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.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Beekeeping Course: Week 4

Today was the fourth part of the Beekeeping course. We started with a very quick apiary visit. Unfortunately the virgin queens haven't mated yet so the nucleus hives had no eggs in them yet; if the queen doesn't mate soon then it could be too late. While in the apiary we also collected the yellow boards under the mesh floors and scraped the debris into newspaper to examine for varroa when back in the classroom.

When back in the classroom the first thing we went through were different ways of starting Beekeeping. The first method was to get a nucleus hive or nuc, which contains 5 frames with at least 3 full frames of Bees and some frames of stores. When you receive a nuc, the frames are placed in your hive and the colony expands from there. We were advised this is the best way to start for beginners as there aren't as many Bees as a full colony so are easier to handle. The next option is to buy a full colony; doing it this way you don't need to wait for your colony to build up and will usually get a crop of honey in the first year. This way is more expensive and trickier due to there being more Bees to handle. The other way to get started is to catch a swarm. The big advantage of this is that it should be free; while the downside being that you don't know the character of the Bees. They could be very aggressive, they could have swarming tendencies and they could be diseased. Taking all the above into account and the possible availability of discounted nuc hives, that will be the option I will be aiming towards to start with.

During the coffee break we were free to examine the debris collected from under the hives to see if there were any varroa dropped. Luckily there wasn't as all the hives had been medicated effectively prior to last winter. There will be more on the subject of varroa later on in the course. The main things that could be seen in the debris were granules of honey, Bees legs and a couple of other dead Bee parts.

The final part of this weeks course was by a guest speaker called Phil who is a semi commercial Beekeeper with around 100 hives. I'm not sure that I'll ever have that many hives but it was good to hear from someone with his experience of over 30 years. I have read in several places that you can ask lots of Beekeepers their opinions and get a different answer from all of them and this rang true with Phil. Where as Ivor advises using open mesh floors, Phil swears by solid floors and also Ivor has double brood hives, Phil has single; I think the main thing is to work with what you are comfortable with. Phil gave some good advice about removing your supers when ready to harvest honey, which was if there is a full honey flow on and you take off 3 supers make sure you are able to put 3 empty supers back on or you may make the Bees congested. At the moment I only have 2 supers built and another to be built so when I have two supers on I will only take one off at a time so I can replace it with the other and always have two on. There was talk about the different plants that help a colony of Bees, but as there is lots of rural area around where I live there shouldn't be a shortage of Bee forage unless there is a major drought.

All in all there was a lot to take in this week and I'm not sure I remember everything but also believe I got a lot from today's course. Next week is half term so it will be two weeks before the next one.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Beekeeping Course: Week 3

The third week of the Beekeeping course again was split into 2 parts; the apiary visit and then back in the classroom. Before going up to the hives we were advised that we were quite lucky that the weather had picked up enough for us to do the hive inspections. Also young virgin queens will have recently hatched so the apiary visit had to be quick as if the hives were left open too long they could take flight and be lost.

On the walk up to the apiary I put my suit on and tucked my trousers into my socks (I didn't fancy Bees in my breeches). I managed to pull a large amount of hair out of my head as the Velcro on my veil got caught in my ponytail. When we got to the apiary we split into 2 groups and looked through the hives. The first hive we looked in was a polystyrene nuc hive; a nuc or nucleus hive is a small hive created from a larger hive, they usually only contain 5 or 6 frames of brood and a queen. The queen was spotted but she is still a virgin queen so was hard to spot as she has a very small abdomen compared to a laying queen. The hive was closed up very quickly so not to disrupt the build up of the hive. We then moved onto a larger more established hive, this one having a double brood area. We did a quick check to make sure there were no queen cells being created and removed a couple of queen cups; they were all empty so were just practise cups. There were plenty of brood and also quite a lot of honey in stores so no issues with the hive. We passed around a frame that the foundation was been drawn out on; this is where the Bees turn flat foundation into full comb with cells ready for eggs to be laid, or honey stored.

