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.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: March Meeting

This Monday just gone was the last of Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers Association  winter meetings and was titled Apis Through The Looking Glass. We were shown a in depth presentation with slides of honey bees through a high powered microscope. The guy holding the meeting was called Graham and he has a book available at amazon.co.uk also called Apis Through The Looking Glass, which contains the photos featured in the presentation. The presentation was very detailed so I will just go over the basics and what I can remember.

Bees are insects so are made up of three sections; the head, the thorax and the abdomen. On their head they have two antennae, five eyes, a set of mandibles and a proboscis. Their heads are also mostly covered in hairs, including the two main compound eyes (yes, bees have hairy eyes!!). The thorax has the two sets of wings and six legs. The abdomen contains the bees honey stomach along with other internal organs and the sting. In the presentation these were all shown in very close up photos. I have included Wikipedia links for various parts for if you want to read more.


  • The antennae of bees contain many senses which the bees use to detect vibrations, smells and temperature among other things. It is made up of several sections but the male drone has one more segment, believed to be used to help locate Queens on their mating flight.
  • Bees have two kinds of eyes; the compound eye and the ocelli. The two compound eyes are made up of  hundreds of segments which gives them a pixelated view of the world, the male drones have much larger eyes that almost wrap all the way around their head, again they are for helping to locate Queens. The three ocelli are situated on the top of the head and are arranged in a triangle, they are thought to be used to help the bee stay upright and straight when flying.
  • The mandibles are the mouth parts of the bee and are used to chew up the wax scales and build comb. 
  • The proboscis is the bees tongue and is used to suck up nectar from flowers. 


  • The larger of the sets of bees wings don't actually physically attach to the muscles that drive them. There are two muscles in the thorax that drive the wings by stretching and contracting the thorax vertically and horizontally, this in turn causes the thorax to push the wing making them beat. The smaller wing has got hooks that connect it to the larger wing when in flight so the aforementioned method that drives the large wing also drives the small one in turn. 
  • The bees legs have two other functions, other than the ability to walk! The first is located on the front legs and is a small nook in the inner elbow that is used to clean the antennae; it works by wrapping around the antennae so they can be scrapped clean prior to flying. The other main function is the  pollen basket; this a hairy area of the back leg that collects pollen, the bee does this by first covering itself in pollen and then brushes the pollen towards its back legs. Then with the aid of a small amount of nectar the bee squeezes the collected pollen through it's "knees" into the pollen basket.


  • The honey stomach is located just in the abdomen, prior to the main stomach and is where nectar or honey is stored when travelling from one place to another. It is similar to the crop in birds. It has the ability to stretch to fill a larger area of the abdomen so in summer months when there is plenty of nectar it will usually be bigger than in the winter when there is no new nectar coming into the hive. When a bee returns to the hive it brings the nectar back up and passes it to other bees in the hive for them to in turn take it to be stored as honey.
  • The rectum is in the abdomen and has similarities to the honey stomach but in reverse. In the winter months, when it is too cold to leave the hive, the bee can store excrement in it's rectum stretching it to occupy most of the abdomen. In the summer the bee is outside a lot more and able to deposit it's droppings outside on a much more regular basis so there isn't as much need for a large rectum. 
  • The sting is located at the end of the abdomen and is the part most people are aware of when in close proximity to bees! Bees have a venom sack connected to the sting that is pulled out of the honey bee when it stings you, killing the bee in the process. The venom only develops after a few days so a newly hatched bee is very unlikely to sting you and has less chance of it causing any damage. The sting of a bee is made of two main rods with barbed ends that move back and forth in opposite directions, thus causing them to dig deeper and administer more venom.

There were other parts included in the presentation including the reproductive system but I don't remember enough to do it any justice if I was to try to write it up. In the future I may learn more and also have access to pictures to show the various parts in greater detail and if so I will do a more detailed post.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Apiary Inspection 26/03/2012

This week in Wakefield has been especially sunny and Monday was no exception. As it had been over a week since last seeing the Bees and also my daughter was at her childminders it seemed like the perfect time to do the inspection. Upon arrival at the allotment I got the smoker lit and while that was getting going went and had a look at the apiary; from the other side of the mesh fence I could see several dozen Bees just hovering in front of the hive facing the entrance, these are Bees doing their maiden flight and getting to know what the hive looks like from the outside.

After a quick look I returned to the car to get suited up and then grabbed my smoker and headed into the apiary. At this stage they were very calm and I managed to remove the mouse guard from the entrance of the hive. I then puffed a small amount of smoke into the hive and carefully lifted the lid. Inside I could see that there was very little of the fondant left that I put in prior to winter; next visit I will completely remove it even if there is any left and replace it with a empty super for them to start storing honey in. While checking the supers I did notice a frame with pollen stored which was next to a frame with brood in it. Due to this I was extra vigilant looking for the Queen; I didn't find her but there was plenty of stored honey!

Next I started working through the brood chamber. The first frame had no stores and no brood but the next was a little more encouraging as it had plenty of stored honey in it. The following 2 frames where better still with pollen and brood with Bees all over it. The next frame in was the best of all as I could see very clearly, in all her glory, still with a nice big white spot on her back, Queen Beeatrix! As I watched her walking over the comb I did actually witness her with her abdomen deep in a cell laying a egg! That was all I needed to see so was much quicker checking the rest of the hive. I didn't see any Queen cells yet so don't think they are quite ready for swarming yet!

