The fruits of the labour!
Congratulations to Alistair, his soft set honey win first in the 9 jars of home produced honey, labelled for sale at the Scottish Open National Show, held at Dundee Flower and Food festival at Camperdown Park early in September.
The bees are swarming, going off with a new queen to make a new colony, so I need to capture the swarm and find it new hive, otherwise they will be lost. Below you can see the swarm which was wrapped in the old sheet, transported in the cardboard box and then introduced into a new temporary hive made of polystyrene, The closeup of the bees on the new hive show them facing the hive entrance, beating their wings which transmits a smell/pheromone to encourage other bees to come along, showing them the way to the new hive
The Oil Seed Rape has stopped flowering so Alistair, one of our large animal vets, has taken what honey his bees have collected. This is because this honey sets quickly, so if it is left in the hive then it is difficult to extract without destroying the honeycomb. The night before extracting, Alistair put a board below the supers (the frames holding the combs). This 'clearing board' has a one-way bee gate in it (called a Porter bee escape), so the following morning all the bees had gone down into the brood box and so he could remove the supers into the house without bringing bees with him.
The frames have capped honey in the combs (seen as the white caps on the comb). These caps are wax and are trimmed off before the frames full of honey are put into an extractor. Once full, the extractor is spun to extract the honey from the comb and the empty frames are taken out and returned to the hives for the bees to clear out any remaining honey and then hopefully fill them again over the summer. The honey is run out of the 'honey-gate' at the bottom of the extractor, through a sieve and into a collecting bucket. Since this is Oil Seed Rape honey, if left it will set rock hard, so it needs to be processed to control this setting and give us nice honey. Alistair is going to freeze this honey and let it set slowly, while frozen, over 3-6 months, so he put it into smaller tubs for the freezer. He also cut some full honeycomb out of some frames, rather than extracting the honey. There is also some honey mixed with the trimmed cappings, which he also filtered to separate the honey from the wax cappings.
All in all he harvested 17kg (38lb) honey which he put in the freezer, 7 jars of honey (1lb jars) from the cappings, which he didn't freeze and plans to eat now and just under one and a half kilograms of honeycomb (about three pounds), also to eat now. Along with 200g of wax, which will make one candle. Alistair hasn't decided what he is going to do with all this honey, it is much more than he expected and, if we have a good summer, there may be some more to come later in the year.
The yellow fields of Oil Seed Rape are in full flower during May and some of June (about 6 weeks in total), the bees are very active collecting nectar and making it into honey, so Alistair, one of our large animal vets, has added some 'supers' to the hive. A picture of a super is below, it is a shallow wooden box and in it are hung wooden frames with a sheet of wax foundation placed in each frame. The picture shows one of the frames filled with foundation on top of the full super. The foundation is made from bees wax and is embossed with a honeycomb pattern. The bees use this pattern to build the honeycomb and store the honey in the comb. Oil Seed Rape honey is very sweet but sets quickly so as soon as the blossom finishes, hopefully I will get some honey. The other job Beekeepers have to do at this time of the year is watch for the bees preparing to make new queens, if they do then the original queen will swarm off with about half the bed in the hive and leave the new queen to hatch in the hive with the rest of the bees. Swarm control for Beekeepers involves watching for the signs of this and giving the original queen and half the bees in the hive, somewhere to go so that they don't swarm away. If you see a swarm ring a beekeeper, if it is somewhat they can get access to, then hopefully he can come a capture it and put it into a hive.
First opening of my hives this year.
I took the opportunity to open my hives on a nice day at the weekend and check to see if the activity of the flying bees bringing pollen into the hive indicates that I have laying queens inside. I don't want to have the hives open for long because if the bees and their young get chilled, they will die, so all I want to see is evidence of a laying queen. Once I see eggs, larvae and capped worker cells, I will replace the queen 'excluder' (which I took off for the winter, allowing the queen to have access to the whole hive during the cold weather, but during the summer I want her to stay in the brood box. Hopefully the hive will store honey for me to harvest as the year progresses. More on that later.
I'm pleased to say that all the hives have evidence of an active queen, even the weak one, so I'm a happy beekeeper. Although I also know I'm not allergic to bee stings after the opening because one of my hives had some wild comb that the bees had build, and they didn't enjoy me breaking it down and removing it. They were very cross. I had to do it because it was difficult to open the hive with the wild comb sticking bits together but the bees let me know that they were not happy about it!
Over the next few weeks, while keeping an eye on the activity in the hives, I will get some supers ready (the layers added inside the hive where they store their honey) to add them because I can see the fields of oil seed rape near me have shot up with the warm weather and will burst into flower soon and I want to be ahead of the bees, giving them plenty of space to store honey before this happens. If they run out of space, they will be encouraged to swarm early in the year and will be off so I want to avoid that, if possible.
Third week of February and we see the bees venturing outside and even feeding. The warm sunshine has woken the bees up from their winter slumber and they are busy taking 'cleansing flights' (that's polite bee talk for 'going for a poo'). In addition they are taking advantage of my snow drops which are in bloom, you can see below a bee has collected some pollen from the flowers (it is carried on the legs, you can see it as a bright yellow/orange colour). Pollen is the protein food for bees, if they are taking fresh pollen into the hive, then the queen has started laying eggs and the worker bees are feeding the young. Hopefully this means they are building up the hive in preparation for the spring harvest.
WINTER HIVE CHECK
Bees don't hibernate, they huddle together in a cluster and use movement to generate heat and keep warm in their hives.
If I open my hives they could get chilled so a simple check on them over the winter is to 'heft' the hive. This is lifting up one edge to judge how heavy it is which shows how much stored food - honey - they have left. I also put the yellow sheet in below the wire mesh floor a couple of days ago, and from the pattern of debris I can see where in the hive the cluster of bees is and from what the debris consists, I can check the bees don't have diarrhoea.
The debris on this picture is mainly capping's from the honeycomb, so I know the bees are eating. I have placed a stone on top, so if the wind blows, the waterproof roof shouldn't blow off and I've put a strap around the whole hive in case it is blown over, so that the strap will keep everything together.
Further updates as the year progresses.