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, 29 December 2012

Yacón Planted

Yacón is another South American crop that I am attempting to grow this coming season. In some respects it is similar to oca, which was the subject of my last post, in that it also is a tuber with a long growing season and is from South America. That is not the reason I am growing this crop. The first reason is the same as why I grew oca and that is that I'm fascinated by these plants and they do make a good talking point as most people haven't heard of them before but the main reason I am growing this is the reported health benefits.

Yacón's tubers are the edible bit of the plant and are described as being very sweet and juicy if eaten raw, although they can also be cooked in any way a potato can. It is what happens once it is eaten that interests me. Yacón's main storage carbohydrate is different to potatoes in that it is primarily made of a substance called inulin.

Looking at the Wikpedia entry on inulin there are quite a few benefits of having it in your diet with only one down side that I will mention later. The main benefit to me is that the body doesn't accept inulin the same as sugars and starch so that it passes through our gut without absorption. On its way through it does feed friendly bacteria and helps us absorb calcium along with magnesium. It's also listed as a source of soluble fibre.

That's the good points.... The bad point is not so much bad but more unpleasant, or at least potentially unpleasant! The reason for this is that while it feeds friendly bacteria it also can cause the overgrowth of methanogenic bacteria, which as the name hints are the ones that produce methane and make your bottom burp! I personally don't see this as a major problem as I doubt we will produce enough of it for it to be a regular addition to the dinner plate and also the good aspects far outweigh the potential embarrassment of a little trump now and again.

In the photo below the growing tips are on top of moist compost. After the photo was taken I pushed them into the compost and have now left them and with a little luck they will start to grow in spring


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Oca Harvested

Last week we had a day that was warmer than it had been in the previous days, I think it got as high as 7°C. Compared to the weather we've had it was almost tropical. The temperature had dropped below freezing on several occasions and as a result the tops of my oca plants have died off, so it was a perfect time to harvest them! If you haven't heard of oca then here is the Wikpedia link.

Oca 2012 crop

Oca is a crop from South America that forms tubers under ground that grow when the days start getting shorter. If I had to compare it to anything it would have to be the potato even though it does have it's own taste. It can also be eaten raw and has a slight sweet flavour and crisp, almost radish like, texture. In this years crop the tubers are much smaller than last year and as a result I doubt that much of it will reach the table, although I will have plenty stored to plant out next year. I have also purchased another South American tuber crop called Yacón to grow next year, which will probably be the feature of one of my next posts  

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: Novembers Meeting

The last Monday of November was the last meeting we will have of the year as we don't have meetings in December. The meetings main part was a presentation by our association's president who is also the regional Bee inspector for the North East of England. The subject was about giving your bees the best start possible to start the new year. 

We were asked when the beekeeping season really started or was it more dynamic than simply having a start and end date. Does the bee season run from spring to spring, winter to winter or even from when the Queen starts laying to when she finishes laying. 

We also discussed winter mite treatments which include oxalic acid. This treatment is applied when the Queen had stopped laying and there is no brood present. It involves putting small amounts of diluted acid mixed in sugar syrup directly on the bees. This will kill the mites but not affect the bees. The treatment comes either in crystal form or in a pre made solution. This year I have bought a pre made solution as this will be easier for me. 

The presentation also included various graphs showing how quickly the mite population can increase if not treated. It showed the difference between starting the season with only a few mites compared with about 50 and over 100. With only a few it takes a really long time for the mite population to get to really dangerous levels but with 100 mites it takes much less time. Even with 50 it takes a lot less time than with over 100.

Another thing we were shown was a map of our region showing where the different foul brood diseases have been detected over the last few years. Luckily there were no major outbreaks of either disease near to my apiary, though I will still have to be very vigilant for they can be devastating and you have to report any signs of either disease. 

The meetings was finished as usual with a raffle, though as I'd forgot my wallet that was out of the question! I did get offered a cup of tea by a fella that lives close to me, we have since swapped details so the meetings in the new year we will be able to car share. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: October Meeting - AGM

This Monday just gone was the WPBKA October meeting and also the AGM (annual general meeting). This meeting is more about the running of the association and less about the actual Beekeeping although it did include the yearly report from the regional Bee inspector. I can't remember all that was said in the report but the point was that this year has been the worst year for Beekeeping in living history with honey yields at a record low. My personnel yield being about 5 pounds of honey from 1 of my 2 hives, or an average of 2.5 pounds per hive, which is pretty diabolical!

There were a lot of statistics about the financial side of the association along with how the website is going. The committee members were all voted in again without change, except for the secretary who stood down this year and a new one was voted in. The last part of the meeting was a little more interesting; it was where the various awards were given out. Most of the awards went to familiar faces, there seems to be 3 or 4 people who always do well and a couple of people that do really well but the best part for me was when they called my name out to receive a trophy for winning the Novice class at the Emley Show! I believe my face may have gone a little red when called up as I wasn't expecting an award! Even better still was when the cup was being handed to me the presenter said that even though my entry was in the novice class it could have held up in the other classes! Something to think of for next year.