After putting the hive back together I was talking to my Dad, who was also in the allotment, and he told me the guy in the plot 2 down had been stung 3 times while I was doing my inspection, however he hadn't been stung once and he was only about 4 metres away. The majority of Bees seemed to be flying in the opposite direction as well. He was using his rotavator at the time and me and my Dad believe they didn't like the vibrations. Anyway, I apologized to the guy and he seemed ok, I just hope they don't make a habit of it because if the allotment council start receiving complaints then I may have to re-home the Bees.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lauren the beekeeper

A really quick post with a couple of pictures. This is what happened when I left one of my suits on the floor within easy reach of my daughter! The suit had recently been washed so the hood wasn't zipped onto the rest of the suit. She put the hood on all by herself and was walking around with it on her head for a good 20 minutes, taking it off and putting it back on again several times!

Lauren the beekeeper by Morlock5k

Youngest beekeeper

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Apiary inspection 15/03/2012

My first actual inspection of the new year and as a married man (people will get fed up of me saying that soon, but not me!). This is the first opportunity I've had to write this post as I've been rather busy and only just found time to do the inspection. The weather has been lovely over the past few days so me and my wife went up to the allotment. We took our daughter with us so she could see the chickens in someone else's allotment and because we couldn't find anyone to look after her at short notice; due to this my wife hasn't been able to have a look inside the hive yet this year but there will be plenty of time for that.

I started off by suiting up but decided against using smoke. Unlike last time I visited the hive, this time I actually opened it up to have a good look inside. I started by removing the roof and was shocked to see how much less fondant was in there than last time, the number of Bees must have really increased! After I had removed the next layer which was the crown board I could really see that my Bees have started getting busy. In the super that I left them with overwinter they have started storing honey but not more than a frames worth at the moment. At this stage there was no sign of the Queen however there were signs of new workers and not a drone in sight, all good signs. I then removed the super and started inspecting the brood nest; I was trying to be as quick as possible at this point as I didn't want to disturb them too much more than I already had. The first couple of frames didn't have much in them other than small patches of stored pollen but when I got to the 3rd and 4th I could see how busy the Queen must have been. There was a frame nearly full of brood at varying different levels all the way from eggs to sealed brood and the other frame was half covered in pollen and honey store! Due to the presence of eggs I decided that I must still have a Queen inside so at that point I closed up the hive, anyway they were getting a little frisky at this point and I was very glad to have my suit on! Before closing up I did take a couple of photos which I have included below.

Some excess comb removed from above the brood frames with my hive tool

Literally pouring out of the crownboard!

Geordie Bitter Bottled

In a previous post (found here) I started making a 40 pint batch of Geordie Bitter. This was a gift from my mother in law for my birthday, though at the time she wasn't my mother in law! This is my first post as a married man and bottling this batch was possibly the first thing me and my wife did together that relates to this blog. I have also started using a different storage method for my photos in this post; I am trying out flickr, this is because I am nearing my upload limit with google so with flickr I will be able to keep posting all the pictures I take as long as I don't go over 300MB a month!

Bottling Brown Bitter
The first step was to sterilize 40 plastic pint bottles

Bottling Brown Bitter
The bottles sat on the draining board after rinsing

My good wife adding half a teaspoon of sugar prior to adding the beer, this is to prime the beer and give it a bit of life

A close up of the priming process

And the finished product!

Now that the bottling process is complete I need to leave them in a warm place for a few days then move them somewhere cooler to age. About a week will do before I try my first one!

In the background of the last picture you can see a demijohn which had mead in. I have also racked a couple of demijohns of this and a raspberry wine. They are all nearly ready for bottling and then leaving to age prior to drinking!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Apiary Visit 6/03/2012

This was my first apiary visit of the year and also the last apiary visit as a unmarried man! In a few days I will be married!! I have been getting rather exited and commenting every time I do something for the last time before I get wed. Anyway, back to the apiary visit...

The visit was the first time I have seen the Bees this year however I have had a couple of reports from my dad saying how active they were; one particularly warm day he said that there were hundreds of them flying in and out of the hive carrying baskets full of pollen. This is an especially good sign as if they are bringing in pollen then they must be feeding young larva which in turn is a good indication of a laying queen. So far this spring has had some really warm days and there are plenty of trees already in full bloom not to mention the daffodils and other bulbs.

When I went to visit the apiary it had been a sunny day but not as warm as the last week. Due to this my visit was very short, just enough to see the Bees really. When I arrived and suited up I notice there was no activity outside the hive but when I put my head next to it I could hear a gentle buzz from within. I removed the hive roof and was surprised that the fondant I had added was still there in part, I had been fairly panicked that they would have consumed it all! When I put the fondant on there were 2 tubs full and now 1 was completely empty and the other was nearly full! After I had removed the tub I could see the Bees inside and although I didn't fully open the hive, what I could see inside was plenty of female worker Bees crawling about the comb and no sign of any drones! I believe the production of drones will start soon when the Bees get into swarm season.

I made a short video of what I could see. In the video you can see where the Bees have been eating the fondant from the tub, also you can see where the other tub has been placed as there is layer of fondant still on the crown board. Unfortunately you can also see where I have been a little clumsy and killed a couple of Bees by placing the fondant on top of them, I was a lot more careful when replacing the fondant this time.