A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Bumble Bee

As the weather has improved considerably in the last few days I have had the chance to do some work in my garden, getting rid of weeds and generally tidying up prior to planting all new vegetables for the year. While I was working on my borders and admiring how well my lupins are doing I spotted my first Bumble Bee of the year. When I saw her she gave me a bit of a fright as she was just where I was working, sat on a dead leaf I was about to move; however she wasn't bothered by my presence and actually stopped there for a few seconds so I could admire her. She was a very large Bee and due to size and time of year she must have been a queen. As she sat there I was cursing myself for not having my phone at hand to take a picture of her and then before I knew it she had taken flight and left.

The following day, while I was again working in the garden, I got a further visit from a Bumble Bee. I'm not sure if she was the same one but she was definitely a queen again due to her size. This time she was at the very end of the garden by the holly tree where I was trying to remove invasive brambles. She had landed on the floor and seemed to be walking round sizing the area up for a potential nest site. This time I did have my phone on me so without making any sudden movements got it out of my pocket and started lining up my shot. At that point, just as I was getting her in my view finder, she flew away. Gutting. It does seem like I'm not destined to get a photo of a Bumble Bee this year but will keep trying.

Later on the same day, me and my better half took the baby for a walk around a nearby lake. While walking around I saw a couple of Bumbles and so did my partner. This time I didn't even try to take a picture as they where all in flight at the time we saw them. I have found a nice picture on wikipedia of a Bumble Bee which is shown here. I think this picture is far better than any I would be able to take with the camera on my phone but hope at some point to capture some good shots with my partners camera if I can convince my subjects to stay still long enough and not take flight!

The Bumble Bee differs from Honey Bees in several ways. I will list some of the main differences.
  • Appearance - The most noticeable difference is how they look. Bumble Bees are larger than Honey Bees and quite a lot hairier. The extra hair allows the Bumble to go out foraging in colder weather due to it's added layers of insulation. The hair also picks up a static charge which attracts pollen to it when they land on flowers, aiding pollination. Their colour is most commonly know to be black and yellow striped but can vary from totally black to orange and even pink.
  • Hive Structure - Bumble Bees will also form a colony with the queen as the only egg layer, however with Bumbles the queen does actually start by foraging until she has enough workers to do the work for her, unlike the Honey Bee who's queen pretty much only lays eggs. They do make wax cells that workers develop in but their honey is stored in one large cell or pot, though apparently only a couple of ounces are made at any one time. Honey Bee hives house several thousand Bees while Bumble Bees are only a few hundred at the most.
  • Life Cycle - With a Honey Bee hive when a queen gets old the colony may replace her, while in a Bumble Bee hive the colony dies off each year. At the end of the season the queen lays new queen eggs; When they hatch and leave the hive to mate they then go and hide for the winter, forming new colonies in the summer, while the old queen and all the workers die off.
  • The Sting - Bumble Bees don't have a barb on their sting so can sting more than once if they are provoked enough. Honey Bees do have a barb so die when they sting. A sting from a Bee is relatively rare though from either a Bumble or a Honey Bee; they only sting when they feel threatened or that their hive is under attack 
There are other differences but these are the main ones I could think of.

Another point worthy of note with the Bumble Bees is that they are also said to be in decline. Some species having already died off or are becoming endangered in the UK in recent years,though I sometimes find it hard to believe with the amount I have seen in the last few days alone. Bumbles do suffer from pesticides the same as Honey Bees so I ask anyone who hasn't already followed the links in my previous post titled Save The Bees, to do so now and also copy the sample letter and send to their MP. Bees of all kinds are a benefit to the human race in that their pollination helps provide us with the crops we eat on a daily basis and with growing world population we can't afford for crops to fail. The fate of humanity is in our hands!!

Not to end on such a downer:-

What is a Bees favourite singer? .....Sting!

What is a Bees favourite group? .....The Bee Gees!

What's Black, Yellow and covered in Blackberries? A Bramble Bee!

Where do Bees wait for public transport? At the Buzz stop!

I know these are pretty bad jokes. Feel free to comment any more bee jokes!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Save The Bees!

While reading the Internet about Neonicotinoid pesticides I came across a link to a website that is holding a global petition to try to ban the use of these pesticides. Imidacloprid is one of the main neonictinoid pesticides in use today. These pesticides are systemic which means they stay inside the plant and effect every part of it, including the pollen and nectar, which are the parts the Bees use. The chemical effects the nervous system of the insects and kills them but not always straight away. The pollen is taken back to the hive which is stored for a later food source and then when the Bees need it they eat the poisoned pollen. Without going into too much details and trying to avoid publicly naming the huge companies responsible (you can do a google search on imidacloprid and find out if your that interested) I would like to ask anyone reading this to sign the petition. It only takes a few seconds and if it helps to ban these dangerous chemicals then it will of all been worth while.

Again the link to add your name to the petition is here!

