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.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

My First Swarm - 06/06/2012

Just over a week ago I got a text message from Dad who was up at his allotment doing allotment things. I get fairly regular texts from him when he is up there, especially when it is good weather. The normal text that I receive from him reads either "Uggins a bees out" or "Not many bees art today", which to a Yorkshireman makes perfect sense but to others may not be as easy to comprehend; The translations are "Lots of bees are flying in and out of the hive today" or "There aren't that many bees flying today". The day I'm making reference to today was a quite different message, it read "Emergemcy aig swarm of bees in pear tree" which should read "Emergency a big swarm of bees in pear tree" but he is also not the best at texting but I'll let him off for that. When I'd received the text I got excited but also a bit worried as I didn't know how long it had been there or how long it would stay there. I also wanted to know if it had come from my hives.

I wasn't available to go straight there so as soon as I was I rushed up there with my nuc hive that I built earlier in the year with the aim of trying to catch it. Upon arrival I had a walk over to see how big the swarm was. Now even though I've never seen a swarm before I believed this to be one of fair size, below is a video of it. I apologise for the heavy breathing in the video, I had a bit of a cold at the time and sounded a bit like Darth Vader!

The next thing I did was put the nuc hive under the swarm. I took another video at this stage but all it shows is the hive under the swarm. It's here if you want to see it but it really doesn't show anything different.
After I had my equipment in place I started trying to get the Bees to go in the nuc hive. One way I've seen of doing this on youtube is to literally grab handfuls of Bees and place them in the hive. I tried this and it wasn't really working in doing anything other than annoying them, so much so that I received my second ever sting from my Bees and it was right on my backside! No, this method wasn't working. I decided that it was time to bring out the smoke. I have been told a few times that smoke is not needed for collecting a swarm but I thought it would help me. The usual method is to cut off the branch that the swarm is on and then give it a sharp shake to dislodge the Bees into your hive or transport box; this wasn't an option as they were wrapped around the tree trunk. Anyway, I lit my smoker and started blowing smoke above the swarm and at the opposite side to the hive, hoping that this would encourage them to go down and across into the hive. I thought this was working as a lot of Bees were making their way into the hive as seen in the next video.

Hooray I thought, I've caught them! So I packed up and left them to make their own way into the hive. When I got home I had a feeling of a job well done and was thinking "that wasn't too hard was it". The next day I found out how wrong I'd been! When I arrived back at the allotment I found the Bees had regrouped on the tree exactly as they were to begin with! I was a bit dismayed but I had to do something about it as they had started making comb on the tree and would have eventually perished if they stayed there, not to mention making it hard for my Dad to work in that area of the allotment. I decided to have another go at the smoke them into the hive method but this time I was a little more forceful, to the point where I think I was annoying them a bit and I did get another sting, this time on my hand. 

After a while I'd got to a similar point to my last video with the Bees going into the hive when I spotted something familiar; a large Bee with a white spot on her back! After seeing this I knew where the swarm had come from as she is the only one of my hives with a marked Queen! I had a small attempt to catch her on the end of my hive tool but she was having none of it so I carried on smoking above the hive to get them to go in. After a while I think I saw her majesty walking into the hive but couldn't be sure as now there were hundreds of Bees climbing all over one another to get into the hive. The next, and last, video shows this.

After nearly all the Bees had made their way into the hive I decided to leave and come back the next day to make sure they had settled in ok. I packed up all my gear and gently moved the hive into the apiary next to my other 2 hives then left.

It turned out the weather was really lousy for the next few days so it was longer than I wanted before returning to the hive and this time I was again anxious for the swarm. When I did get to return it didn't look good to begin with; there were a few dead Bees on the entrance but when I opened the hive up I could see it was full of alive Bees but they were very lethargic. I believe this is because they were starving (the next time I build a nuc hive I will make it bigger so I can fit some way of feeding them such as a frame feeder). Knowing that there wasn't enough room in the hive for a frame feeder I decided that the best solution would be to fill a freezer bag with sugar syrup and place it in the space above the frames with a slit at the top so the Bees could feed from it. When I had done this, and spilt a load over the tops of the frames, I could see a marked increase in the liveliness of them. I will continue to feed them this way until I can put them into a full sized hive.  

Feeding Starving Bees
Bees feeding

Feeding Starving Bees
More Bees feeding!

Ginger Ale!

Over the last few weeks me and my good wife, Steph, have been enjoying fresh, ice cold, tangy ginger ale and I am now going to share how easy and quick it is to make.

First off a list of ingredients. This is for making a 2 litre batch but can be scaled up or down if you want, the most important thing is to use plastic bottles to make your ale, I'll explain why later.

An empty 2 litre PLASTIC pop bottle
1 Lemon
Approx 1 inch of ginger (more if you like it strong)
2 Cups of sugar (or 400g)
1 Packet of bread yeast

If you are making bigger batches it's easy, just use 1 cup of sugar per litre, or 200 grams if you don't have cup measures. If only increasing to 3 or 4 litres then I don't think you need any more yeast but you will need to use more ginger and lemon. That is why I zest my lemon as well as juicing it as I use 3 litre bottles but you can still zest it if only doing 2 litres, if you are making 4 litres then I would use 2 lemons. This is a good recipe but once made do feel free to experiment and alter the quantities to suit you, I like to add a lot more ginger to make it really strong, just be careful when opening and ALWAYS USE PLASTIC BOTTLES!

...and that's it. Now to the method, which again is really simple!