After the presentation of all the awards we stopped for a tea break and I got talking to a few people, mainly people congratulating me! One guy I was talking to (the same guy I bought the huge sack of sugar from last month) had one most of the awards again this year and I jokingly said to watch out as I now have the taste for winning awards and he seemed very positive about me entering more next year. He even said that if at any point I wanted any advice he would be glad to share all he knows with me, which is great to know seeing as though he wins so many awards. He always wins the mead classes so I asked him what kind of yeast he uses and I was surprised to hear that he uses regular bakers yeast like I have been using for my mead! The rest of the meeting was taken up with the raffle, I was not so lucky this month and didn't win anything.

BeeKeeping Honey Award
First time I've seen my name engraved on a trophy!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

White Wine

I have recently deviated from my usual deviation of making wine from anything but fruit by making a batch with green grapes to make a traditional white wine! I didn't follow a recipe as such and just "winged it". The grapes were acquired from an abandoned allotment near my fathers. Here is a rough idea of what I used.

  • 1.5(ish)kg of grapes
  • 1.5(ish)kg sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient
  • 1 teaspoon of pectolase
  • 1 tablespoon of citric acid
  • Enough water to make upto a gallon
My method was as usual from making from frozen fruit. I put the clump of frozen grapes in a bowl with the sugar and covered in boiling water. Then when the water was cool enough to out my hand in I added all the other ingredients and covered for a few days. I then strained it all through a muslin square and put in a demijohn. It is now happily bubbling away. I have no idea how nice this will taste but at the moment it smells like white wine so I must have something right!

Once I'd finished this wine I made another batch of elderberry wine but as there is no difference in then recipe and method I've already used then I won't repeat it.

White Wine!
Green Grapes

White Wine!
A few days of fermenting and a little squeeze to release some juice

White Wine!
Getting ready to put in a demijohn!

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: September Meeting

The time of year has come again when my local association hold their Winter meetings. Although as I write this it is near to the October meeting, I am only just writing about Septembers! I seem to have less time to write lately and I'm putting this down to my daughter; she has an in built sensor that detects when I get the laptop out and then just wants to climb all over me thus making writing rather tricky!

This months meeting was a little bit different to any I have attended before in that rather than there being just 1 speaker, the room was set out with multiple tables, each with a microscope set up. The purpose of the meeting was to get a look at microscopy. The first table I sat down at was all about pollen and looking at how different plants produce different pollens. We also looked at a few different parts of the Bees anatomy such as the mandible mouth parts.

The next table was all about looking at the contents of the Bees guts to see if any diseases are present. The main disease we were looking for was nosema. The first thing that was needed to be done to check the Bees gut was to mash the Bees up using a pestle and mortar and then add a small amount of water. A sample of the liquid is then studied under the microscope; I believe they were 900x magnification. The presence of nosema can be identified as small rice grain shaped cells within the liquid. Each sample that we looked at had nosema present  but only in small amounts.

After we had spent about an hour looking through the microscopes we did the raffle. The last thing for me to do was to pick up something that I had ordered from one of the members, which was a 25kg sack of sugar. This is a huge amount of sugar however in Beekeeping and home brewing a lot of sugar is used and this was at a bargain price!


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Elderberry Wine

Me and Steph have recently been out collecting Elderberries to make a batch of wine. The recipe required 1.5kg of Elderberries so we had to do more than one trip to get them but luckily we have an abundance of them near to where we live. Once we had picked the berries we then had to remove them from as much stalk as possible; we managed to do this while Lauren was asleep or otherwise busy causing chaos elsewhere! Hopefully at some point next year we will have a few bottles of Elderberry and Elderflower wine ready together, here is my post of the Elderflower wine. Below is the recipe, a few photos and a bit of a method to follow if you want to make your own.

  • 1.5kg Elderberries
  • 1.5kg of Sugar
  • 1 tsp Citric Acid
  • 1 tsp Yeast
  • 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • Water to make up to 1 gallon

Elderberry Wine
Elderberries ready for processing

Elderberry Wine
Using a fork to remove the berries

Elderberry Wine
Finally got 1.5kg of berries!

Elderberry Wine
Small bits of stalk are ok to go through

Elderberry Wine
1.5kg of sugar

Elderberry Wine
Add boiling water, about 1.5 litre (or a full kettle)
Once the water had cooled I added the citric acid, yeast and yeast nutrient, stirred the mix then covered with cling film and left for 5 days.

