Clicking on any of the pictures will open them at full size in the browser window, which means you will have to use the 'back' button to return to the main pages, whereas clicking to the left or right of any picture will open them in a new window, if you fancy a closer look at any of the piccies we've posted! We've included a Google Earth satelite picture of our plots and this years planting plan at the bottom of the page, next to each other. If you choose the Earth view on the satelite image you can rotate the image until it is lined up with the planting plan, then use the arrows in the plan to scroll from Plot 2 to Plot 1.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Beekeeping - another colony homed, 3 hives on the plot! Plus a bit more info!

Well, once again a beekeeping update!

Our 2nd hive (the first one that we moved to our apiary) is doing really well, the girls have drawn out 9 frames of foundation to produce comb, the queen is laying well, with 6 frames now having eggs or larvae in them, and next week we will be removing their feeder and giving them a super to allow them to start storing honey stores for the winter! If we manage to get more than one super filled up, then we may get to harvest some for ourselves, but not if it leaves the colony short (if we leave it in place and they dont eat it all through the winter, then we can still harvest it in the spring, so no loss there!)

We did our inspection on Hive 1 the other day, with Dave being present, and it now appears that the queen in that hive is also laying both worker and drone, though not as quickly or as many as the queen in hive 2, but this then meant we were ok to move her hive back to the plot, which was planned for last night! (Hive 1 is the one on the stand to the left of hive 2, the brood box and super inbetween them are spares that will allow us to put any frames we remove whilst doing an inspection into them on a temporary basis, the other brown supers and brood boxes in the right hand corner are the stack of spares filled with frames, ready for use!)

We then got a phone call from Dave, asking if we had any spare hives, as he had experienced a swarm, and had 2 nucleus of bees to house, (as seen in this piccy) and unfortunately only had 1 spare hive! Fortunately Colin had ordered a National Hive to keep as a spare, so we decided to get it built and were able to successfully house the nucleus in there, and also bring that hive back to our apiary at our allotment.

This hive will be labelled as Hive 3 and has 3 queen cells in it, so now we need to wait for a queen to hatch and hope that she can get properly mated and start laying before we will know whether that hive will be fully viable! So we've now got 3 hives on the plot, more than we'd planned for this year, but hopefully it will allow us a good chance of at least 2 of the 3 to survive the winter!

Ok, after a few emails from various folks asking for more details of what beekeeping involves, I thought I'd post a bit more info on exactly what a hive consists of, both the physical parts, how they are made and also about the bees themselves, along with a bit more info on why beekeepers carry out inspections and what exactly is involved with being an apiarist!

So, whilst Lee and Colin were assembling the single type of National Hive that we have (yes, there are more than one type of beehive, the brown ones we started with are known as Smiths Hives, which use the same type of frames as National Hives - but with shorter lugs - but are a slightly different construction) I took some piccies showing the basic components of a hive. You can buy Hives fully assembled, but they cost a lot more, so its usually better to buy them as a flat packed kit, which you then glue and nail together. A National Hive Kit (complete with floor, brood chamber, brood frames and foundation, queen excluder, 2 'supers' (smaller chambers like the brood chamber but not as deep, filled with smaller frames and foundation that the bees use for storing their honey in), crown board (with porter bee escapes) and roof) costs somewhere in the region of £125 flat packed, so beekeeping isnt something that is cheap to start or going to make lots of money quickly, but is something that is interesting, will eventually financially break even (local honey costs about £5 for a 1lb jar, and tastes sooo much better than shop bought honey) and improves pollination of your crops, so although not something that everyone will wish to do, is something we find enjoyable and rewarding, quite apart from the (admittedly small) part we are playing in helping to conserve the declining bee population in the uk!

So, to start with then, what are the parts of a typical beehive? This piccy shows (from top left to right) the stand, a super (filled with 12 frames which already have their foundation fitted), the roof, then in the front row (left to right) the queen excluder, the varroa mesh floor and the crown board. Not shown in this picture is a super (which can be seen in the next picture, where Colin is assembling it!

So, what exactly is a 'super'? Why do we need them? What is a queen excluder and why do we need one? Ok, many years ago it was discovered that the bees needed a gap of 3/8" (any bigger and they will fill it with honeycomb), so a moveable frame system was created by a gent of the name Langstroth. He noticed that the bees stored pollen and honey in one part of the comb, and the brood (the eggs and larvae) were sited in another part of the comb. He reasoned that by excluding the queen (by using a mesh that the worker bees could get through, but that the larger queen could not get through) from a portion of the hive, then it would allow the beekeeper to keep the brood (the next generations of bees) seperate from the honey stores that the colony was building, this would then allow the beekeeper to remove the stores without loosing any of the developing brood, so the system of using a brood chamber (where the queen lives and is free to lay her eggs) capped with a queen excluder and then 'supers' above for the bees to store honey in developed.

