A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Apiary inspection 29/09/2011

Just a quick post to say that on Thursday this week the last stage of the varroa treatment was added to my hive. As anyone else in the UK will know this week has been incredibly hot and sunny for this time of year and where I live, in Wakefield, was no exception; this helped as it meant a lot of Bees were out and about foraging. 

When I got to the hive there was a good flow of Bees coming and going. Once inside the hive I did a quick check in the supers to see how their stores were doing and was happy with what they had although I will keep an eye on this. When I start doing my Winter inspections a quick way to tell if they have enough stores is to tip the hive with one hand and if it tips easy they need feeding. That tip was given to me by someone I've been talking to on Google+. After checking the supers I did a quick check of the brood chamber and managed to find the Queen, eggs and larva so everything is still o.k. in there The only thing left to do now was to replace the treatment. Below are a few photos of what the treatment looks like.

The packet with directions, ingredients, batch number and best before date.

Half a bar of treatment, this half is wrapped in cling film to keep it fresh.

The above bar broken up and put in each corner of the brood chamber.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: September Meeting

The time of year has come round again when my Beekeeping organization start holding their winter meetings. They are held every month from September through to March, excluding December, on the last monday of the month. This months meeting was held by Dave Shannon with the subject being "Preparing honey & wax for showing”

I set off to the meeting at just after 7 pm and arrived with about 5 minutes to spare before the meeting started. In this time I got talking to a few people who attended the same course as me and am pleased to say that they all seem to be making good progress. One of the guys who lives near me has upped his amount of hives and now has five. One of the others is still on just the one like me and has managed to extract a similar amount of honey as me. I also managed to have a quick word with the guy who ran the course and he seemed happy with everyones progress.

Once inside I got sat down and waited for the presentation to begin. As mentioned earlier todays was about presenting your products of the hive in shows. We were shown several different jars of honey giving an example of light, medium, dark, set and heather honey. Light and medium looked very similar, the difference being the colour; the medium was every so slightly darker. The dark honey was very dark, so much so that it was almost black; we were told that he didn't know what plant this honey had come from and has only managed to get it that dark once in ten years. The set honey was almost the opposite of the dark honey in that it was almost white; set honey is generally made from oil seed rape in this area and grows in abundance near my apiary. To get set honey you extract it as normal and then leave it to go rock solid in the bucket and once it's set hard you then mix it up making it spreadable. This seemed like hard work if done by hand but I've read somewhere that a lot of people consider this one of the best honeys. The heather honey was last to be described; heather honey isn't runny or set, it's gelatinous. The color was a deep red and it contained tiny air bubbles.

There it's quite a lot of criteria a judge loooks for when giving awards out for honey. One important element is to make sure the honey is processed to a high standard. It was recommended to use a heating cabinet to get the honey to about 35-37°C. At this temperature the honey will pass through your filters easier, with the finer filters being better. Once filtered and bottled all the air bubbles had to be given time to rise to the surface (apart from with heather honey) so the honey is clear and free from any imperfections. A tip that was given for removing any further debris that rose to the top of the jars was to use a clean tea spoon and roll it over the surface gently and this should capture any debris at the top. Other tips included making sure your jars are clean, lids are clean, wear a hairnet and do all your preparation plenty of time prior to the show. Another important thing to keep in mind is to carefully read the schedule as important information could be included. 

While talking about presenting honey a few pieces of equipment were recommended. The first was a refractometer; this is a small device that is used to measure the amount of water content in your honey. I think it was 17-19% water content for normal honey and about 25% for heather honey. This level of water is essential to stop the honey fermenting and going bad and honey that is not within this range should never be sold. I have since ordered myself  one for about £18, I'm calling it a early Christmas present for myself. The one I've ordered can also be used to measure the alcohol level so will be useful in my home brewing. Another recommended piece of kit was a smith cuter/scraper. This tool is used to cut the comb with honey in from the frame leaving just the foundation behind. This is useful for heather honey as you can't use normal extraction techniques with it being gelatinous. Once all the comb has been removed from the frames it can then be put in a press to squeeze the honey out, leaving you with plenty of wax. The final tool recommended was a simple LED torch which is used you look through your jars of honey and will help you to spot imperfections in the honey.

