Thursday, 4 October 2012


courtesy bushcraftsurvivalskills blog
Finally. Have managed to get the beehives sorted for winter. And yes, we did have to endure a torrential downpour in the process (me and the bees, that is).

Not as much in the way of honey stores built up this summer as I'd like, but managed to close down the WBC with 2 brood boxes and 12+ brood frames, most full, most capped, and with 8 frames partially filled left over for me!
- and the TBH is looking better than a few weeks ago stores-wise but put a syrup feeder on here and made sure bars with fondant feed spaces for the winter every 4 or 5 bars across. The swarm which had moved into one of the empty hives has vanished so at least I'll only have 2 colonies to worry about getting through the winter...

So fingers crossed we get to the spring with 2 colonies intact!
Nite-nite Bees.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

"Summer" 2012 - summer????!

A pretty grim year for the Brunny Bees all in all. It started off, er, wet, the summer was, er, wet, and the autumn is proving to be ... oh yes. Wet.

We went into last winter with 4 colonies, 2 vertical (a WBC and a National), plus the two top bar hives (one home-made, t'other bought), and unfortunately lost one of the TBH colonies during cold weather (they appeared to have starved just 2 frames away from plenty of food, and we have to ask ourselves if this would have happened in a vertical as moving sideways in a wider hive might well lead to trouble if the bees are caught in a cold snap too far from food).

So the year started bad, and got steadily worse: routine bee inspection showed 2 of the 3 remaining colonies were drone laying (becoming an issue in younger Queens, apparently - and rather worryingly), and we were advised to dismantle one of these colonies (the National), which we duly did - only to be advised by our Bee Buddy Steve that he would have tried to re-Queen. Cross about the initial advice? Yep.

So, down to 2. Slow re-queening of the other Drone-laying colony eventually worked - bad weather preventing new hatched Queen from mating for 2 weeks but eventually she was laying and our last TBH is ending the year strong, albeit not with strong stores as they are eating it as fast as they can gather it with having to spend so many days not flying.

And as for our WBC - our first colony: the bad weather late spring led to Nosema. FFS!!  We increased ventilation of hive and treated with Nozevit - VERY SUCCESSFULLY. No sign of diseased bees / dysentry since treatment early summer. We will, of course, re-treat winter food supplies.

The WBC colony is, however, despite the Nosema, exceedingly strong - but because of the Nosema, not splittable! And we have had a nice little surprise in a swarm taking up residence in the National. It is an exceedingly small swarm, however, so will need planty of TLC and feeding to get them through the winter ...

On another good note, we may be taking on a colony of Black Bees next year, so watch this space!
And check out this fab Beeswax Candles website which tells you how to make your own! Very useful indeed when left with lots of wax rather than honey at the end of the rainy season!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spring - Under New Management

Having spent the winter reading and researching about bees and how best to "manage" them in a more natural manner to optimise their preferences - and their health and well-being, we have emerged into our second spring relieved at both our young colonies having survived their/our first winter, and have decided to manage our 2 conventional hives in a Warré-style manner.

Amongst support for this method, we've also seen a bit of teeth-sucking on various online forums (forii?) directed at other beekeepers who suggest this - even from advocates of Warré hives!
This appears to be partly due to the difference in size (the Warré hive being smaller but deeper than a National or WBC super and more conducive to the colony style that bees like best) but there seems to be quite a bit of support for this amongst the more experiences natural beekeepers, and our choices are limited by two things:

1. The extraordinary costs of setting up both of our conventional hives (a WBC and then a National) just last year (an expense my credit card is still trying to recover from);

2. The extra costs we would incur if we bought not 2 but 3 Warré hives this year (as we are planning to extend to 3 hives this year).

Our choices then are:

- to carry on managing both conventional hives in the conventional manner (with high-performance orientated sugar-syrup boosting in spring, full hive inspection/disruption every week to check for Queen performance & hive health etc, using framed foundation, and extending the colony by adding supers at the top, and nicking all the honey at the end of the summer, replacing this with more sugar syrup for the bees to overwinter), or;

- letting the bees do things their way as much as possible: by allowing them to increase at their own rate in response to available forage (keeping an eye of course that plenty is going in every day simply by standing and watching - ready to provide emergency feed if necessary), daily external observation outside hives and through viewing windows to check bee behaviour (and therefore Queen-rightness), food store intake, and hive expansion; allowing natural expansion and free-comb building to the bees own spec by using top bars only without foundation but with a double height box (by using two supers with top bars in top one only, placed underneath the existing colony), with no queen excluder so the bees can use the space provided as they see fit. Oh, and leaving enough of the honey for the bees to overwinter by only harvesting what looks to be surplus amounts (which is what we ended up doing last summer, the bees having consumed alot of their stores over a wet August).

The excellent article kindly posted online by Spenbroc here discussing the natural management of conventional hives by J. E. Pile in 1966 helped us to make up our minds. After all, size isn't everything, and if the bees might prefer starting at the top and working their way down, building free comb to the shape and drone-to-worker-to-honey ratio they see fit, then who are we to argue?

I'm also (still) building our first hTBH from scratch for our 3rd Hive, using the Biobees/Barefoot Beekeeper Phil Chandler's basic prototype. We're hoping to be able to collect a "wild" colony which has set up shop in a Dove cot in Longton in the next week or two, and I'll write about this shortly, but in the meantime am happy to stand back and watch spring getting into full flow...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Quick Peek Bee-Check

Quietly lifted the lids of both hives today to check on the fondant situation, wanting to make sure they're ok until the nectar & pollen flows get cracking in spring. Only a speck left on one crown board so will make some more to keep them topped up. Won't bother with making icing flowers though, just a nice fat roll of white no-nonsense fondant!

Both hives have been flying occasional bees on mild days, even when it's raining, so it's good to see they're still alive after the wet August and c-c-cold winter.