So now go, get out the door

you’re not welcome anymore

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent (Richard Dawkins).

The poor, sad drones are being evicted from the hive. We are now moving into autumn, and the workers are kicking out the drones because they have no use for them any more and they are considered to be a drain on precious resources.

The drone cannot feed himself – he doesn’t have a proboscis for sucking nectar from a flower. He cannot defend himself, as he has no sting. He cannot make honey. Luckily for him though, he is good for one thing – and that’s wooing the queen bee and seeing to her intimate, feminine needs.

However with the change of season, the queen is moving into a phase of celibacy – and just wants to spend winter with the girls. So, poor old Mr Bee, without even having committed any crime, is sent unduly packing.

I would like think that there is some sort of Winter Rest Haven for Bloke Honeybees – somewhere to repair to after a heavy, hedonistic summer of eating, drinking and lots of bee nookie (and precious little else).

we will survive

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A Bee in Andy’s Bonnet

bubbling crude

We have honey – our very first harvest!

Following much the same process as we did last week, with JP’s hive – in one hour, we had removed the honey frames, cut off the wax cappings and centrifugally extracted all the honey. Along the way, more lessons were learned too.

A top tip to remember for next time is to properly zip up the beekeepers suit. Andy must have left a small, bee-sized gap and was visited on the wrong side of his hat by one of the ladies. He did keep very calm, adopting a strange crouching position and managed to successfully shoo said intruder back into the open air without either of them suffering undue harm.

bee off with you!

Despite Andy’s little adventure, I realise that it is important to start trusting the beekeeper’s suit. With inquisitive bees buzzing around one’s head, it feels natural to back off – but so long as one carries on calmly and efficiently, keeping aware of any change in the bees’ mood, its okay to be right in there working on the hive.

Another tip is perhaps to sport gloves, even if only photographing, albeit from a short distance – JP was stung on the hand. Bees can be camera shy.

I wondered what to do with the messy mix left after the honey extraction, and decided to leave it to strain – and was happy to discover that this yielded about 300 ml of extra honey. The wax was then washed in warm water and has been melted down for a future project.

sticky mix of wax and honey, left after uncapping and filtering

Our ‘Extracting Room’ was used, in the olden days, to shelter animals, and has a massive tank once used in wine making. It’s certainly old, and has been the scene of a couple of inexplicable goings-on. Maybe we have a resident ghost, who likes to turn his hand to honey extraction…

We estimate a yield of around 8 kilos of the scrummy, sweet stuff – its all still sitting in the settling tank, waiting to be put into jars in a few day’s time. Time to reach for the honey recipes!

how sweet is this!

Liquid Gold

Uncapped Earnings

Having ditched the disguises, and made it hot foot round to the safe house (JP’s office), giving the bees the slip, we start to unload the treasure and the necessary equipment, ready to move in to Stage Two of the operation – the Extraction.

Men Beehiving Badly

JP has been tooling-up and amassing the requisite tackle, to be co-owned by us and new crew member, Vincent. The key piece of machinery is the Extractor. This is  a drum, containing three cages, each of which will hold a frame. Ours is hand powered, the handle is turned to start the frames spinning, and the honey is driven from the cells by centrifugal force.

bright shiny gadget ~ no plug, not even a USBee port

Other equipment is a long, serrated knife for uncapping the honey cells, and a large plastic tub over which the frame is worked. This is to catch any honey drips and bits of wax (aka cappings).

The frames are still warm (its about 35 degrees outside), and uncapping the honey is a delicious, exciting moment, as the deep yellow, sticky liquid oozes from the cells. The first attempt at removing the top cover of wax is rather gung-ho, and we realise that more of the cell has been destroyed than is strictly necessary.

The technique however is soon refined, and the first three frames loaded into the extractor. This is put into motion, and the honey starts to pool at the base of the extractor.

When all nine frames have been processed, the tap is opened and the honey literally gushes out. It is passed through a filter and into a bucket. At this moment, it would have been rude not to have dived for the teaspoons and savour the freshest, tastiest honey ever.

Liquid Gold

The filtered honey is then decanted into The Maturateur – a posh name for a tub with a lid and tap, where the honey is left for a few days to settle, to get rid of air bubbles and bits of wax. The weigh-in shows a very healthy yield of 15 kilos.

So, a job well done and time to celebrate. There was a small matter of a sticky floor to clean, and then we rushed back to the house, stopping at the cheese shop, so that we could sit and relish the very first pot of Jean-Philippe’s very own honey.