Elderberry Wine
After 5 days I put the mix through a muslin square and squeezed it to get more juice out

Elderberry Wine
When I had all the wine mix in the demijohn I added more water so it was a couple of inches off the top and have now left it to ferment

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Apiary Inspection 18/09/12

Last Tuesday was one of the rare occasions when I had a little time off work and Lauren was with her child minder, so I took the opportunity to brush up on my hive inspection skills with Ian.

We arrived at the apiary in the morning to bright sunshine and a bit of breeze after a heavy rain shower earlier in the morning. We could see a lot of activity around both hives as we suited up and approached them.

I inspected the hive that contains Queen Beelinda. There were about 4 heavy frames of busy and healthy looking bees; I spotted the tell-tale white dot on the back of the Queen, but unfortunately there were no stores of food. I did also find one very mouldy frame which I thought contained dead brood and pollen.

Ian inspected the other hive which has a double brood box and found much the same but with no mould and some stores.

Close up of mouldy frame

Mouldy Frame

Both hives are going to be fed now with sugar syrup (or fondant as the weather gets colder) until the spring, when hopefully the weather will be better than this year!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Vegetable Mission

My father has recently gone on holiday and left me in charge of watering his tomatoes in the allotment while he's been gone. I also took the liberty of helping myself to some of the harvest. Some of the produce is from my seeds but most is my Dad's however he always grows more than needed. Next year we aim to get more involved with the planting and weeding of the allotment.


In the above picture there are tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, spring onions, borlotti beans, beetroot and achocha. The potatoes are of the variety desiree. I'm not sure of the variety of the spring onions, carrots, tomatoes or beetroots. The beans are borlotti beans and are similar to kidney beans only not red; they are creamy white with red dashes. The spiky green things are called achocha; they grow on vines and have taken over 1 of my dads greenhouses, they are kind of like a cross between a cucumber and a pepper but are reported to have several health benefits including lowering cholesterol and anti inflammatory effects. Another great thing about them is that they are none hybrid seeds which means that I can keep the seeds and grow them every year, with hybrids there is no guarantee that your seeds will grow from year to year. 

I will be growing as much as possible next year and hope to report on my success (and failure) as well as showing what we have done with some of the veg.   

Monday, 17 September 2012

Introducing Albert’s Offspring or how to make Sourdough Bread

As you may have seen on a previous post, we are providing board and lodging to another creature - Albert, our Sourdough Starter. On this post I shall introduce Albert’s offspring or the Sourdough Loaf I made this weekend. I was very pleased with the results and (not so) secretly happy that my attempts were far more successful than Ian's. My Nan would have been proud of this loaf!

I used a recipe from the River Cottage Website which you will get to if you follow this link, but below is a summary that I have printed and added to our family recipe book. The website does show how to make a starter also, but as we have Albert this was unnecessary.

The first step is making a “sponge” the night before baking day:
The sponge left to ferment overnight.

The Sponge:
100ml of active starter
300ml warm water
250g plain flour

The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge by combining the starter, warm water and flour. Mix well with your hands or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon then cover with cling-film and leave overnight.
In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting; thick, sticky and bubbly.

The Loaf:
300g strong bread flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
10g salt

Add the extra flour, oil and salt to your sponge and combine it all with your hands into fairly sticky dough. If it seems too tight and firm add a dash more warm water; keep it as wet as possible.

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes roughly 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled cling-film, and leave to rise for a good few hours until it is doubled in size and feels springy to the touch.

Knock the dough back on a lightly floured surface. To prove the dough form it into the shape it will be for baking. Use a proving basket or a bowl lined with a lightly flour dusted, clean tea towel. Place your dough inside the basket and cover with oiled cling-film and leave to rise in a warm place this time, until roughly doubled in size. This might take up to four hours.

Preheat the oven and a baking sheet to 250˚C or Gas Mark 9. Create a steamy atmosphere in the oven by adding a tray of boiling water to the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in.

Dust the hot baking sheet with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a serrated knife.

Put the loaf into the hot oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200˚C  or Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a wire rack.

I made this recipe twice and both times it produced a nice loaf with a very crusty outer layer. The only part of the recipe that we didn’t manage to do correctly was waiting for the loaf to completely cool before attacking it with the bread knife and butter… And I can certainly confirm that it made a great cheese and tomato sandwich for my lunch at work today!

There is just one problem with this loaf - it doesn't last long enough, not because of it getting dry or mouldy, we just keep eating it...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Introducing Albert!

Albert is the most recent living organism that we have helped into creation. He is a sour dough starter culture and he lives in a jar in the kitchen. If you don't know what sour dough is then I'll give a quick explanation but if you want to read more then here is the Wikipedia link for it. The starter (Albert in my case) is flour and water mixed together and "fed" to keep it alive. The natural air born yeasts thrive in the environment and once you have enough it can be used to make sour dough bread, which is commonly regarded as a very high quality bread. When I say it is "fed" to keep it alive this means adding more water and flour to the mix. Below is a step by step method for creating your own Albert.