After talking about honey he moved onto wax for show. Again some points were the same, emphasizing cleanliness. Also the schedule is important to read for wax as it will give info on the weight of the wax cake your showing. The type of wax used for show is generally what is collected from cappings as this is the lightest coloured and most presentable. It will take me a long time before I have enough wax cappings to make a block for show! A tip given for showing wax was to make sure the mold is fairly hot before pouring the wax in so it all cools at the same time and makes the wax consistent all the way through.

When the talk on showing wax was finished there was a refreshment break and at this point I had to leave as I was working the night shift that night and it was already approaching time for me to set off.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Apiary inspection 22/09/11

This inspection was mainly to replace the varroa treatment with a fresh dose. Next week will be the last treatment and then I'll be able to do a count to see if the level of mites has dropped.

As my sister was available to babysit both me and Steph did this inspection. Our initial intention was to do so really quick inspection but it turned out slightly longer than originally planned, but not by too much.

Upon arrival at the apiary both myself and Steph were a little shocked to see that 2 of the trees in the allotment had been chopped down; they were the cherry tree and one of the plum trees. Although my dad had been saying for a while he was getting rid of them it still came as quite a shock. They weren't the most productive trees and the other plum tee although less than half the size does regularly produce hundreds of fruits.

When we got over the initial shock of the missing trees I went up to see the Bees while Steph got suited up. From about 10 foot away I could see plenty of traffic coming and going from the hive. I then returned to the car and got suited up myself  before both of us headed to the hive.

Again this week we went in without smoke. To begin with I lifted the hive roof and crownboard off exposing the super. We started removing frames and was happy to see plenty of honey in storage. It was at this point that the Bees started to get a little aggressive and before I knew it there were loads if Bees flying around buzzing angrily. Rather than risk a full scale attack we backed off, carefully replacing the crownboard, and regrouped at the car. We then got the smoker lit and returned to the hive.

After a few small puffs of smoke in the hive we removed to crownboard again and continued to inspect the hive. This time they were a lot calmer and we managed to finish checking the super without further issue. There were no eggs in the super, only honey! In fact there were about 5 frames of honey, nearly full.

When we moved onto the brood chamber the first frame we inspected was completely empty, but in previous weeks this was full of stores. I was slightly worried that they didn't have enough stored honey at this point but when the next frame was lifted my worries were over as it had quite a weight behind it and was full of honey. The next frame was the same but with a much darker honey, though unfortunately I won't get to taste the dark honey; this is due to the treatment in the hive possibly tainting the taste rather than any health risk.

When we got to the central frames the main thing we were looking for was either the Queen or eggs. In the first of the central frames there were no eggs but there was larva present and capped brood. The next frame had more capped brood, larva at a younger stage in development but most importantly there were eggs present. This was a relief as I haven't seen evidence of the Queen in a couple of weeks. The next frame was better still; plenty of eggs, larva present and Queen Beeatrix herself!

The final step was to add the varroa treatment and then quickly pack the hive back up. By this point they were getting a little frisky again and I could hear them banging off the veil of my suit. Luckily neither of us got stung but I believe that we could have if we had stayed much longer, though I still don't think they are aggressive. The Bees are generally more defensive when they have less stores and varroa treatment is in place. Next week will be the last stage of the treatment. I will have to keep an eye on their stores and if needed feed them with a sugar syrup.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Apiary visit 16/09/2011

Last week I put treatment in my hive to combat the rising level of varroa mites. As it's a 4 week course of treatment yesterday was the time to put in the second stage. During the week I have been reading about the treatment I am using, which is APILIFE VAR, and have read a few shock stories about it. The problems people have reported include Queens dying, Bees absconding and very aggressive behavior. Due to this I have been very worried through the week and dreading what I was going to see when I got to the apiary. Also there has been some awful weather this last week including very strong winds and heavy rainfall.

