Flat Stanley and the Honey Harvest

Howdy – its Flat Stanley again, reporting in after an exciting day’s honey extraction! We collected the honey from the hives of Dallas and Jean-Philippe – three hives in all. I was asked to help out in the Extracting Room.

Flat Stanley and a frame dripping with honey

Flat Stanley and a frame dripping with honey

Firstly we had to make sure that all the equipment was spotlessly clean. It is after all a year since it has been used. You see me here atop the centrifugal extractor, surrounded by uncapping trays, buckets, sieves and honey tanks.

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All was fine and dandy, so we installed all these bits and pieces in the so called Extracting Room. When Dallas’ house was used as a farm in the olden days, this room was part of the area where they kept cows and horses. There is a massive vat in the corner which some say was for water for the animals, others say it was for wine making – now its used for showering off the dogs. Folks also say that this room is haunted!

The honey extraction was a big success, especially for Jean-Philippe, who had over 30 kilos of beautiful honey. I watched as the honey cells were uncapped and then spun to extract the golden juice.

One thing we did notice on one of Dallas’ frames was a patch of paler, crystallised honey, which must have originated from the oil seed rape.

pale colza honey on the left

pale colza honey on the left

This OSR or colza honey was set too hard to extract – all we could do was leave it and the bees would recuperate it when we leave the frames out for them to clean up.

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Liquid Gold

After we had finished the extraction and tidied up, washed all the equipment and tried to make the floor less sticky, we all sat down with some ice-cold beer and a platter of fresh bread and mild goats cheese, drizzled of course with super fresh honey – it was scrumptious.

Karl, I am developing quite a liking for these French cheeses. In fact, France produces alot of wonderful food stuffs – perhaps its time I was thinking about coming home, whilst I am still nice and flat?

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Honey Harvest Part One : extracting the frames from the bees

Its Honey Harvest Day!  The weather is okay – not as hot as last year, but warm enough, and critically no rain or wind. We are a team of four (five if you count Flat Stanley), myself, Jean-Phi, his sister Beatrice and her friend Patrice. The question on everybodys’ lips is ‘Will there be much honey?’

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After a thorough equipment / clothing check and a run though of responsibilities, we head for Jean-Phi’s hives. He is on Frame Extraction duty, I have control of the Smoker (as well as being Helper of the Tools), Patrice stands guard over the extracted frames and ensures that they are hidden away from the bees, Beatrice is Chief Photographer.

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‘Nurse, the brush’

The honey quantity question is soon answered at the first hive – the frames are gloriously, abundantly full to busting. The first hive yielded 9 frames packed to capacity.

heavy with honey

heavy with honey

And the second hive was equally productive. The bees were calm, and certainly didn’t seem to object to us pilfering the fruits of their labour.

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spillage

So with all the frames from two super Supers purloined, all the kit was loaded into the cars and its off to my house to see if my bees have fulfilled their brief just as impressively.

Rather annoyingly, Jean-Phi’s girls outperformed mine – but there was still honey to be had. This year the sunflowers were quite a bit further away than last year. And was there indeed competition from the mobile hives?

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So, all the frames gathered in – its off to the Extracting Room…

Extended Bee Team and the Precious Cargo

Extended Bee Team and the Precious Cargo

Honey Harvest Part Two coming very soon!

And Flat Stanley tells his side of the story.

Latest Sunflower / Bee News

WARNING : this post contains yet more pictures of bees on sunflowers.

However, in an effort to mix it up a bit, I have tried playing around with some of the sunflower pictures, trying out various photoshop effects. Here is one of the sunflower field in front of our village church…

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LittleWorld image : Sunflowers in Garac

With the sunflowers in full throttle, Hive B has been extended by adding a super.

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Andy just about to add a super to Hive B

We aren’t terribly optimistic that those additional frames will be full to busting come the end of the sunflower season. The bees haven’t been in residence that long, and with the rotten weather in May and June, they are still establishing themselves in the brood box.

We do however have higher expectations for Hive A.