  1. Put equal quantities of flour and water in a jar. I started with about 2 tablespoons of each.
  2. Mix the flour and water with your hands and set aside with a loose top overnight.
  3. The next day add equal quantities of flour and water again and mix. This time I used a spoon rather than my hands.
  4. Repeat the process for a week and at this point you should have bubbles on the surface. This shows that your "Albert" is alive and giving off gas. This also means you are ready to start making bread!
That was fairly simple. I haven't any experience prior to this at creating a sough dough starter so everyone should have a go. The flour I used was a combination of wholemeal and white flour but what I've read it doesn't really matter for the starter. Once you have a good amount of the starter you can slow down the feeding to every other day or so and even keep it in the fridge. I personally haven't put it in the fridge due to using too large a container for my starter. If you start getting too much starter you can either discard some, use some or give some to a friend and let them start making sour dough. A few days ago I noticed that Albert was getting a little watery so I tipped some out and added more flour and if I notice he's getting too thick I will add more water.

Now comes the tricky part, actually making it into bread. I have done 2 attempts and both have tasted good but have resulted in loaves that could hammer nails in with. I think I know what went wrong with it though but since then Steph has made some sough dough and hers was far superior to mine. I will let her post about that at her convenience. The method I used didn't work well enough to include a printing here so you'll have to wait for Steph to print hers or use a recipe from the internet, there are hundreds if you search for sough dough recipe.

To finish with are a few photos of Albert

Albert, Sour dough starter
Albert, born 20/08/2012

Albert, Sour dough starter
Nearly a month later, plenty of life in the old chap!

Albert, Sour dough starter
Albert is a lot bigger now!

A Buzz About Life

This may come as a bit of a surprise, especially to those who know me, but I'm getting a little bored with how my posts are going. Basically there is only so much I can say about the same thing; For example my weekly hive inspections when everything goes good and nothing out of the normal happens, they always sound more or less the same. Also when I'm making a home brew beer kit, they are the same procedure each time.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm certainly not going to stop writing as I really enjoy doing so. However I have decided to broaden the subject matter somewhat and rebrand my blog. As the title suggests my new name for the blog will probably be "A Buzz About Life" and will now include home baking, veg growing and possibly a few mentions of the chickens and anything else that relates to our version of "The good life". By doing this it will also allow Steph to get more involved as she does most of the baking (at least the successful baking!), and technically the chickens are hers anyway. This will also allow for more photos as well.

Does this mean I won't be posting about the Bees as much? The answer is no, the volume of Bee (and brewing) posts should stay the same, however the contents of the posts will be reduced to just include a quick summary. If I'm doing anything new or more complex then I will probably post as before. I hope this doesn't put anybody off reading but hopefully this will involve my family more and for those who don't know me in person will get to know more about me. By the time you are reading this post some of the visual changes to the layout may have happened but if not then they are coming soon.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Apiary Inspection - 14/08/2012

The weather was nice, Steph was at work, I wasn't and Lauren was at the child minders so the time was right to do my inspection. I went up to the allotment and had a walk over to the apiary where there were loads of Bees coming and going from 2 of my hives, and absolutely none coming from the other. The one that didn't have activity has been getting worse each time I've visited so I wasn't surprised to see no activity. The borage that is growing next to the apiay is doing extremely well, almost to the point where it is overtaking any weeds in the area! Below is the first video I took of my Bees foraging on borage.

Once I'd finished with my borage video I got suited up and entered the apiary and started working on my first hive; the hive with no Bees coming out of it. Once opened I was gutted, but not surprised, to find there were no Bees at all in the hive and all the stores were empty. Some of the comb had been damaged which probably means wasps have been and robbed the hive. There still were a few wasps  flying about trying to get a sugary treat. I moved as much of the hive out of the apiary with the wasps following me and placed it a short distance away to be delt with later.

The next hive was a lot better but still not perfect. There were plenty of Bees and brood, and I saw the Queen (Bee-atrix) but there is still an awful lot of comb that they just haven't drawn out yet. I believe this to be down to the bad weather we've had all year; it takes a lot of carbohydrates or sugars to make wax. I decided that I will heavily feed them from now to give them a better chance of building up before winter.

The last hive was very very similar to the last, the only differance was that there was slightly more stores and it was Queen Bee-linda who was on show. Again I will give them a good amount of feed before winter and again hope they survive. I didn't know what to do with the first hive I removed from the apiary that had all the drawn out comb in it. I finally decided to make my surviving hives bigger; now I have one hive with a double brood chamber and the other has 2 supers. This may have been the wrong thing to do but if I feed them lots from now hopefully they will fill out and occupy the new space. When everything was closed up I took another video of the borage forage which is below.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Emley Show 2012

Although the title of this post is Emley Show 2012 I am going to start by giving a quick update on some other things I've been doing. Since my last post I have been to see my bees but there was nothing new to report that warranted a full post, I still have 2 hives doing well and 1 not doing as well. Hopefully in the next few days I'll be able to give a better update on them. I have also been busy with my homebrew and have caught up with racking all my wine as well as making and bottling a 40 pint batch of bitter; that just needs leaving for a few weeks to mature then we can drink it.