Luckily when I went to the allotment yesterday the weather was perfect; the sun was shining, the sky was clear and there was nothing more than a gentle breeze. The allotment had lots of people taking advantage of the good weather including the guy in the allotment next to the one I keep the Bees. After saying hello to the guy I suited up and got into the apiary. This time I didn't even light the smoker as I was only planning on being in the hive a short time. In the apiary I was really pleased to see Bees coming and going, with quite a few with full pollen baskets. 

Upon opening the hive the first place I looked was in the supers; I was amazed to see how much honey the Bees have collected seeing as though I collected the liquid gold a couple of weeks ago. As mentioned in an earlier post all honey collected will be left for the Bees to help them get through the winter. When checking through the super frames I was expecting to see eggs laid by the Queen, due to there being nothing to stop the Queen getting into the supers, but there weren't any. After the quick look through the super I moved to the brood chamber. The treatment bars I'd put in last week were still present in the back corners but the pieces added to the front corners of the hive had vanished, I assume the Bees dragged them out. At this stage the Bees seemed to be getting slightly agitated so I hurried in getting the old treatment out and the new one in. After that I quickly put the hive back together and exited the apiary.

When I was clear of the apiary I got talking to the guy in the next allotment. He told me his son has recently got some Bees in the York area. His son's Bees are apparently a lot more aggressive than my Bees and has been advised he shouldn't have been sold them in the first place as a beginner. His Bees generally follow him all the way back to his house, which is at least 60 foot away by what I was described; my Bees follow me about 10 foot then go back to the hive. The place I was talking to the guy was only 15 foot from my hive and I had already taken my suit off while talking to him and had no Bees bothering me. I just hope they stay that way as if they get aggressive I would have no option but to remove them from the allotment and at the moment have no where else to put them. 

I will also mention while I am writing this post that Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers held an event at Newmillerdam last weekend which me, Steph and the baby went to on the Sunday. It was held in the small boat house and had a few tables with information, example hive, an observation hive and a table for honey sampling. As it was such a small area we only stopped a short amount of time but managed to taste some honey that was flavoured with stem ginger. Both me and Steph agreed this honey was delicious and would at some point attempt to make some. There was the guy that ran the training course there but I didn't manage to talk to him as it was so cramped in there and he was talking to someone who was interested in becoming a Beekeeper. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Apiary inspection 08/09/2011

Upon arrival at the apiary I was happy to see a good flow of Bees coming and going from the hive, many of them looked to be covered in a fine white dust; this is pollen from Balsam flowers. At the moment there are quite a few flowers still out in the area but the main one is Himalayan Balsam in the nearby woodland.

After I got my smoker lit I suited up and headed into the apiary. The first job was to put the comb back into the hive which I harvested the honey from last week. As this comb is already fully drawn out it is ready straight away for the Bees to start storing honey again. There were 4 frames that still had foundation and no stores so these were taken out and 4 frames of fully drawn comb put in there place. At this point I had a slight dilemma, I had 1 frame left to put in but all the frames already in the super had honey in them. In the end I decided that I'd take the fully drawn frame home rather than taking away some honey they had started to store.

After I'd done everything in the super i moved onto the brood chamber. In the first 2 frames there was hardly any brood but loads of honey stored; I thought the super frames were heavy when fully loaded with honey, they were nothing compared to a brood frame covered in Bees and full of honey. A few frames later and there was a good amount of brood at all stages from egg to larva to caped cells. Unfortunately I didn't see the Queen this time but due to there being eggs present it shows she is more than likely there somewhere. I did notice that the amount of brood is reducing, which I presume is because winter is fast approaching so they are winding down.

