Our first honey

Bee happy!

Mich with honey28th July 2016:   A sight to bring a smile on anybody’s face.
So exciting. It is really our own, very first harvest of honey, in our first year of hard work in the apiary.
Full, sweetly fragrant frames, ready for extraction.
I am now busy working out an enticing and unique design for labels on our jars. Any suggestions anybody?

Collecting swarm at 10 Acres on 21st July 2016


all illustrations: credit Spike Gerrell’s Land of Spike

A call was received in the late afternoon that a swarm had appeared in a tree.
We, the Swarmbusters Susanne, Brian, Peter and Michele) immediately sprang into action. Ready in seconds, all tooled up we drove there, and inspected the location.








OMG! …that was a huge swarm ensconced in a mat of branches and sharp needles in a Cedar tree, 9 feet or so above ground. Puzzling how best to approach the problem, and after a short discussion – too short for some of us –  i.e. “Fools rushing where angels dare to tread” , we set up the ladder. By now the excitement and the adrenaline were running high.

d876e9_d48e98e467dc4879bd581da1b7319c10.gif_srz_116_229_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_gif_srzPicture the scene: One of us balanced on the ladder, two more holding the heavy swarm bait box  at arms length below the swarm and the last one observing and directing.

d876e9_1f5b6e5e3eee4411a0d4463f534df901A mighty shake of the tangle of branches dislodged a good many, some still clinging to the mat of branches, but still too many flying around angrily.
But, was the QUEEN in the box?
We carefully upturned the box on the ground, leaving a small gap for the rest of the bees to crawl in…
Lo! And Behold! four hours later they were all in the bait box!  We slid the lid underneath  carrying the lot to the car, then we drove home. It  was getting dark.


Meanwhile, back at the farm, Peter had set up the hive to receive them. And ready with a torch.
d876e9_ad001ba9e7344f9c89deb5be9103bfe4When we were ready to dump the bees in the brood box, we found them all over the sides of the bait box, not as a cluster, which made it more problematic as to how to get them all in. Brian administered some very hard knock onto the box, then with a light brushing most started to fall in. Some still clung to the bait box.
Hoping that Madam was unharmed and in the brood box, we set the bait box with its opening towards the hive entrance on my best ivory coloured table cloth.
We closed the hive and went away.
Next morning they were All in!

Bee Scarecrow

This is what Michele presented as an award winning scarecrow at Trunch’s Scarecrow Festival last Sunday. Isn’t she a beauty?

bee scarecrow

Cooling beehive

Today we noticed an unusual bee behaviour. It looked like this: –

Fanning party

The bees were stationary, all aligned with their heads pointing to the entrance. On very close observation we could see that they were all fanning with their wings. This was very necessary as the temperature at the hive was like this: –


29.6 degrees celsius. It was probably more at midday. Other bees were coming and going as normal.





We put up a shade: –


Within half an hour they were all behaving normally.
Only hive 2 was involved; maybe because the others had more tree shade.
Michele put her hand into the varroa board slot and said it was very hot in there.
The next two days will also be hot, so tonight we will remove the entrance blocking board.

By the way all four feeders were empty when we checked them yesterday. We bought more sugar and will feed them tonight. It looks like we must feed all the hives, so we need to buy two more feeders and will get them tomorrow.

We live and learn!


Requeening, a new experience!

2 weeks ago we were invited to a requeening party. Two colonies had lost their queens and 2 new queens ( Buckfast strain) were delivered in their own private cages with a few nurses. A candy plug was attached at one end which they would chew through in a couple of days during which the colony would accept the new mated queen.

After a lively group consultation we proceeded to the hives and placed the caged queens,  between two brood frames, centrally. and fed them sugar syrup. Let’s hope all is well now.


honeybees swarming

They don’t always follow the book…

Our beekeeping season 2016 so far

Our two G-colonies overwintered very well. One had one brood box, the other one had two, as we merged a queen-right colony with a queenless one in autumn last year.

In April we split the 2-broodbox hive. As we didn’t find the queen, it was a bit trial and error. But now both hives are thriving and show fresh and capped brood as well as lots of honey, nectar and pollen storage. So they’ve sorted themselves out.

In May & June, we caught 4 swarms

The first swarm (G4), a large one, arrived in a big Weigelia shrub on the plot where we keep our G-hives. We hived them, gave them a donated brood frame (from G1) and a feeder. They stayed happily (it seemed) for 4 weeks until suddenly they decided to swarm again. The donated brood had all died (starved?). They left no honey behind, just a tiny crowd of bees who disappeared after a few days. They probably begged their way in to another hive.

The second swarm (G5), a small one, arrived a week later on the same Weigelia. We hived them, gave them a feeder which they emptied, and gave them a donated brood frame from G3. However we’ve discovered now that they let the whole brood die (why?), and they don’t seem to be queen-right. Just honey, nectar and pollen, but no brood on the frames (we took the dead brood out). The plan is now to merge them with another small but queen-right colony in G6.

The third swarm (G6), a small one, was caught at the bottom of a rosebush in a village garden. We found lots of dead bees on the ground, probably because they had been on this bush for a whole week in very cold and windy weather. So they might have died from starvation or of thirst. We hived them, fed them and gave them a donated brood frame (from G3). This very small lot has settled in quite well and has fresh and capped brood as well as nectar, pollen and honey.