So, what are frames? How are they used and why? Frames are basically a way to provde the bees with a place to build the comb without it being totally random, by providing a frame and a sheet of foundation (a thin sheet of wax with a comb pattern already marked on it), it encourages the worker bees to 'draw out' the comb within the frame itself, allowing the beekeeper to remove the frames from the hive to inspect them. The frames are constructed from wood, as can be seen in the piccy of Lee above! Brood frames are deeper, allowing the queen to lay as many eggs as she wishes, whereas the super frames are smaller in depth, making it easier for the beekeeper to remove a super full of stored honey (a full super weighs in at about 30lb in total, a full brood box could be up to 50% heavier!)

Once the frames are constructed, a thin sheet of foundation is fitted to grooves in the frame.....

.................... then the foundation is secured with strips of wood which are then pinned into place. Once all 11 or so frames are assembled they are put into the brood or super ready for the bees to draw out! Once this and all other parts of the hive are built it is then time to assemble the hive ready for the colony to be introduced!

First comes the stand and the floor, the stand lifts the hive to a comfortable working height and prevents the hive floor from sitting in water which would lead to dampness and rot. The floor pictured here is an open mesh 'varroa' type floor. One of the biggest problems that honey bees are currently facing is from a parasitic mite, Varroa Destructor, more commonly known as the Varroa Mite. This nasty little beastie was accidentally introduced to the uk in the 1990's from asia (where the bees have some resistance to it) and has proven to be deadly to a bee colony of steps are not taken by the beekeeper to manage varroa infestation, it is this parasite that is believed to be responsible for the death of virtually all wild honey bees in the uk, the only honey bees that are now surviving are ones that are cared for by beekeepers, and considering how much of our food crops depend on honey bees for pollination, then it is absolutely vital that beekeepers are there to look after the bees! Managing Varroa is done in several ways, there are many ways to combat varroa, some using chemicals, some which encourage the bees to groom themselves (such as dusting the colony with icing sugar, encouraging the bees to clean it off themselves thus dislodging the varroa) and some (such as the open mesh floor) that are passive (if a varroa mite falls off a bee, then it passes straight through the hive floor and cant get back in), none of them on their own are enough to ensure that varroa is kept under control, so a combined strategy has to be adopted to ensure that numbers of varroa are kept to a level that the bees can handle, otherwise the colony will not survive!

After the stand and floor comes the brood box, complete with its frames. This is where the queen lives and where all the brood is raised. A healthy colony of bees will consist of a single Queen (whose job it is to lay all of the eggs) some Drone bees (the male bees, whose only job is to fertilise a queen when she takes her mating flights) and (the vast majority) the worker bees, which are immature female bees who are unable to reproduce. A nucleus (or a newly captured swarm) will normally consist of 5 brood frames of bees, including nurse and forager bees (both worker bees, but at different ages), some capped worker brood, a few capped drone brood (the cappings are more domed so it is possible to tell them apart), a frame or two of eggs and larvae (to develop into the next generation of workers) and a couple of queen cells! Once a virgin queen hatches she will usually kill her sister queens, then over the next few weeks she will take several mating flights (can be up to 12 mating flights in a 2 week period - this is the only time in her life that she will normally leave the colony and certainly the only time she will be mated!) after which she will begin laying eggs. If she has been properly mated then she will produce both worker and drone brood, if the matings didnt go well, then all the brood will be drones and the colony would need to be re-queened to stand any chance of surviving.
Next comes the queen excluder, which stops the queen from getting any higher into the hive and laying eggs into the frames in the supers, which means that the worker bees will fill them with stores, enough honey and pollen for them to survive the winter and hopefully enough spare for the beekeeper to be able to take some for themselves!

Next would normally come the 'supers' although we havent got one in the piccy here, filled with super frames (shorter frames for the bees to fill with stores), then a crown board (a lid with a porter bee escape (a one way door for the bees, it allows them to go down through it but not to come back up), which can be moved below a super to allow it to be cleared of bees in order for it to be removed by the beekeeper. This is normally only done once there are 2 supers full of honey on the hive! As this hive is going to be used for a nucleus, we are going to be using the crown board under a super, with a feeder above the central hole to allow the bees to feed on a strong sugar solution, in order to give them an incentive to stay in the hive and also to provde fuel for them to draw out the new foundation!

Above all ot this comes the roof, which is rainproof to keep the colony dry, and has ventilation to prevent dampness from condensation from the bees themselves!

So, there you go, you've now a much better idea of what a hive consists of! The weekly inspections we carry out are to check on the colony, to check for varroa infestation, to do a weekly icing sugar dusting, to check how much stores the bees have laid down (and whether there is any honey ready for us to harvest) and finally to check for queen cells, which can be made if the bees feel that they have a chance of making a new colony by swarming! Generally this happens if the hive becomes overcrowded and no action is taken by the beekeeper. Swarms are not something that any beekeeper likes to see happen, for if they are not caught and the colony tries to go 'wild', then it almost certainly wont survive, thanks to varroa, so its much better if you find queen cells to artifically split the hive, removing the frames with queen cells and rehousing in a new hive along with some of the worker bees and stores, thus removing the overcrowding and removing the need for the colony to swarm!
So, a basic intro to basic beekeeping there, I hope some of you found it interesting!
We'll keep you updated with whats happening in the hives as things progress!

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