Onto the main subject of this post, The Emley Show. For my readers who haven't heard of the Emley Show more details can be found here. It is basically an agricultural and craft show which feature classes in honey, jam, vegetables, animals and other crafts. Being that I have recently harvested some honey from my bees I made the decision to enter 1 of the honey classes; I would have entered more classes but didn't have enough honey to do so, hopefully next year will be different. As I was entering something, Steph decided she would have a go also and made some red gooseberry and elderflower jam to enter in the jam category.

As we both had entries we had to get up early to enter them. We left our daughter at home with Steph's aunt, who had stayed the night to allow us to get there early without having to worry about getting a toddler ready also! Upon arrival to the area of the show we hit heavy traffic which was entering the site and I was fearful that we wouldn't make it in time to enter our exhibits. Once we were parked up we went straight for the honey tent as closing time for entrants was half an hour earlier than for jam. When we arrived at the honey tent there were several familiar faces from my association running the stalls. I was a few minutes past closing time but they let me off and accepted my entry. They even assisted me putting the labels on correctly, making sure they were the correct distance from the bottom and on straight. The class I entered required 2 1lbs jars of any type of honey from a novice beekeeper. After we had entered mine we rushed over to the craft tent where the jam class was being held and entered Steph's jar of jam (in my opinion hers was the best presented as some people were using old jars with plastic lids, Steph was using brand new jars. That's my opinion anyway).

When we had entered our exhibits we took the short drive home to pick up Aunt Lyn and our daughter. Upon re-arriving at the show there was a quick downpour of rain so we scrambled to get the rain cover over Lauren's buggy, then within a few minutes of it starting to rain it stopped again! I was really expecting it to be like this all day but thankfully it stopped and was nice for the rest of the day (a little too nice to be honest, Steph got sunburnt!). When we were all in the show ground the first thing we saw were some sheep. We next walked up into the main area and on the way we saw some rather large bulls. We decided to have a quick bite to eat at the venison stall, I had the special of the day which was a wild boar sausage with venison liver and bacon. It was OK but it was the first time I've eaten liver in years and thought it was a bit dry, though I wasn't too bad either.

After lunch we had a wander around looking at the various craft stalls and the honey tent where they had the observation hive. They were giving out stickers to any one who could see the Queen. I'm not sure if Lauren saw the Queen but she got a sticker anyway. They hadn't judged the honey yet so we left to continue looking around. In another tent there were the poultry classes so we had a look at the various chickens, bantams, cockerels and ducks. It's amazing how many different varieties there are but I didn't see any ex battery hens like ours, in the future it would be nice to see this and then we could have entered one of our ginger ninjas! We also had a look at the rabbits that were in the next tent. Outside were stalls selling ducks and chickens, I was so tempted to buy some Indian runner ducks but resisted.

After a long day we returned to see if we had won anything. We went to the tent was that had Steph's jam. Unfortunately she hadn't won a prize, though the winning jam was also red gooseberry, next year maybe! Afterwards we headed over to the honey tent where I was delighted to find that I had won first prize! I was over the moon as that meant I could now call my honey prize winning. I received a red rosette and certificate which hopefully in years to come will be joined by many more!...... Now for the honest part. Although I did win first prize it wasn't as big an achievement as you may think as I was the only entrant! And it was the novice class but in my defence although the only entrant I did spend the time and effort to prepare my honey for show and we spoke to someone there who said that it was a very good effort and not far off being able to compete in the main classes. He gave me a few pointers for next year so watch out, next year could be mine!

All in all it was a thoroughly good day out and I would recommend it to anyone. I will certainly be returning next year if I am not working and if I am I will try to book time off. One thing we will be doing next year is entering more classes, some of the vegetable classes only had a single entrant so next year we intend to provide more competition! I have included a few photos below. I have slightly changed the layout to include a Facebook like button at the bottom, feel free to like it if you enjoyed reading!
Lauren Again
Lauren Yet Again!
My prize winning honey!
Lauren and Ducks!
Lauren, Lyn, Ducks and Chooks!
I soooooo wanted to take these home!
Emley Show 2012
Prize winning honey again!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Apiary Inspection - 14/07/2012 (...and a quick trip to A & E)

Me, Steph and Lauren have been on holiday in Corfu for the last week so I haven't had time to post for a while. Since coming back from holiday I have done another inspection and done a bit of home brewing so I have plenty to write about in the next few days to catch up. It makes sense to start with the inspection I did just prior to going on holiday.