The second big job for this inspection was to treat for varroa. Each time I have counted the mites there has been a steady increase in amount present in the hive. The treatment I used was APILIFE VAR; this is a treatment made from essential oils from natural ingredients and apparently varroa mites have not built a resistance to it. It works by suffocating the mites with the vapors. To apply the APILIFE VAR I opened the packet and split the bar in half. Using half the packet I then broke it again into quarters and applied a piece to each corner of the brood chamber. The other half will be used in a week from the first day and then another packet it used for the following 2 weeks. In all full treatment takes 4 weeks. Due to the treatment bar being slightly raised I had to remove the Queen excluder otherwise the treatment bar would have been crushed by the excluder; this isn't a problem as long as I make sure the Queen is below the excluder when I put it back on in the spring.

The last task was to take the final varroa count for the time being; this will be the final one for at least a month as there is no point counting the varroa while treatment is in place. Once I'd took the hive debris out of the hive and returned home I began the varroa count. It took me a while to do and in the end there were 91 mites which gives the following results when put into the varroa calculator.

Average Daily Mite Fall = 10.1 varroa mites
Estimated number of adult varroa mites in the colony = 510
Treatment is recommended in about 8 month(s) time (counting from day of first monitoring).

The period that I did the calculation over was mainly in September but slightly into August. If I work out the varroa using the calculator but entering August as my month it gives quite different results with a recommendation to treat immediately. When I first started looking into becoming a Beekeeper I did have the mind that I wouldn't treat the Bees however now I have them and I can see the levels of mite rising so rapidly I have changed my mind; I wouldn't want to loose my Bees in the first year. Maybe when I have more hives and experience I can have a different approach.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Apiary inspection 30/08/2011 and Honey Extraction!!!

Last Tuesday I went up to the apiary to remove the honey that my Bees have kindly made for me. I didn't want to take too much from them as they have worked so hard for it so I took 5 completely capped frames and left all the half full ones. The Bees will continue to collect honey up until the flowers have gone but what they collect from now will all be theirs and hopefully this will reduce the amount of sugar syrup I'll need to feed them over the winter.

This time I was on my own and didn't take any pictures and will be taking less pictures in the future as I don't want too much repetition. When I arrived the first thing I did was light the smoker and then suit up. When I was suited up I went to the hive and removed one of the supers and swapped around the frames so I had 5 full frames of honey and 5 frames the Bees haven't got round to drawing out yet. The weight of the frames were impressive and later on worked out to be over a kilogram each. When I'd got the frames of honey I closed the hive up and collected the debris underneath to do a Varroa count later. I didn't inspect the brood chamber this time as the hive had been open a while by then.

When I got home I sent an email to the secretary of Wakefield Beekeepers asking for the contact to hire an extractor for the day. I was sent details of a man called Keith that lives a couple of junctions up the motorway so was in short driving distance. I called him on Thursday and arranged to pick the extractor up after work. The extractor is a 9 frame electric one and it cost £2 to rent for the day, bargain.

The frames in the super

A almost fully capped super frame

Using a sharp knife the cappings are removed

A sticky job but fun

The frames are placed in the extractor which spins at high speed forcing the honey out of the frames

The liquid gold running into a storage bucket via a pair of tights! This filters out bits of wax in the honey. I will need a better filter if I intend to sell the honey

The first jar of my honey
I took the above bottle to work to let people taste it and I think it went down well.

You may have noticed that there has been no mention of the varroa count up until this point. I haven't forgot, I just didn't have time to do it until today. There were 71 mites that I counted which was over 15 days. Below is the report from Beebase. I will be treating them ready for winter on my next inspection even though the count is still low as it's increasing at a alarming rate.

Average Daily Mite Fall = 4.7 varroa mites
Estimated number of adult varroa mites in the colony = 190
Treatment is recommended in about 9 month(s) time (counting from day of first monitoring).