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Honey building up in Hive A

I am now noticing alot of mobile hives in the fields around and about, and cannot decide if this is a new phenomenon or whether its now something that I can easily spot. Just wondering about the levels of competition for the pollen / nectar.

And finally, the obligatory bees-on-sunflowers shots…

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Sunflowers bursting forth

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sunflowers surrounding a pigonnier in south-west France

The sunflowers in the fields around and about are all poised to transform from green buds into bright yellow flowers (with their velvety brown faces). Exciting times, on one hand simply because I find the sunflowers so visually appealling, and secondly because I know that they will be providing stores for the honey bees – hopefully in excessive amounts.

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I noticed yesterday, in a field at the bottom of our hill, that someone had been along and deposited, temporarily, a batch of mobile hives. They are far enough away from my bees to represent any potential competition.

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I took a drive yesterday to get an idea of the most convenient sunflowers for my bees, and to evaluate whats going to be available and when. Last year, the house was surrounded on three sides by sunflower fields – this year they have been planted with wheat and barley. There are however several large fields all within a 2 kilometer radius of the hives, and more beyond that.

The early sunflowers are already attracting their fair share of bees.

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honey bees start arriving on sunflower feeding station

The sunflower buds have something of a triffid like appearance.

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With the petals packed in tight, desperate to unfurl into the sunlight.

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Looks like my girls are going to bee very busy over the coming weeks.

Not everything in the garden is rosy

Hurrah, at last, a bit of seasonal warmth. It has been so wet and so fresh for weeks now that I was beginning to wonder if the bees could hang on much longer. Today, finally, it’s sunny and warm and the bees are out in force.

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roses are red

The roses are all doing well, but this ancient variety is definititely their favourite – the bees are numerous and the activity is somewhat phrenetic.

Over in the herb garden, the chive flowers are attracting much attention – from butterflies, bumblebees and honey bees alike.

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chive flowers are blue

However, hiding in amongst the charming chive flowers, dark forces are at work – and this poor honey bee has become a victim.

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Crab Spider (Xysticus) enjoying a spot of honey bee for lunch

Another unwelcome visitor in the garden is the Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) – also a predator of bees. The following image is actually a European Hornet (Vespo crabro) which has been adeptly neutralised by a swift knock from Andy’s mobile phone, its thorax becoming squished in the process. This hornet is not reviled as much as its Asian counterpart, but is nonetheless not something I am fond of finding near the house.

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European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

I put out some bottle traps for the Asian Hornet monsters a few weeks ago, especially near the hives. These are simple devices constructed from 2 empty water bottles and filled to a depth of about 10 centimetres with a mixture made up of brown beer, white wine and a syrupy cordial such as grenadine. These traps do attract other flying creatures (crucially not bees or butterflies), and the liquid bait will contain flies and moths, but essentially they are targeted at attracting hornets. Here is the haul from one bottle after just a few days…

an assortment of hornets from a bottle trap

an assortment of hornets from a bottle trap

The metal grill is back on th hive – this narrows the entrance to the hive, so that, in theory, only the honey bees can gain access. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for a nest – these tend to be spherical, often high up in trees, but also in other sheltered spots. Here is an example of what I’m on the lookout for …

Asian Hornet nest

To end on a happy note, we go back to the chive flowers and a contented bumblebee.

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Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) investigating chive flower

Abeille Road

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Abeille Road

Yesterday, Jean-Philippe rang to see if I could come and Help!

It was a case of Good Day Sunshine, and the time had come time to move the bees, from the temporary ruchette (nucleus) into a proper sized hive. So time to Drive My Car down the Long and Winding Road, over to JP’s house.

Two new hives, all colourful and freshly painted AND numbered, were ready and waiting, along with JP’s two latest gadget purchases – a metal rack, which hooks over the side of the hive, to hold frames, and a gripping tool for the lifting and maneovering of frames.

Hold Me Tight

Hold Me Tight

The first step was to carefully lift the ruchette and place it just to the side, and then position the new hive in exactly the same spot as where the ruchette had been. The ruchette seemed disappointingly light, but there were plenty of bees and evidence of honey making.