It was a lovely summers day, which made a change due to the horrible weather we've been having, so me and Steph went up to see the Bees. We also took Steph's aunt as she was interested in finding out how the hives work. Lauren was also present and to begin with Steph's aunt looked after her while me and Steph inspected the first 2 hives. The hive I checked was the one that I believe is either Queen-less or failing. This hive still has workers and small amounts of brood but not much other activity though there seems to be plenty of stores. The hive Steph checked was much better. Eggs, brood and Queen Bee-Atrix all to be seen with plenty of workers and activity. We didn't use smoke and by the end of it there was a few angry Bees but once the lids were back on the hives they all settled down.

After that Steph took over baby sitting duties and handed her suit to her aunt. Me and Lyn (Steph's aunt) entered the apiary and started looking through the supers. Everything was going well for the first few frames when disaster struck and one of our party got stung. I was stood behind the hive with a frame in my hand with Bees all over it... I didn't get stung. Lyn was stood just to my side peering over the hive, less than a half a foot away from me... she didn't get stung. Steph was stood a few metres away from the side of the apiary... she didn't get stung. Lauren was in her mothers arms, also a few metres away from the hive... she DID get stung, further more she got stung right on her eye lid!! The next few minutes went by quite quickly and I'm not sure how much I remember about it all!

Steph took Lauren much further away from hives, to the car. Lauren is screaming and saying "BEE...EYE!!"

Lyn went to the car and quickly got out of the suit.

I put the hive back together quicker than I have ever done and nearly tripped up leaving the apiary!

I ran back to the car, again nearly tripping up over raspberry bushes and the slippery path.

Back at the car I removed my suit and started the car, Laurens eye is swelling up and she seems to be hyper ventilating, I feel somewhat panicky and start going over any first aid training I have had in the past... my mind is blank other than making sure she can still breathe, which luckily she had no problems with.

I set off from the allotment at what seemed like setting off from the Formula 1 starting blocks (and then slowing down again realising crashing would do no-one any favours).

The next 15 minute journey to the hospital seemed like an eternity, with Steph sat in the back next to Lauren making sure her condition doesn't start deteriorating. She had got a lot quieter and was seeming to start nodding off, albeit it was approaching nap time and she does usually fall asleep in the car.

We managed to keep her awake long enough to get her into A&E where I took her and ran with her across the car park (later I was told that when I was running across the car park she was smiling and laughing but I couldn't see that).

Once inside the hospital, typically, she seemed to improve drastically. The nurse gave her some calpol and sent us back to the waiting room and when finally called in again she was given the all clear and some stickers for being such a  brave girl (although we passed on the sticker with a bee on it!).

When we arrived back home she was absolutely fine, just with a slightly swollen eye which later bruised slightly just in time for our holiday. Looking back we realised that taking her up to the allotment while we did an inspection was a little silly, though in the past she has been closer and seemed to enjoy looking through the netting at the hives. Next time we all go to the allotment she will be kept well away from the apiary until she is a little older and can have her own suit.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Elderflower Wine - My 100th Post!

I'll start of by giving a quick mention to this being my 100th post. When I started this blog I never expected to actually be still going this long. My expectation would be that I would get bored of it quickly and just use it as a tool for logging my beekeeping rather than writing it in a note book! It has actually turned out to be so much more. In the couple of years I have been blogging I have met new friends through other bloggers and extended the subject range to include home brewing and also increased my writing skills although I still rely heavily on my proof reader and wife, Steph, who is also now an author for this blog. There has been a few time when I have said I will just write a quick blog and ended up writing a several hundred word essay so I will change the subject now and start the real post which is about wine!

In the last few weeks the elderberry trees in the area have started producing their flowers so me and Steph decided it would be a good time to go out and collect the flowers to make some wine with! In just one short walk near some farm land where we live we managed to pick nearly a full carrier bag full of the flower heads. We made sure we left plenty of flower heads on the trees as later on in the year we will probably try to make some elderberry wine as well! The recipe I'm following for elderflower wine can be found here. In the recipe it gives measurements for making either 1 gallon or 5, I am just going to make 1 on this occasion. Below is the list of ingredients copied direct from the website.

The quantities below are for 5 gallons, with the quantities for 1 gallon brews given in brackets.

Elderberry Wine

After the walk I spread the flower heads on the table at home and left them a couple of hours to let any bugs make their own way off the flowers. When I came back I could see loads of tiny bugs on my brand new kitchen window, I imagine they were from the elderflowers!

Elderberry Wine

The recipe says to use 24 heads that should be approx 1 pint of flowers when they are trimmed from their stalks. I didn't bother to count the heads and just measured out a pint of heads. With the amount of flower heads I had collected there was enough for the batch I'm making leaving 2 pints that I bagged up individually and have popped in the freezer for later.