Robbin’ Bee-stewards

Daylight Robbery

The sunflowers have started to go dark brown and crispy – which pretty much signals the end of the honey season. It is time to remove the super, and crack on with out first honey harvest (deep joy). We are starting with JP’s hive. This hive is a couple of weeks in advance of mine, plus the sunflowers around my house were planted late – and there is still evidence of bee activity.

The afternoon is hot and dry – ideal conditions for relieving the bees of the fruits of their labour. To be fair, we are only taking a share of the spoils ~ and leaving them plenty for winter. So, in return for providing them with rather excellent accommodation, we help ourselves to some rightful recompense, even if the bees are none too happy or indeed compliant with this arrangement.

Its a stick-up! Your honey, or your life.

It is deemed best to wait until most of them are out, and to go in disguise. We have a new collaborator, Simon, who is on Smoker Duty, plus a couple of paparazzi (Kim and Vincent). JP is leading operations, with Andy aiding and abetting.

Breaking and Entering

JP has a new, empty super – and is going to transfer the frames one by one from the active super. A few puffs of smoke, a bit of leverage from the beekeeper’s crow bar to break the propolis glue, a gentle brush – and the frames are quickly spirited away to the awaiting getaway vehicle, where they are convincingly draped with an old blanket. The bees barely notice.

Andy (aka Shifty) conceals the haul

The frames are remarkably heavy, and it promises to be quite a heist.

Getting the brush off

All nine frames nicely pilfered, the team pack up pronto, and speed off to transfer the booty to a second getaway vehicle – wanting to transform the evidence as quickly as possible.

Looks like we have pulled off Stage One of a successful non-Sting Operation.

desperately avoiding eye contact with any passing bees

Raising the Roof

beejou penthouse suite goes on

Its a sunny Sunday afternoon, and time to add the first super. Jean-Philippe has come to help, and most of the bees are off out. The first task is to get the smoker working. We have bought special pellets made from straw and lavender flowers and after some trial and error, it was discovered that the best way to get these going is with newspaper, wood shavings and pine needles – we stopped short of petrol.

there must be something about those blue French workman’s trousers

 The smoke has a calming effect on the bees – it doesn’t seem to work on border collies, or indeed, wives.

All requisite bits and pieces gathered together – and its off to Bee Square.

The first job is to remove the sticky tape from the current cover – and then have a look at the frames. The bees are building their own comb – but there’s still lots of work to do on the outer frames.   

Dallas gingerly inspects a frame

Going with the advice of the Venerable Beede (and against that of the reference books), we are not going to be adding the queen excluder. This is a grill, which keeps the queen and her egg laying activity confined to the brood box, so that the super is exclusively for honey storage. VB believes that the all the bees will be happier without this restrictive barrier – and so what if a few cells of the super frames are given over to eggs.

Quick inspection over, then its on with the new super, on with Andy’s newly constructed perspex layer, and topped off with the roof. Thats another hive extended and ready for honey production.

here’s your glass ceiling, girls

   

Andy getting zee kit on

Hot Fusion Generator

Andy : BeeEng.

sheet of foundation, lying on empty frame

Now that the hive is up and running, and the bees are busy building away, I need to start preparing some extra room for them – a super, to sit on top of the brood box. This box and super frames are shallower than the brood box – therefore easier to handle and the honey can be collected sooner (therefore avoiding possible granulation).

The frames have been bought with a wire already threaded through it. These empty frames could be put in to the hive as they are, but we are advised to attach sheets of foundation wax – which persuades the bees to build comb where we want it. 

The foundation is a sheet of beeswax, with the hexagonal cell pattern embossed on it. The bees use this to build on, and will draw out patterns into cells, thus making combs within the frames.

black box

The foundation is laid on the wire of the frame, and the wire heated to melt the wax, fusing the 2 together. JP has an aged battery charger, which does this job admirably.

Ours, unfortunately is more recent, and it transpires that it refuses to emit a current if nothing is drawing from it. Andy therefore went into design mode, and has fettled a suitable gizmo from an old drill charger and some bits of wire.

 Fusing wax onto nine frames was completed in super-fast time. I just needed to drizzle on a bit of extra wax to keep the sheet firmly in place – for which my lovely 1930’s chocolatiere comes in very useful. 

art deco knick-knack being put to good use

Day One

bit quiet

Oh, what a beeautiful morning. As we sat on the terrace with our coffee, Andy said “It dosen’t get much better than this”.

We had been over to check on our new neighbours, and it was eerily quiet. There could be several reasons for this – the bees were still fast asleep, tucked up in their beds, or they had perished over the ordeal of being moved, or they had all winged it back to the hustle & bustle of Colomiers or they were all out busily gathering pollen.