After the apiary visit we went back to the classroom. To begin with we had a presentation from a guy called Chris who did the same course I am doing last year. He told how he has gone from a beginner to what stage he is at now. By what Chris was saying, he has really embraced Beekeeping. He has got 6 hives now though 2 are nucs and may be used to strengthen the other hives should the need arise. One thing that interested me was that he builds his own hives from ply wood which would make it a lot cheaper, though the hives wouldn't last as long and would need to be treated against rot each year; The usual wood used is cedar as this has natural resistance to rot. I'd also need to make sure my measurements were precise so the frames fit in without getting stuck or being too loose. All in all his talk was very encouraging as this time last year he was at the same level as me.

The second half of the classroom session was Dhonn, the other guy running the course, talking about other essential pieces of equipment needed for Beekeeping. As he was talking about the various bits of equipment he handed them around the room for us all to see. Some of the items passed around were:-

  • Queen cage and marking pen - This is a small round cage used to hold the queen down so you can use a marking pen to put a coloured mark on the queens thorax, making her easier to find.
  • Hive tools - Already mentioned in a earlier post, these are used to prise hive components apart that have been stuck together with propolis by the Bees, also used to scrape debris and other bits from frames.
  • Porter Bee escape - These are basically one way systems that you put between the brood chamber and the supers so that the Bees will leave the supers and not be able to get back in. This is done so that when you return a couple of days later there are no Bees in the supers so you can take them away to extract the honey. 
  • Uncapping fork - Has two uses. The first use is to remove the capped honey so that it can be extracted. The second use is for removing drone brood to check for varroa; this kills the drone brood as the fork impales the brood, but as varroa prefer to infect drone it a useful technique for seeing how bad your mite levels are.
  • Frame spacers - Simply used to make sure the correct space is kept between frames.
There were other items mentioned such as the suit and the smoker but these items weren't passed around and are very self explanatory.

Also in the past week my better half's chickens have arrived, please visit Stephs Chickens where there are pictures of the girls.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Beekeeping Course: Week 2

Yesterday was the second week of the course. Again we were lucky with the weather and managed an apiary visit. Once we'd all suited up we went over to the apiary. While on the way up to the apiary I got talking to another guy on the course and found out he already had Bees, but also kept chickens, ducks and pigs but has no pigs at the moment; I was pleased to find out that he actually lives in the same village as me so next week I may ask for his contact details and maybe arrange a visit to his apiary if he is up for it. When we got to the apiary we were split into 2 groups; this week I was in Ivor's group.

We approached the first hive and Ivor puffed some smoke into the hive to relax the Bees. We had been warned that this week the Bees could be more aggressive than last week; this is due to most of the oil seed flowers going this week, meaning the Bees have to look a bit harder for pollen and nectar. Upon opening the hive it was apparent that the Bees were calmer than expected. Once the hive was opened and the supers removed, Ivor carefully removed the Queen excluder, checking that she wasn't on its underside. We then had access to the brood chamber. We removed the frames one by one inspecting them as we were going. In the first hive we were unable to find the Queen, but there were capped Queen cells possibly indicating that the previous Queen was no longer in the hive and the Bees were replacing her. We then moved on to the second hive and we were able to find the Queen so all was in order.

The third hive that we inspected was a fairly weak hive, with a new Queen. As we were looking in this hive, Ivor told us not to expect to see eggs yet, due to the age of the Queen, but that she should start laying soon. After Ivor had inspected the first two frames within the brood chamber he asked if anyone else would like a turn. The guy I was talking to earlier had a go; after he had inspected a couple of frames, another person had a look and then it was my turn. I was rather excited as it was my first time handling Bees! Using the hive tool provided, I separated a frame from the brood box and carefully lifted it to eye level to inspect. I was surprised at how heavy it was. I could clearly see stores of pollen and a couple of worker Bees emerging from their cells. In all I inspected two frames.