  1. The first thing to do is wash out an empty 2 litre plastic pop bottle . Once that has been cleaned and thoroughly rinsed out you can put all your dry ingredients in, which are the sugar and the yeast; if you have funnel this is easier.  
  2. Grate the ginger into a measuring jug or bowl using the finest grater that you have, I don't think it makes too much difference if you just have the regular large grater used for cheese! I used the grater to also grate some zest from the lemon in as well but this is optional. If you have lots of ginger stuck to the grater then you can rinse it gently under the tap collecting the liquid that runs off in your jug or bowl.
  3. Juice the lemon and add the juice (but no seeds!) to the bowl of grated ginger, this should now be a gingery lemony slurry! This is now added to the pop bottle. Again a funnel comes in handy but if you have used a lot of ginger it tends to clog up the funnel so a skewer or something similar is useful for helping it through!
  4. Top up the bottle with cold water leaving about 2-3 inch at the top. Put the lid on securely and shake vigorously until all the sugar has dissolved. 
  5. Leave the bottle in a warm place for 24-48 hours. Depending on how warm it is will affect this time. What is happening at this stage is the yeast is starting to convert the sugars to alcohol with the by product being carbon dioxide, or CO2. With there being no where for the CO2 to go it is absorbed back into the liquid causing it to be fizzy when opened! 
  6. After 24 hours check the bottle by squeezing it, if it is really tight and you can hardly press the plastic in then it is ready for the fridge, if not leave it another day and it should be ready. This is why we use plastic bottles, if glass bottles where used there would be a risk of shattering if the pressure gets too high. With plastic it will stretch a bit and if it does over pressurise then it is no where near as dangerous!!!!!!!!!!!
  7. Leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours to make sure it is really cold. While it is in the fridge the fermentation will slow down but not totally stop. When it has been in the fridge long enough to make it cold it is ready to serve. Be very careful opening it and if possible open it outside or over the sink as it can be very lively! I found out the hard way with a batch that was a little over lively; It's lid flew off when I had loosened it slightly and then a second later the bottle erupted like a bottle of champagne! Don't be put off by this though, just be warned! 
  8. To serve you can pour it straight from the bottle but I prefer to pour it through a tea strainer as this collects all the grated ginger. For a extra special treat fill a glass with ice, a shot (or 2) or rum, squeeze half a lime in and top up with fresh ginger ale, delicious! 
Before showing a few photos of the process I will add a little note on the alcohol content of this brew. Although There will be alcohol in there due the fermentation of sugar with yeast it will be of very low levels, probably less than 1%, though I would guess even lower. I haven't tested it but due to the short length of time it is left to ferment then there is not enough time for it to get too alcoholic. If in any doubt at all by all means either test it or enjoy on non driving days!

Ginger Ale
A nobbly chunk of ginger!

Ginger Ale
A zested lemon!

Ginger Ale
Juicing the lemon

Ginger Ale
Lemon juice

Ginger Ale
A cup of sugar

Ginger Ale
Pouring the sugar in

Ginger Ale

Ginger Ale
The recipe says 1 packet of bakers yeast but as I had a tin of it I just used a cap full and it worked fine

Ginger Ale
Rinsing the juice from the grater

Ginger Ale
A nice out of focus shot of the lemon and ginger slurry going in

Ginger Ale
"We have a blockage, bring me a skewer!"

Ginger Ale
After 2 days the pressure test, this is me pressing hard but getting nowhere!

Ginger Ale
Poured through a tea strainer or sieve

Ginger Ale
All them bits from such a small glass of ginger ale!

Ginger Ale
Mmmmmmm, bubbly!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Have you seen this Bee?

I've been reading about a new species of bee in this article in the Telegraph written by Ken Thompson. It’s not really a new species; this bee is a Tree Bumble (Bombus hypnorum) from Europe and like its name suggests lives in trees, unlike our other species which tend to live in nests in the ground.

The experts believe that the Tree Bumble has made its way to our shores over the past 10 years, arriving under its own steam across the Channel from France and Belgium. It has not been introduced artificially by us, so it’s not an invasive species. As Ken says in the article technically that makes the tree bumblebee a native species, because it spread naturally from an area where it was already native”. It’s not a threat to our other species that tend to live in the ground, and is unlikely to compete with them for homes or other resourcesActually six of our native species are doing quite well, although some British bumble bee species have been in decline.

Bombus Hypnorum hasn’t quite colonised all of the UK, yet. The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society are recording sightings of this Bee, so if you have seen it please let them know, especially if you are in Scotland, Ireland or the Isle of Man. It’s very distinctive; it has a ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail and as bees go, looks quite fluffy and cute.

I actually found one on my Mum's Cotoneaster plant today - I'll try to capture a picture of it over the weekend.

If you would like to read more about Bumblebees follow this link to the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust.

WANTED: Bombus Hypnorum - photo from the article in the Telegraph mentioned earlier

A Map of the UK from www.bwars.com showing the spread of Tree Bumbles up to 2011

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Bees En Mass

Over the last couple of days me and my lovely wife went to York for the night to see a band while her aunt kindly looked after our daughter. It was a lovely couple of days with the sun showing her head for most of the time. While I was playing with my daughter in the living room prior to us going out for the gig I took a quick look outside and noticed a lot of movement on a small cotoneaster bush. When I went outside to look at it there were several Honey Bees and Bumble Bees busy collecting nectar from the tiny flowers, but that was nothing compared to the amount of activity at the end of the garden on the larger bush. The large bush had literally hundreds of Bees all over it. I took a short video of it in which I try to highlight that I had only to move the camera a short distance before finding another Bee.