Lend Me Your Comb

Lend Me Your Comb

The frames were gently transferred, one by one, from the ruchette to the fabulous new hive, and JP left a house-warming present of some sugar solution in the roof space.

This process was repeated for the second ruchette, which was even lighter than the first. Lets hope to Get Back to warmer, dryer times so that these colonies can become truly established. Here Comes the Sun?

Honey (that's what I want)

Honey (that’s what I want)

Ain't She Sweet

Ain’t She Sweet

Let It Bee

Let It Bee

Hello, Goodbye 🙂

What’s the collective noun for ‘swarms’?

It’s happened again! Now we have a third swarm. Just seven days after Jean-Philippe called to ask us to help with a swarm near his hive, he was ringing us again (on the Emergency Beeline). Another swarm cluster was developing in roughly the same place, already larger than the first.

a second swarm cluster for JP

a second swarm cluster for JP

So, with the swiftness of a well rehearsed fire-crew, we bundled the necessary equipment into the Beemobile (a battered Renault Kangoo) and headed off to JP’s house, jesting that a yellow and black flashing light, complete with loud buzzing noise, would be appropriate.

This swarm was slightly more awkward than the previous two, in that it was higher up and the branch it was attached to was too thick to cut with secateurs – so we had to employ the old Shake and Brush into a Hive Lid Technique.

capturing the latest swarm cluster

capturing (and wearing) the latest swarm cluster

This swarm was also a bit more feisty than the others – however they settled quickly into the ruchette (nucleus), and immediately took up the offer of sugar solution. You may notice that we have discovered a new shade of hive paint – a rather attractive lavender colour.

So, this year, we have gone from one hive each, to two for us and now four for Jean Philippe.

Breakfast in Bed

After the recent Queen Drama, it is paramount that the bees feel at home in their new ruchette and stay put. So the following day, I was up with the larks to serve them breakfast – a syrup solution, made with 1 kilo sugar to 1 litre water, and a teaspoon of vinegar – to be served in a feeder which sits over a hole in the cover of the ruchette (which I now understand is called a ‘nucleus’ or ‘nuc’ in English – thanks to Emily : http://adventuresinbeeland.com/).

plastic feeder, filled with sugar solution which the bees can access from within the hive

plastic feeder, filled with sugar solution which the bees can access from within the hive

I’m keeping a close eye on the level of this syrup – but am noticing, now that the weather has picked up that there is plenty of coming and going from the ruchette – I will give them a couple more days and then have a closer inspection.

from outside, at least, all seems well

from outside, at least, all seems well

Now that things have calmed down, its time to reflect on why the bees swarmed, was it preventable, should I have picked up on clues beforehand that this was likely to happen?

The Venerable Beede (VB) assures us that it is quite normal, and may be linked to the weather, in that there have been some hot, sunny, good-foraging days, but lately lots of fresh and unseasonably wet days. Is the pollen being washed away?

raindrop with apple blossom

raindrop with apple blossom

Deja Vue

Jean-Philippe, having just returned from his travels, called us yesterday to report that his bees too had decided to split, and a swarm cluster was building in exactly the same manner as mine. Being experienced in such matters, we dashed down to offer any assistance necessary.

Andy confidently snips through the branch holding the swarm

Andy confidently snips through the branch holding the swarm

the bees drop into the ruchette - in this case, the frames already have some honeycomb to tempt them in

the bees drop into the ruchette – in this case, the frames already have some honeycomb to tempt them in

the queen is in residence

bee fanning her Nasonov gland
~ the queen is in residence ~

In the above image, we see a bee sticking its abdomen up in the air, almost vertically, to release the Nasonov pheromone. This pheromone is used by scout bees to mark their chosen new home after swarming and assists the swarm in arriving gracefully at their new location. Not particularly ladylike, but good to see.

