen waste, i.e. vegetable and fruit peelings, teabags, eggshells, grass clippings (don’t add too many) and brown waste is low density cardboard such as toilet roll tubes and cereal boxes, old bedding plants and shredded paper. Some scrunched up paper can also be added. Whatever you do, make sure you have a good mixture of contents, including green and brown waste. Twiggy material is best chopped up as you’re adding it, or it will take longer to break down. Nettles soaked in water and added to the bin act as a good, natural activator and will help to break down the contents.

Compost bins are readily available at garden centres, DIY stores and online. Your local council will also have reasonably priced bins on their website. Alternatively, you can make your own bin from wood. We have created three large bins in a screened area of our garden. The front of the bins have removable planks to enable easy
emptying of the bins. When we decide a bin is full, we cover it with some old carpet or cardboard which helps to keep the heat in and break down the contents into lovely, friable, compost. You do have to wait though but it’s definitely worth it. It should be ready after 6-12 months but may need longer if the mixture is not quite right. If your bins are too dry add some more green waste or add some water.

Leaves can be added to your bin in small quantities but are better dealt with separately. You can fill old compost bags (well, you’ll probably still have to buy some) with leaves. Make sure the bags have plenty of holes in them and leave in a corner until they’ve broken down.  A small amount of grass clippings can also be added, making sure you mix it well. After a year you have your own soil conditioner.

We also have a wormery which we put uncooked food waste in, but don't add anything from the onion family as they think they're icky. Wormeries produce compost but also a liquid feed which should be watered down by half before using.

If you’re making new beds and taking grass up to do so, create a loam pile. Add the sods face down. The outside of the loam pile may look a bit hairy (unless you cover it) but when you dig into it, the resulting loam can be put back onto your borders.

Weeds are slightly more difficult to deal with. Annuals can be added straight to the bin, if they haven’t already seeded. These include my pet hate, chickweed. For perennial weeds such as dandelions, couch grass, mare’s tail and bindweed, chop these up into an old compost bag or bin liner, again making sure they have plenty of holes in. Leave in the sun and once broken down in a messy sludge, add to the compost bin. To be honest you’re probably best dealing with all the weeds in this way as it is extremely difficult when weeding to separate them, well it certainly is in my garden! And yes, you can add rhubarb leaves to the compost.

Make your own seed compost by mixing one part sharp sand, one part compost and one part well rotted leaf mould. This will give you an ideal blend to plant your seeds and young plants in.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Drought proofing or art installation?

I'm sure most of us tend to have good intentions to install water butts but if you're anything like us, there is always something better to do in the garden and something a bit more exciting to spend your money on. But there's no point in pretending to be green and recycling as much as you can if you don't save some rainwater as well.

The current drought and hosepipe bans further south gave us the impetus and we duly ordered six water butts from Yorkshire Water, not expecting to receive them very quickly as sales soar in a ban. The guttering was installed on the summerhouse roof and we awaited their arrival. Not surprisingly it took almost four weeks. They arrived on Thursday and the sun shone on Friday, for the first time in a long time. Installed on Saturday we now have a water butt farm which will hold 1200 litres. It's rained incessantly today and two of the butts were a quarter full at lunchtime.

We had one water butt by the house but nothing further down the garden and wanted to ensure that the fruit trees planted last year, the grapevines and the newly planted border didn't run short of water. I'm pleased with how they look and if we find them intrusive, we'll just plant another hedge.

Of course, you don't have to buy water butts - ask around and you may be able to pick up some plastic drums. These work just as well, you will have to purchase connectors and diverters but at a fraction of the cost.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Peas and Bees

Slow start this weekend, needed to visit B&Q to get some wood for the pea supports. Sunk them quite deep with the aid of our trusty and ancient sledgehammer and added a cross beam to give more stability. Stapled some chicken wire across the supports and they were ready. Freezing cold by this point so sowing had to wait.

Sowed peas Sunday morning - used up all my saved stock so there are plenty of extras for the mice to pinch. I dry some pods each year to keep the cost down. One more set of supports to put some wire on but I'll sow that one in a few weeks time or we won't keep up with picking and processing.

Beehives in position but the base needs enlarging as they feel too close together which means they probably are. Managed to get some of the edible hedge weeded. Second year of planting and looking good. We bought larger plants than normal as this is an extension of a hedge planted 4 years ago and we didn't want them to take too long to catch up. The edible hedge surrounds the orchard, also planted up last year. The echium sown at the base of some of the fruit trees is coming up, so the bees should be fairly happy when they arrive.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Lawn Makeover - Rolawn Turf

Old house had awful turf and needed replacing.   Landscaper applied weedkiller and several weeks later laid the new lawn. I'd like to say the before picture was after the weedkiller was put on - it wasn't!  We deepened the border in front of the house and added a border between us and next door, planting a dwarf box hedge.  To buy turf visit Rolawn

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Planting Day

Lots planted today - potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broad beans, onions, shallots, radishes, spring onions, wild rocket, coriander, garlic chives, dwarf green beans.  Propagator refilled as squashes planted Monday evening up and looking good.  Echium groundcover planted in preparation for the bees also up, at least in the trial pots I did for the propagator and cold frame, so I knew what to look for at the base of the fruit trees where they're seeded; not up yet but at least I'll know what they look like now.
Sorted the rest of the seeds out so I know what needs sowing next.  Cleaned up seeds collected last Autumn from our own garden and others (seem to have thousands, may have overdone it).  Feel like I've done about 3 days in 1, but great to get so much done.  Water butts ordered via Yorkshire Water website, need to get some guttering now for the summer house and make our butt farm behind it.
Probably tidy up the base of the rest of the fruit trees tomorrow to plant some Californian Poppy Seeds.  The picture may not look much but there is much promise in it!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Promotion code bark mulch

Bark mulch promotion at Rolawn 10% discount until 6 April - quote promotion code bark312. Ideal for mulching and water retention. Order fast for Easter delivery.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Veg in pots

Got a small garden - grow veg in pots.  Rolawn Vegetable and Fruit Compost with some added Perlite to aid water retention should see you with a good crop, and you can easily water with a can.  Onions, carrots, dwarf broad beans and herbs are all easy to grow. Veg and Fruit Topsoil

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Mulch Away

Mulching helps to keep weeds down and retain moisture in the ground.  Keeping weeds down in the raspberries last year proved difficult so we weeded the bed, laid a membrane of leftover pond liner and covered it with a bark mulch to a depth of 4 inches bought from Rolawn Limited.  The raspberries were also too close together, so we've transplanted some to fill up our cage which did have strawberries in, now transplanted to take up spaces in the strawberry bed.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Guardian of the Wild Garlic!

Planted the wild garlic along the secret path!  Well, it used to be!

Good to have a tidy up

New plants that were heeled into the greenhouse, planted out and the bed tidied up, which means the weeds are gone!  Should be lots of winter colour next year.  Newly planted daffodils about to burst into bloom.  This was a nursery bed until late last year so I'll have lots of fun growing and buying plants for it.

Unexpected arrival

Plants that arrive when you're just into the working week, can be heeled into your greenhouse border and watered until the weekend.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Plant World Divided!

Plants divided last Autumn and overwintered in the greenhouse doing extremely well.  Potted up in Rolawn's Multi-purpose Organic Compost.  Definitely be using this again.

Garden Re-Leaf Auction by Rolawn

Erected the coldframe I won in an auction for Rolawn Limited's staff.  Lots of parts, all really well labelled.  So proud of myself!  Need to get sowing now, to fill it.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Californian Redwoods

This is in May 2011, after 3 years growth.  Check back in May to see how much they've grown.