Monday, 12 September 2011

Early morning Bee Inspection



Beekeeping is a truly splendid pastime, and taking on the bees at Hidcote has been one of the highlights of my time here! This is now my second season keeping bees and although I certainly haven’t mastered this delicate art form just yet, both years have been incredibly educational with highs and lows along the way. Similar to gardening it takes time to build up a knowledge base and get a handle on the subject matter, only here you have bees crawling over your head while you’re trying to work and think! I genuinely believe this is something I will do for the rest of my life, not only is it so rewarding to deal with these fascinating insects but it coincides so neatly with the career choice I’ve made.


An inspection starts by lighting the smoker, which is used to blast smoke into the hive just prior to opening it up! The bees, silly sausages, think a forest fire has erupted and the message goes around to abandon ship! They immediately dash off and have a long drink of honey, filling themselves up ahead of the emergency escape they expect to make. This inadvertently makes them unable to sting, as they’re so full they cannot bend their bodies to direct an attack! And mellow bees are extremely desirable as you are about to start poking about inside their home.


This grill is the queen excluder, which prevents her majesty from moving about the hive. She has a much larger body due to all the eggs she is carrying, so is unable to fit through these gaps! The much slimmer worker bees (her children) can squeeze through and move about their home at will. If you imagine the hive has two storeys, the ground floor is the brood chamber where the queen is free to roam and lay her eggs. The excluder prevents her going upstairs to the honey supers, and laying eggs where the workers are diligently storing precious honey. This honey can then be removed by the beekeeper, in the safe knowledge that the product is pure and free from eggs or baby bees.


Inspecting the frames! Each frame is made up of cells, into which either honey is stored or eggs are laid. Throughout the season you have to keep an eye on this, checking the queen is laying well and enough supplies of honey are being built up.

The white capped cells on the right is stored honey, the darker capped cells on the left contain eggs.

Unfortunately the bees come under attack from wasps and hornets throughout the summer months, who turn up and attempt to steal honey and young bees! Entire hives can be destroyed during these sieges, so wasp traps must be placed out by the hives in a bid to give the bees a sporting chance! Here I’m successfully utilising an old jar containing some jam diluted in water; the thieves clamber in through the small hole in the lid but then are unable to find their way back out.

10 comments:

Janet said...

Very interesting post, Bertie. What do you do if or when they swarm?

Helen O'Donnell said...

Hey Bertie,
Why don't the bees climb in after the jam water?

Wife, Mother, Gardener said...

Thanks for the inside look. My husband would love to keep bees, excepting that he is more allergic to stings than the average person.

We will just have to keep buying our honey for the local hives to keep them growing! Nothing like it for tea in my opinion!

Gardener in the Distance said...

Hello Bertie,
I consider beekeeping one of those very fine artisan skills worthy of real respect. Had you had training before Hidcote? Would you continue with it outside of Hidcote?
Somehow or other those awful European wasps were introduced to Australia not so long ago...I'm afraid they're one of the few things I kill with glee.
Faisal.

Mrs Bok - The Bok Flock said...

Love this post! So treating. I'd love to keep bees but I'm forbidden by Mr Bok seeing as I'm very allergic to bee stings. But I'm not fascinated by bee keeping and would love a hive

Pam's English Garden said...

Dear Bertie, Fascinating post! I don't keep bees because I am allergic to bee stings, but I appreciate all that bee keepers do. We still have cases of colony collapse disorder in my area of the US. I gave a talk at the local bee keepers association recently (on planting for pollinators), and was shocked how many lost their bees this year. Is CCD still happening in UK? Pamela

Prue said...

Great post, Bertie. As great as your bee-garden at Hidcote which has been a picture this year!

So many people have allergies to bees - my husband is one. I'd love to have hives in the garden but it would be bees in, Mr Prue out. I'll just look at the Hidcote bees every week instead :)

Keep up the good work Bertie.

Bertie Bainbridge said...

Thank you for the interest!

Janet bees swarming is a disaster, losing the best of your bees and honey! Afterwards you must wait and hope the new queen returns soon, laden with eggs. A frame of brood (recently laid eggs) might be added to ensure this goes ahead. If not you may end up with laying workers and the hive struggles on believing they have an active queen, and ends up in a quite pathetic state.

Helen I have no idea why honeybees are not also lured into the jam jar trap. I can only point to the behaviour of wasps when one is trying to enjoy a cream tea, and the blighters turn up and try and gorge themselves on your ration of jam! This is not to date a crime I have ever witnessed a respectable honeybee commit.

Faisal most certainly I would continue beekeeping elsewhere! This is my first experience of keeping bees, long may it continue.

Pam CCD is shocking. Here the main problem recently has been European Foul Brood, which if discovered can lead to your bees and equipment being destroyed by the bee inspector. Awful scenes!

Bertie

Prue said...

I guess that bees are atracted to the colour of flowers and to the nectar...which isn't quite the same as sugar.
However, they will feed on sugar because that's what you give them in the winter if some blighter nicks their honey.

Wasps are also attracted to food in general - a couple munched on the remains of my chicken leg (cooked) and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it! I've never seen a bee do that.

Bertie Bainbridge said...

A chicken leg? Good heavens!

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