Sat here in the glorious September sun, about to take our son to university, and wit the season largely behind us, the bee-keeping events of 2023 have started to mellow a little. Which is just as well – as otherwise it might have been my last!
Breaking bad (toes)
In my previous post I talked about nearly breaking a wrist and a foot. Well, “nearly” turned out to be “actually” in the case of my foot. Let me explain.
With a walk to the Lake District in the diary, and having been unhappily limping around on a bad foot for a couple of weeks, I took myself to the Haslemere minor injuries unit to get it checked out. I can’t praise the team at the hospital highly enough, and the care that I received was exemplary, even when the radiographer chastised me, and to all intents and purposes called me a stupid boy!
Without consulting our hive record, the specifics of the season are not simple to recall in precise detail.
Before getting started, here’s the x-ray of my toe, which only just has anything to do with bee-keeping.
At the time of the x-ray the radiologist and doctor seemed unconvinced that the toe was broken, but 3 months later, and having had a consultation over the phone (?) with a physio, I say with confidence that it was broken.
Back to the bees
Anyway, in my previous post, Holly had swarmed, and Ivy was in the middle of a pre-emptive Snelgrove – a process that was destined to last about 2 months. Each time we resolved to sort it out, holidays, the weather, illness, and many other things got in the way. Also, what was apparent was that the Ivy queen was very, very relaxed about doing anything useful – like laying workers that could be arsed to leave the hive to collect pollen, nectar, propolis, or water. They just seemed to mill around chatting.
So, we made the decision to re-queen, and not wishing to spend money on a new queen, she took a trip to the freezer. If you’re not a bee-keeper this may sound brutal, and maybe it is. We keep bees for 3 reasons: (1) to help nature a little bit; (2) to do something together; and (3) to crop honey. Bee-keeping equipment is not cheap, and the time spent keeping them does add up. When you’re spending £ hundreds each year on kit, just to house bees, there comes a point that you want something coming back. So, they did what they do best, and created a shit-load of queen cells.
By now, we were playing Jenga with the Holly supers, and she had a magnificent stack of 5 – so much so that we did an early season spin. We put the clearance boards in place, dutifully waited 2 and a half days, and removed and bagged up the supers. As we did so, we couldn’t help but notice the number of bees who had remained in the Holly supers. They had cleared, but there were still a good number on the frames, and we noticed odd patterns of uncapped stores.
Jen started un-capping, and I started spinning. The yield was good. Part way through proceedings, and I don’t know what caused me to do this, I looked at the filter, only to find larvae. Ah! The odd shaped “uncapped stores” had been uncapped brood… And this would explain the reason that the bees had been reluctant to leave the supers – they were nurse bees… We set this batch of honey to one side for our own consumption, cleared the filters, and started spinning again – this time with fewer unwanted bodies. There are 2 filters, and supers are not the McLaren engine centre, or a biohazard laboratory – so the filters are necessarily very fine. Another lesson learned.
Through the season I was called to a number of swarms, and was able to help other beeks out.
Over a few weeks, we managed to move our slim Holly queen such that she had the run of just the brood box and one super. We’ve not seen her this season, and with (effectively) two brood boxes to comb through, we’ve decided to let her do her thing. When we under-super, she’ll be able to choose where she spends her winter.
We attempted more than once to re-unite Ivy with her Snelgrove buddy colony. I was within a whisker of executing the newspaper method of reuniting when I caught a glimpse of the Veronica (as we called the Snelgrove colony). That put paid to that. In the end we reunited, and Veronica was no more. Ivy remains a work-shy collection of gossipy bees, and it remains to be seen whether they get through the winter.
One day we met a new neighbour.
“Do you keep bees?” he asked.
“Yes we do” Jen replied.
“Do you live next to Maureen and Catherine?” he asked.
“Yes we do” Jen replied.
“I think your bees have just flown over my garden” he informed us…
We really don’t know how many swarms we’ve had this year. We think it’s between 3 and 6…
By the end of the season, we’d learnt lots, disagreed more than we agreed, and it was generally a ball-ache. This year yielded few of the wondrous moments that have been a feature of previous seasons. It feels like it’s been a battle of attrition, and if next season is the same, it may well be my last.
Buying flat-pack supers is a mugs game. Assembling them true and square is not simple.
Have enough kit.