Rather hoping it was the latter, I decided to try to track them down, trusty camera in hand. This is how I got on…

wings, yellow & black stripes – but clearly not a bee
~ a hoverfly, otherwise known as flowerfly or syrphid fly ~

yes, its merely a fly, but what a lovely rose

excellent – a bee – but the wrong sort

beehaving like a bee
~ a Hummingbird Hawk Moth ~

yes – a honey bee – and quite recognisably one of mine

and another

don’t think this is one of mine, but difficult to tell from beehind

Bringing Home the Baybees

hive arrives

Packed and ready – front door nailed firmly shut

      

Its time! The call came in to say that the hive was ready to be picked up, and brought home. So, off we all trot to Colomiers, leaving it till 10 o’clock at night, giving the bees chance to make it back home before being displaced by some 30 or so kilometers. The Venerable Bee-de led us out into his garden, where he keeps the small nursery hives (ruchette) and those hives being populated for the first time. Luckily he had kept the perspex lid on my hive – which allows a fabulous view into the inner workings, all in relative safety.

 With this lid taped firmly in place, it was then carried oh so carefully to the Hilux, a sensible choice of vehicle given the barrier between the cockpit and the back.

Beeing extra careful

Before leaving we were treated to a tasting of the latest honey harvest – a mix of acacia and rapeseed- yummy, and hopefully a taste of thing to come. 

 A short journey through the forest and we reached home – time to unpack the precious cargo, and carry it over to Bee Square.

beeing there, in Bee Square

In general the hive seemed calm and unbothered by the ordeal – there was a handful of grumpy bees at the front door, but the rest were quiet. We wisely decided to wait till every last one had gone to bed before attempting to remove the front grill… time then for a well-earned bee-r.

the Bee Nursery

        

JP’s super-storey

Barrow loaded with honey box

Today I was invited to participate in the building of an extension on JP’s hive – the addition of the all-important second storey (correct term = ‘super’), where the honey that the bees make for us is to be produced. The honey on the first floor of the hive is their own personal stash.

This saw not one but two milestones passed. Firstly we had to get up close and personal with the bees, with JP actually handling the frames. And secondly, we were legitimately able to get the beekeeper’s kit on.       

JP lighting Smoker

 So, a quick run through the checklist. The new storey had been painted and wax sheets stuck on to the 9 frames. Queen Excluder and Beekeeper’s Tool, check. Smoker smoking, check.

As complete novices, we had been advised to wear sporty shoes, in the event of a quick getaway. At this stage, it is also deemed wise to accessorise the outfit with long, leather gloves. These are shunned by the Venerable Bee-de, as they are rather restritive – but were are more than happy to cover up, and especially happy to be sporting the top with inbuilt headgear – proper beekeeper stuff. 

JP taking the veil

So all kitted up, it was off to the paddock, with a sense of heightened anticipation and excitement.      

Dallas was in charge of the Smoker, and the first job was to waft a few puffs through the front door. Having taken off the roof, the next job was to remove the sticky tape from the cover, a few more puffs of smoke and then JP lifted up a couple of frames – mainly to evaluate the progress of honeycomb building. The outer 2 frames still have plenty of work to be done on them.

 JP then gradually slid the grill that is the queen excluder over the lower storey (correct term = ‘brood box’). The trick here seemed to be to do this slowly enough so as to not squash any bees, but fast enough so they all didn’t come up and find out what was going on.  

Then pop on the new storey, back on with the roof et voila – hive suitably extended, bees still calm – and no mishaps, no bee stings. Job done! 

checking frames

sliding over the queen excluder

     

Jean-Philippe and his hive

Bee Ready

Bee Square : all ready for the new hive

Not long to wait now – all is in readiness for the new arrivals. All bee-keeping kit and caboodle has been sourced and purchased (quite an extensive list of Stuff). Exterior walls of the hive have been painted a rather odd, metallic green. Sheets of wax have been melded onto frames (more of that later, and the Delhom Methode for melting wax). A patch of the ‘garden’ has been determined suitable for bees (not too hot / cold / windy), cleared of weeds, covered in gravel and a pallet carefully levelled. This is now referred to as Bee Square (it’s 3m x 3m).

A local Master of Bees, Monsieur G. of Colomiers (henceforth referred to as the Venerable Beede), with 74 years experience of keeping bees, was contacted to let him know that we were keen to take the plunge into the intriguing world of apiculture. He called back some days later to let us know that he had a new colony up and running, and it was time to take the empty hive to him. He has added the populated frames, and anticipates that it will take about 10 days for this new colony to feel established in the hive. We saw them a few days ago and they are thriving and multiplying.

Now we just have to wait for the next phone call to say that we can go and pick up the hive and bring the babies home.