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.

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Bentley Pinfold Open Day

Following the recent post charting the story of the restoration of Bentley Pinfold, the latest news is that the pinfold has now been officially opened, with a proper ribbon cutting…

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The day was attended by local folk, with their memories and stories. For example, Mavis remembering when the pinfold was used for its intended purpose (enclosing stray animals).

The wildflowers are flourishing, as is the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).

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the wildflowers thriving in the favourable Doncaster climate

And now that the pinfold is officially open for business, the bees have started to arrive.

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An observation hive was brought along by Alan Woodward of the Doncaster Beekepers Association – which generated keen interest.

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Alan Woodward of Doncaster Beekeepers Association, demonstrating the fascinating world of bees

Thanks to Adam Howard, seen in the image below, from Growing a Greater Bentley, for the images and news.

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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 🙂

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

South Bank Show

Just opposite the kitchen window is a southerly facing bank, which is covered in a thick carpet of wildflowers and weeds, with a hint of grass. At midday, it is a mass of colour, very picturesque, and is attracting a multitude of wildlife – especially bees.

Honey Bee visiting Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Honey Bee visiting Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

With all the buzzing, it doesn’t take a detective to track down some of the visitors. Especially when they are relatively large and sporting black and yellow furry stripes (with a cute white bottom)…

Bumblebee on Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Bumblebee on Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)

There are one or two honey bees in the mix, gleaning every little they can. Most of their sisters are over at the box tree, which is currently pollen central (more of that in another post).

Honey bee on Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica).

Honey bee on Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica).

my new friend, the Carpenter Bee

my new friend, the Carpenter Bee

and finally, something new to me, even though it is apparently one of the most common bumblebee species, here is the Common Carder Bee. It is medium-sized, has a long tongue and nests on the surface of the ground…

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

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Bee Film : More Than Honey

Of Bees and Menif the bees disappeared...

Of Bees and Men
if the bees disappeared…

Last night we went to the cinema to watch a new documentary – Des Abeilles et Des Hommes (also called More Than Honey), reporting the decline in bee populations, and the multiple possible reasons behind this phenomenon. Swiss film producer Marcus Imhoof, journeys around the globe filming folk closely involved in bee-keeping – apiarists, honey producers, hive transporters, pollen gatherers etc, and each tells their story. The film lasts about 90 minutes, and comprises factual snippets, nuggets of information, some bee-keeping basics, all with beautiful cinematography including some amazing macro work.

The film begins in a stunning Alpine setting, with Fred who is out gathering a swarm, no hint of protective clothing. He is descended from a long line of bee keepers and can recall how things used to be. For him traditional methods are all important. Fred is fighting cross-breeding, striving to keep the local race of black bees pure. He discovers one of his queen bees has been interbreeding with a yellow bee from a neighbouring valley, and without compunction, squeezes off the head of this traitress.

The story moves to a vast almond producing area in California, and the associated honey producing / pollination operation. The scale is immense – and the driving force is money making. The orchards were alive with bees collecting pollen – but after just a short while the hives have to be transported on – as, once the pollen has been collected there is no more nourishment for the bees and for them it is has become a desert. The trees are fumigated during the day – and traces of fungide can be found in the resultant honey. Additionally the bees are fed antibiotics, to help assure the continued presence of this all important component of such industrialised agriculture.

We meet Heidrun Singer and her production line of Queen Bees – she gently transposes larvae into false royal cells, thereby tricking the bees into feeding them royal jelly. Apparently her queen bees are sold around the world – and we see them packaged up and hauled off by a courrier company.

Onto China, to an area where bees are so scare that pollination is done by hand – by human beings (mostly women). Pollen is collected and sold in small packets, and then a team of workers, armed with cotton buds, the pollen in a bottle round their necks, pollinate the trees, flower by flower.

Back to the US, to Arizona, where Fred (another Fred) works collecting Africanized Killer Bees. Having retrieved a swarm, he doesn’t destroy it, but rather keeps it – noticing that they are more hardy than their normal counterparts, produce good honey, but have to be treated with a good deal of respect.

There are further tales of Foul Brood, pesticides and the varroa mite. Evidence of stress sufferered when transporting the hives on the back of lorries for thousands of kilometers each year. Footage of bees fitted with tracking devices. We meet a German neuroscientist investigating bee brains. And much more.

This is not a film with a beginning, a middle and an end – it is educational, a neutral presentation of facts and information, from which we are allowed to draw our own conclusions. We see that traditional and natural methods, and unlimited growth may be unsustainable. Does the answer lie in a totally unexpected source?

The film is originally in German, and is available with French subtitles (there is a certain amount of spoken English).

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

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!