After the inspections were completed, we went back into the classroom for a tea break. After that there was a short talk from Val about what Bees collect and what they produce. They collect nectar which is turned into honey; the Bee's source of carbohydrate. They also collect pollen which is stored for the Bees proteins; and propolis, which is a resin gathered from plants and is used as a glue. She also mentioned a number of Bee friendly plants, but these have been recorded in a previous post.

After this discussion, Ivor demonstrated how to construct frames for inside the hive. I was please to see that the finished result looked like the frames I created. He also constructed a brood box from a flat-pack kit, that also resembles the one that I built. At this stage we realised that we had over-run, so we packed up and I went home to my better half and the curry that she had ordered. I'm looking forward to the next part of the course.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Beekeeping Course: Week 1

This Wednesday just gone was the first day of the Beekeeping course I am attending. Similar to the Beekeeping meetings I attended over the winter, I was probably the youngest there by a couple of years. As it was the first day of the course it was fairly easy going. We just went over the basics such as what each part of the hive is called and a brief history of the Honey Bee. I was fairly surprised by the amount of people on the course that already had Bees; probably about half. I got speaking to a guy from Sheffield who was on his second year of Beekeeping but had developed a bit of a problem with varroa mites so was attending the course to get more info on pest management. We also got given a folder with various booklets and a course guide.

For me the best part of the course was when we went to the apiary and had a look in a hive. This was the first time I saw inside a hive myself. We were split into 3 groups, the group I went into was for people with no experience, though there wasn't any difference in what was been shown. To start with Val, the lady hosting my group, smoked the hive entrance to calm the Bees down. After a small amount of smoke was wafted over the entrance the hive was opened; Val then talked about the various parts of the inside of the hive. She pointed out the brood including eggs, larva and capped cells, we were even lucky enough to see a Bee emerging from its cell for the first time but more importantly we saw the queen. We were showed the supers as well, which is were the excess honey is stored, but at this time of year there wasn't much honey stored up there, hopefully over the coming weeks we will see this fill up somewhat. There were various different stages of honeycomb, ranging from plain foundation that hasn't been made into cells to fully drawn out comb ready for storing nectar. I also found out that the cells are at a slight angle to stop the liquid honey from flowing out; again the Bees amaze me with their abilities!

After the hive inspection we returned to the class room and Ivor (the regional Bee inspector who is running the course) went over a few things including where to get your hive from and also gave a run down of how much a colony of Bees costs at the moment. For a nucleus colony it's currently £150 or more, which includes 5 or 6 frames of Bees and brood and a queen. As a introductory offer to new Beekeepers there will be a limited amount of nucs available for a reduced price. He also said about a limited amount of spare suits available for reduced price so may buy 1 for my dad (extra large!).

I look forward to next Wednesday and the second part of the course. With any luck the weather will continue to be good and we will see inside the hive again. I did quite enjoy the Bees flying around me from the safety of my suit!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dandelion Wine Fermenting

After leaving the dandelion brew for 4-5 days in a covered bowl it was time to put it in a demijohn for fermenting. I used a sieve to scoop off as much of the dandelion "debris" as possible and then poured the remaining liquid through the sieve a few times for good measure. 

I then poured the remaining liquid into a demijohn (in this case a 3 litre dilute pop bottle). Before the dilute pop bottle I used a larger glass demijohn but this was too large for the amount of liquid I had. At this point I was panicking slightly as I have used the same amount of sugar as I should have used for a larger batch, meaning there is a higher sugar content. This will mean a sweeter wine which is no problem! At this point I should have taken a S.G. reading so I could work out the alcohol level at the end but didn't have time so will play it blind.

The next day I had a look at the mix and am happy to report that it is bubbling away quite happily. Now I need to wait a couple of months before racking the wine, then maybe another rack followed by bottling the wine and finally leaving for upto a year to develop. I will update as I go!