Elderberry Wine

After I had chopped up the sultanas and weighed out the sugar and citric acid I placed them all in a large bowl with the pint of elderflowers and the tea. I then poured 2 pints of boiling water over it all then covered with a tight covering of clingfilm and forgot about it until the next day.

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry Wine

The next day I added the yeast and yeast nutrient and another couple of pints of water, this time cold water. I then covered it up and left it for 4 days. Each day I opened it a small amount and gave it a small stir.

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry Wine

After 5 days in total I poured the mixture into a demijohn using a sterile washing cloth to filter the debris off, then topped the liquid up to a gallon with cold water. At this stage it had a very inviting smell developing. When I checked it later the airlock was bubbling away nicely. I will now leave it to clear and rack the wine a couple of times and it should be ready for Christmas (which is only 173 days away) but will taste best if left until next summer!

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry Wine

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Apiary Inspection - 03/07/2012 - Bad News, Worse News, Good News, Better News

About a month ago I purchased my third full hive and have been building it and painting it over the last few weeks. As with the last hive I bought, this one is from www.fragile-planet.co.uk. The last hive I bought from them was fairly easy to construct and had 2 supers, this hive has 3 supers included and was incredibly easy to construct; this one just seemed better made, the saw cuts more precise and smooth. I had heard people at my local Bee meeting say to avoid them but I have had no issues with them. Below is a picture of the hive fully built but the supers haven't been painted yet. The reason I paint them is because they are made of ply boards rather than cedar which doesn't need to be painted. Also in the picture at the far right you can just see a demijohn full of elder flower wine, there'll be a post on that later!

Hive Number 3

The reason I started with the building of the hive is that today I took the hive up to the apiary to move the swarm into from the nuc box that it was in. The supers are still unpainted in my loft as I have a couple of spare supers ready anyway so there is no urgency to finish them. So from the above picture I took all the bits that are painted white up to the allotment, stopping off at my Dads to pick the keys up for the gate. 

The Bad News!

The first hive I inspected when I arrived at the apiary was the first hive I bought. The last mention of this hive was in a previous post, that can be found here, in which I mentioned the multiple eggs in the cells, possibly indicating laying workers or a new Queen that hasn't learnt to lay properly; in the last weeks since then I have checked on them a couple of times and all the brood has been drone brood, when I went today there was no brood, no eggs and no sign of a Queen. What I think has happened is that I did have a Queen but due to bad weather she never managed to get mated and so started laying drone brood. After a couple of weeks of this I believe the workers have committed regicide (killed the Queen) due to her ineptness. The problem with this is that the Bees have no means to make a new Queen. Due to this I have taken a frame of eggs from one of my other hives and after shaking all the Bees off the frame, placed it into the hive. I'm hoping next time I check the hive I will see a Queen cell or 2 on the frame. 

The Worse News and Good News!

When I opened the nuc hive I had a bit of a shock. Over the last few weeks I have been feeding the hive with sugar syrup but due to lack of space in the nucleus hive I was unable to put a frame feeder in so used a baggy feeder; this is basically a plastic bag with syrup in that has a cut in the top so the bees have access to the syrup. I think that the cut I made in the bag could have been too large and the syrup leaked all over the back of the hive because when I lifted the lid one end was covered in mould! The majority of it was on the hive rather than the frames so it wasn't as bad as could be, the Bees were still doing well, but the hive may be beyond repair as the mould was quite thick and wouldn't wipe off. The better news is that I have managed to move the frames over to the newly built hive successfully and put a frame feeder in full of syrup so hopefully no more mould! This hive is the one with Queen Bee-atrix in who is marked with a white dot so really easy to see. I easily spotted her when passing the frames over. I haven't taken a picture of the moldy hive but have taken a picture where you can see part of the frame that has been marked. 

Honey Bees!

The Better News!

The last hive I checked is my first hive I bought from fragile-planet and also the one that the swarm came from. I haven't seen any evidence of having a  Queen in any of the checks I've done since the swarm left the hive but I also have tried not to disturb the hive too much until today. When I opened the hive everything seemed good. The frame feeder was empty so I filled it with syrup and will keep feeding them until they are successfully storing their own honey. The first frame I checked was doing well, the Bees had drawn half the bare foundation out into comb and better still the next frame had eggs in it! This means I have a successful laying Queen somewhere as the eggs were nice and neat at the bottom of the cells in a good solid pattern. While inspecting this frame I noticed a rather large Bee on the side bar of the frame. I had to look twice and when it sunk in I realized I was looking at a Queen! I was delighted, I'd managed to find an unmarked Queen, albeit she was on a frame that wasn't fully occupied and when I first saw her she was on her own. I quickly got my marking cage and pen out one handed  and then attempted to catch her in the cage. My first couple of attempts were fruitless but I eventually managed to trap her in there and gently press it down so she couldn't move around too much. I then carefully put a small white dot on her back (and a few dots of white on the wings of the workers around her) and left her for a few minutes for the paint to dry. I couldn't get a picture of her as I had a frame in one hand while in the other I was juggling the pen and hive tool. When I was happy the paint was dry I carefully replaced the frame and checked the last few frames. As I was putting the hive back together I noticed a Bumblebee had landed on a piece of equipment I had lying around.