And if you want to do even more then why not write to your MP. http://www.writetothem.com/ is the site for writing to your MP in the UK. A sample letter you can copy is

Dear (MP)

I am writing to ask you to support early Early Day motion 1267 - IMPACT OF NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDES ON BEES AND OTHER INVERTEBRATES

This is an extremely important measure to protect all our native insects from these pernicious and persistent toxins, which are increasingly recognized by the beekeeping and independent scientific communities as being a major causative factor in the massive decrease over recent years of the bee population.

Yours sincerely

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Bee Pests and Diseases

I have decided to do a page dedicated to Bee nasties. There are a variety of different problems that honey bees have to put up with at the moment. So far I have only written about varroa and nosema but will add more as I find time. I will probably also update the details about varroa as I learn more and if I'm unlucky enough to get varroa in my hives I will try to get pictures. In the future I will write about European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB), Small Hive Beetle (SHB), Wax Moth, Chalk Brood and Stone Brood. I will also include other problems that I read about. To get to the page either follow this link or look on the right side under Pages.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


I have finally bottled my first batch of mead, the JAO. It produced approx 3.5 Litres. The recipe I followed doesn't mention adding anything to stop secondary fermentation, however I added a campden tablet prior to bottling just to make sure no further fermentation took place. I did this as I really don't want exploding bottles of mead; one reason being I've waited a long time for it but more important is I don't want to risk hurting anyone, especially my young daughter.

This picture shows the bottled product. These are 1 Litre bottles. The mead at this point is rather cloudy but I'm advised that it will clear if left a couple of months and the taste will be better. I'm not sure I will be able to wait this long as I have already opened one of these bottles!!

In these 2 glasses are the last bits to be syphoned out of the demijohn. It is cloudier than the bottled product as part of the sediment was sucked through the tube. It was still very tasty but had a slight off taste that my unrefined palate couldn't name, but I'm putting this down to the sediment as further drinking from the bottled product had a much nicer taste and cleared appearance. If I was to try to describe the taste of the bottled product I would say it was sweet but not overly sweet, with subtle orange flavour and a warming after taste. I will certainly be making more!

The hard part now is saving at least one bottle to allow to mature. It's recommended to leave at least 2 months but I'm not sure I'll be able to. As I consider this batch a success next time I may make a larger batch, that way I would have more chance of saving some to mature. Also when I finally get some bees and am harvesting my own honey, the mead produced should be better quality. At the moment I am still using bulk commercial honey.

While searching the net for more mead recepies I came across the following guide on High Wycombe Beekeepers Association website

2 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.060, potential alcohol 7.8%.
3 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.090, potential alcohol 12%.
4 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.120, potential alcohol 16.3%.

Dry Mead: Starting S.G. 1.085-1.105. Finish S.G. 0.990-1.000.
Medium Mead: Starting S.G. 1.105-1.120. Finish S.G. 1.000-1.005.
Sweet Mead: Starting S.G. 1.120-1.130. Finish S.G. 1.005-1.015.

Using this bit of info I tried to work out roughly how much alcohol my second batch of mead would produce. I started off working in litres and kilograms so my first step was to convert to gallons and pounds.

Using google to convert:-

6kg > 13.2lbs
30L > 6.6 gal  (in my original post it says 25L but later I checked and it was closer to 30L)

This would give a 2:1 Honey:Water ratio and approx S.G. of 1.060, potential alcohol 7.8% which is much lower than I originaly thought. I should really have used upto twice as much honey in the mix. Due to this and the lack of activity over the last few days in the recently racked mead I will be doing a hydrometer test on it soon. If the gravity reading is 1.005 or less then I believe the fermentation will have stopped and the mead will be ready, even though slightly weaker than anticipated.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Racking The Mead

I have decided it is time to rack my second batch of mead.  I'm doing this to separate the mead from the layer of sediment at the bottom; the sediment is known as the lees.

The first step was to make sure all my demijohns are sterile. I used a sterilising powder mixed with warm water then left for 10 minutes to do it's work. I have put some kitchen towel in the necks to stop dust getting in the demijohns.

I then brought my primary fermentation vessel into the kitchen and lifted it onto a chair. This was rather heavy as it contains 25-30 litres of mead!

Next was to put the siphoning tube into the large fermentation vessel and give the tube a good suck so that the mead was travelling down the tube. I managed to get a little in my mouth so I will count that as my tasting. If I'm honest it doesn't taste too nice at the moment but it definitely has a boozy edge to it.

This shows the airlock applied to the 2 gallon demijohn.

These pictures are the same again but for the smaller demijohn....

 ....and again for the glass demijohns. In the photo on the left I've had to raise the demijohn as my siphoning tube wasn't long enough to get to the bottom of the big fermentation vessel.

 This is the sediment or Lees that is left behind. It looked and smelled rather nasty so was disposed of rather quickly!

In the above photo from left to right; Ginger and Lemon Mead, JAO Mead and the last 4 are the Mead I just racked. The JAO Mead is really near to being ready to drink as it's nearly totally clear. These are all in my daughters room at the moment; she is still sleeping in my room as she is only 3 months old. This is due to her room being the warmest and darkest as she has very thick curtains.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: February Meeting

Monday just gone was my 3rd time attending Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers Association meeting and my first as a member.