Queen Bee-atrix Abdicates

On the very same day that her namesake in the Netherlands was relinquishing the throne, our Queen Bee-atrix has decided to abandon her principal residence in favour of one of her offspring, and has moved on, along with a considerable number of attendants.

strange formation near the bees

strange formation near the bees

It was all a bit of an unexpected drama.  I had beetled over to the hens to collect the day’s egg production (three eggs), when I noticed an odd shape on a tree branch adjacent to the hive. Upon closer inspection it was a seething, buzzing mass of bees – a Swarm!

don't panic!

don’t panic!

Still being a novice bee-keeper, I had little idea of how to interpret this development – so headed back to the house and the reference books. Andy had just arrived home from work in Colomiers, and we decided that the best course of action was to call our Venerable Beede (VB). He told us that we had to react immediately, otherwise the swarm could be off to pastures new in a matter of hours. So, off sets Andy back to Colomiers to pick up VB and returns an hour later, along with him plus a small nursery hive – I’m not sure what the correct term for this is in English, but in French its ‘ruchette’ , a word I like (and will therefore continue to use).

I had already got the smoker lit – I have recently hit upon the idea of using a blow torch to get it going, much less time-consuming. VB slipped on his wellies, whilst Andy and I covered up from head to toe in full bee-keeping regalia.

preparing the ruchette beneath the swarm

preparing the ruchette beneath the swarm

VB is not too impressed with the volume of this swarm, already having tended to some recently at least 10 times larger – in fact he wonders if its not a secondary swarm. There is much to ponder on the whys and the wherefores of this particular bee behaviour – but for the moment we must concentrate on keeping these bees chez nous.

cool as a cucumber

cool as a cucumber

The swarm cluster is actually calm – the bees dont have any brood or honey to defend. So a quick snip with the secateurs, and the cluster is laid on the waiting frames of the ruchette.

bee swarm gently laid on top of frames

bee swarm gently laid on top of frames

the smoker is used to encourage the bees to enter into the hive

the smoker is used to encourage the bees to enter into the hive

lets hope they like their new home

lets hope they like their new home

We shall keep these bees in the ruchette for 3 or 4 weeks, providing nourishment. And in the meantime have to get a second hive prepared, the same as the first one. This will be placed in exactly the same location as the ruchette – and when we feel that the bees and the frames are settled they will be transferred to their new permanent (hopefully) residence.

We shall also be investing in one or two ruchettes – so that, should there be another episode like this, we can handle it ourselves, having been shown the way by the Master!

you can't escape from us that easily

you can’t escape from us that easily

Once the bees had dropped into the box, a cover was added and then the lid – VB ensuring that every last, single bee had found its way into the ruchette – there were still some bees arriving late wondering what had happened to the swarm.

The ruchette was carefully placed on a new palette – I still had work to do making a syrup solution, and Andy was off for the third time that day on a Colomiers round-trip to take VB back home (after we had toasted the evening’s work with a small glass of vin cuit).

(to bee continued)

Bee Forage : April

honey bee on Brassica napus

honey bee amongst the oilseed rape

The big bee-forage news this month must be the oilseed rape (Brassica napus). Fruit trees continue to blossom in the orchard, notably the pear, cherry and quince – but the overriding draw surely comes from the distinctive bright yellow swathes, pushing up all over the countryside.

The pollen is quite evidently plentiful, and the bees are returning to the hive with baskets full to busting.

is pollen good for the complexion?

is pollen good for the complexion?

Given that this is our first April with the hive, we are mindful of the precise timing required for a rapeseed honey harvest – as this particular honey has a tendency to crystallise rapidly. We are keeping a close eye on stores within the hive, and added a super 7 days ago. We could be in for a good harvest of honey – but must ensure that it is extracted from the comb before having the chance to set rock hard.

honey bee in amongst the oilseed rape

perhaps its time to start thinking about returning your load to the hive?

Maybe the OSR honey will be tempered with nectar from the orchard blossoms, which are also quite plentiful – we shall have to wait and see!

honey bee on pear blossom - doyenne du comice to be exact

honey bee on pear blossom – doyenne du comice to be exact

honey bees on apple blossom - this one is a Bramley apple

honey bees on apple blossom – this one is a Bramley apple