Bumble Bee

I also took a picture of some borage that we are growing next to the apiary. Honeybees apparently go mad for borage. At the moment it looks rather unimpressive but when the blue flowers are opened up it will look great. 


Sunday, 17 June 2012

My First Swarm - 06/06/2012

Just over a week ago I got a text message from Dad who was up at his allotment doing allotment things. I get fairly regular texts from him when he is up there, especially when it is good weather. The normal text that I receive from him reads either "Uggins a bees out" or "Not many bees art today", which to a Yorkshireman makes perfect sense but to others may not be as easy to comprehend; The translations are "Lots of bees are flying in and out of the hive today" or "There aren't that many bees flying today". The day I'm making reference to today was a quite different message, it read "Emergemcy aig swarm of bees in pear tree" which should read "Emergency a big swarm of bees in pear tree" but he is also not the best at texting but I'll let him off for that. When I'd received the text I got excited but also a bit worried as I didn't know how long it had been there or how long it would stay there. I also wanted to know if it had come from my hives.

I wasn't available to go straight there so as soon as I was I rushed up there with my nuc hive that I built earlier in the year with the aim of trying to catch it. Upon arrival I had a walk over to see how big the swarm was. Now even though I've never seen a swarm before I believed this to be one of fair size, below is a video of it. I apologise for the heavy breathing in the video, I had a bit of a cold at the time and sounded a bit like Darth Vader!

The next thing I did was put the nuc hive under the swarm. I took another video at this stage but all it shows is the hive under the swarm. It's here if you want to see it but it really doesn't show anything different.
After I had my equipment in place I started trying to get the Bees to go in the nuc hive. One way I've seen of doing this on youtube is to literally grab handfuls of Bees and place them in the hive. I tried this and it wasn't really working in doing anything other than annoying them, so much so that I received my second ever sting from my Bees and it was right on my backside! No, this method wasn't working. I decided that it was time to bring out the smoke. I have been told a few times that smoke is not needed for collecting a swarm but I thought it would help me. The usual method is to cut off the branch that the swarm is on and then give it a sharp shake to dislodge the Bees into your hive or transport box; this wasn't an option as they were wrapped around the tree trunk. Anyway, I lit my smoker and started blowing smoke above the swarm and at the opposite side to the hive, hoping that this would encourage them to go down and across into the hive. I thought this was working as a lot of Bees were making their way into the hive as seen in the next video.

Hooray I thought, I've caught them! So I packed up and left them to make their own way into the hive. When I got home I had a feeling of a job well done and was thinking "that wasn't too hard was it". The next day I found out how wrong I'd been! When I arrived back at the allotment I found the Bees had regrouped on the tree exactly as they were to begin with! I was a bit dismayed but I had to do something about it as they had started making comb on the tree and would have eventually perished if they stayed there, not to mention making it hard for my Dad to work in that area of the allotment. I decided to have another go at the smoke them into the hive method but this time I was a little more forceful, to the point where I think I was annoying them a bit and I did get another sting, this time on my hand. 

After a while I'd got to a similar point to my last video with the Bees going into the hive when I spotted something familiar; a large Bee with a white spot on her back! After seeing this I knew where the swarm had come from as she is the only one of my hives with a marked Queen! I had a small attempt to catch her on the end of my hive tool but she was having none of it so I carried on smoking above the hive to get them to go in. After a while I think I saw her majesty walking into the hive but couldn't be sure as now there were hundreds of Bees climbing all over one another to get into the hive. The next, and last, video shows this.

After nearly all the Bees had made their way into the hive I decided to leave and come back the next day to make sure they had settled in ok. I packed up all my gear and gently moved the hive into the apiary next to my other 2 hives then left.

It turned out the weather was really lousy for the next few days so it was longer than I wanted before returning to the hive and this time I was again anxious for the swarm. When I did get to return it didn't look good to begin with; there were a few dead Bees on the entrance but when I opened the hive up I could see it was full of alive Bees but they were very lethargic. I believe this is because they were starving (the next time I build a nuc hive I will make it bigger so I can fit some way of feeding them such as a frame feeder). Knowing that there wasn't enough room in the hive for a frame feeder I decided that the best solution would be to fill a freezer bag with sugar syrup and place it in the space above the frames with a slit at the top so the Bees could feed from it. When I had done this, and spilt a load over the tops of the frames, I could see a marked increase in the liveliness of them. I will continue to feed them this way until I can put them into a full sized hive.  

Feeding Starving Bees
Bees feeding

Feeding Starving Bees
More Bees feeding!