This month the subject was "Preparing for the New Season Ahead" with guest speaker David Aston. In the meeting he talked about the importance of getting ready for the new season. 

Such things as removing mouse guards now that some flowers are starting to bloom and we are having the occasional nice day, the bees are starting their first foraging runs. With mouse guards still in place some of the pollen can be brushed off the bees as they re-enter the hive. At the beginning of the season bees need this early pollen as it provides them with protein needed to thrive.

Also mentioned was the importance of cleaning comb and disposing of old, damaged or diseased comb. This is of greater importance than ever with the recent decline of bees. The best way of disposing of old comb is to burn it as this will get rid of any potential contagion. Also with frames being so cheap it would often be cheaper to replace comb rather than risk infection and end up having to replace whole colonies! 

Other pieces of equipment that were mentioned that need checking before the new season are your smoker, hive tool, suit, veil and gauntlets (heavy-duty elbow length gloves). 
Without a working smoker you can end up working with angry bees as smoke makes the bees think there's a fire so eat lots of honey; they do this in case they need to make a speedy get away and by doing so makes it harder for them to physically sting due to their bellies being so full. He also mentioned another option which is to spray water across the mouth of the hive; the advantage of this is that it doesn't scare the queen as much so she may be less inclined to hide when the hive is opened and if a hive is smoked too much bees can think there is a problem and leave.
A hive tool is essential for removing the comb that bees build to glue everything together, also known as burr comb. It is also used to pry frames apart so inspections can take place.
The suit, veil and gauntlets are all for the Beekeepers safety so are essential. They all need to be thoroughly checked for gaps that bees can get through and kept clean so disease is kept from spreading. There was also recommendation to not use gauntlets where possible and use disposable rubber gloves if needed. By using disposable gloves your are guaranteeing the cleanest possible approach.

There was more talk on bee health and several slides, one including small hive beetles. These little nasties haven't made it to our shores yet (from the other side of the Atlantic) but due to the size of them it would be hard to see them so could be accidentally brought in on something else. In the picture you can see the little black beetles (click to enlarge). The larvae of the beetles can burrow through the comb, defecating as they go, which can in turn discolour the honey and cause it to ferment, thus spoiling the honey! A common sign of this damage is a smell of decaying orange and a slimy froth. If the infestation gets too bad the bees may abscond the hive.

At each meeting there is a raffle and I took part this time for the first time and am happy to report I won one of the prizes. If your number comes out you can choose your prize from a variety of things, I choose a bottle of beer which I shared with my better half when I got home. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Ginger and Lemon Mead

I have started another batch of mead. This one is very experimental and again I haven't followed a strict recipe. This mead (as it contains honey, lemon and ginger) will be called medicinal mead!

To start this one off I copied instructions I had found for making a yeast starter. This involved putting a teaspoon of wine yeast in a jam jar with a couple of teaspoons of ginger and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. I then gave this a good shake and then added the juice of a whole lemon. The next thing to do was to put a piece of kitchen towel over the top to stop dust getting in. Within half an hour it was fizzing quite happily.

The next day I added another couple of teaspoons of grated ginger and the same amount of sugar. By this point it was fizzing like a freshly opened can of ginger beer and smelling like one as well!! I left the jam jar for about 12 hours then made the mead. To start I boiled a large pan of water and left it to cool; this is done to get rid of the chlorine in the water. I then weighed out 1.5kg of honey. This was easier said than done as all my honey has now solidified and I did bend a spoon or 2, I eventually went for the wooden spoon option. The honey was then dissolved in about 2 litres of the pre boiled water which was still warm so dissolved fairly easily. This honey water was then put in to a 1 gallon demijohn. The juice of 2 lemons and the rind from 1 was added into the demijohn along with a handful of sultanas and about a tablespoon of grated ginger (I didn't measure this and just added to taste). The last thing to go in was the contents of the jam jar. When all the ingredients were in I put further water in the demijohn to make it up to 4.5 litres.

Using my newly bought hydrometer I then took a gravity reading that was 1.080; this is known as the specific gravity or SG. When the mead has fully fermented I will take a further reading and then be able to work out roughly how much alcohol is in the brew by using a formula. The formula is quite complicated so I will be using an online calculator. About half an hour after adding all the ingredients and looking on the Internet at different SG levels I decided my level wasn't quite high enough so I added sugar to make my SG level 1.090. After I applied an airlock I checked back on it after about half an hour and found it to already be bubbling away very happily, almost worryingly fast!

I will now leave this in a warm place for a few months and then rack it and take another gravity measurement. If the alcohol level is 12% or above I will probably bottle it then.

This picture was taken a day after everything was put in the demijohn and you can see a layer of foam forming at the top as it is fermenting so rapidly. The bottle that is partly in the shot, to the right of the main bottle, is my first mead which is still not quite ready.

I would also like to add a note thanking my proof reader and editor, Steph, for the work she does correcting my grammar before I publish new posts. She has started writing her own blog about chickens, I think you should follow this link and have a read!