Swarmlet 2  20th JuneThe fourth swarm (G4) arrived yesterday evening, clinging to the roof and side of G6. We think it’s probably a cast swarm, so it would have a virgin queen. We positioned the empty G4 hive next to the swarm on G6, hived most of the swarm and fed it, left the entrance open over night for all to move in. But this morning Michele found they had come out again and clung to their old location on G6. This early morning we saw the queen –  So Michele hived most of them again in G4 and moved G4 away from G6 (hopefully we’ll get the rest this afternoon) or this evening, the entrance is now closed. Some German beekeeper told us to leave a swarm enclosed even for 3 days!

The question is now: If this swarm has a virgin queen, how long will she take to settle in the new home before going out to mate? Some beekeepers even say, if there are several rainy days, and the colony cannot swarm, a swarm may have all kinds of queens, laying + virgins. So there could be more than one virgin in the cast. Apparently a virgin queen has a window of opportunity to mate that is about 4 weeks long.

So we’ll better leave them in peace for a while …


Demo Beehive, Scarecrow Day 17 July

Demo Beehive, Scarecrow Day 17 July

Explore the Demo Behive on 17 July, Trunch Scarecrow Festival!
Master beekeeper John Everett will show and explain fascinating facts about our honey bees. Watch busy bees building combs, discover the queen bee laying eggs, and get some of John’s own delicious honey.

Location of the demo beehive: Glebe Lodge, entrance from Gunthorpe Lane (see map below)


‘Queen Substance’, the pheromone attracting drones

‘Queen Substance’, the pheromone attracting drones

Worker bees around a queen

Worker bees around a queen

(The Telegraph) Until the 1950s, what causes the workers to produce a new queen to replace one which is failing, or has been lost, was a mystery.

As any beekeeper will know, when a queen is removed from a colony the behaviour of workers changes from a state of organised activity to one of restlessness. After a few hours, they will have modified one or more cells containing female larvae into emerging queen cells.

Colin Butler, who has died aged 102, was one of the world’s most distinguished entomologists and was credited with the discovery of a pheromone known as “queen substance”, a scientific breakthrough which transformed our understanding of the social behaviour of bees.

Traditionally, beekeepers assumed that the queen must emit some sort of odour which keeps workers aware of her continued presence, the absence of which causes them to begin rearing new queens. To test this theory, Butler placed a queen in the middle of her hive in a wire gauze cage, so that surrounding bees could not touch her, and found that the workers began to behave as if they had lost her, rearing new queens.

He concluded that some sort of physical or chemical signals from the queen to keep the colony loyal were being transmitted, not through smell, but through physical contact with the few workers attending her. No one had reported seeing any physical signals, so the latter theory, that the queen emits some sort of chemical substance, seemed the more plausible.

Butler then compared the behaviour of workers that had left the queen after licking the special wax which covers the queen bee’s body, with those of other workers which had examined her body with antennae, but not licked her. Each of the bees that had licked her body offered regurgitated food to other colony members within the first five minutes of licking her, while the other bees did not.

In other experiments he observed that if a queen was rubbed with a piece of cotton wool, the cotton wool became as attractive to worker bees as the queen herself.

He also found that the number of bees which any given queen can inhibit from rearing new queens varies quantitatively with the amount of contact allowed between queen and workers; and when material from the digestive tracts of workers which had licked the queen was added to the drinking water of groups of queen-less bees, the ovaries of those bees developed much less than control bees without the additive.

honeybees swarming

honeybees swarming

His conclusion was that of all the factors that keep members of a colony of bees together, “the strong desire for ‘queen substance’ is probably the most important”. He went on to show that queen substance is produced in the mandibular glands of the queen, and in 1959 a collaboration with Robert Kenneth Callow led to its identification as 9-oxodec-trans-2-enoic acid.

They also showed that this acted as the sex-attractant for drones when deployed at about 10 metres above the ground, the height at which queens fly on their “nuptial flight”, the first demonstration of a sex-attractant pheromone.

In 1955 Butler suggested that “either a deficiency in the amount of queen substance available, or, perhaps, a breakdown in its collection and subsequent distribution plays an important part in the phenomenon of swarming”, when a honeybee colony divides to produce two colonies and which can be a headache for beekeepers.

The discovery of queen substance raised hopes that synthetic chemicals might be developed to control swarming and Butler went so far as to get a patent on synthetic “queen substance” with the idea of marketing it for swarm suppression and to facilitate the introduction of replacement queens into unwilling honey bee colonies, and also as a possible human contraceptive.

Unfortunately, he was wrong. Bees still swarmed and it had no action in humans. He concluded that other factors, perhaps even psychological reasons, were involved. The mechanisms of swarming remain something of a mystery to this day.


Hygienic Behaviour & Clustering in Autumn

(from: http://www.backyardbees.ca/user_files/winterizationGuide.pdf)

In the spring and in the fall, the beehive will engage in fervour for cleaning the beehive. This is because the bees in the hive, throughout the winter, move slowly to maintain energy and are incapable of breaking cluster to tidy up the hive, making them particularly susceptible to disease and stress. So, by cleaning out the hive, the bees are taking preventative measures to ensure their hive is clear of fungi and viruses that may take over in the sensitive winter months. This is an inherent behaviour that bees have in these seasons. There is a lot of news about hygienic bees, that bees can be bred to be specifically better cleaners then generic honeybees.


Honey bees will begin to cluster at temperatures below 18C in the fall. So this means that when you look in to your beehive at these times, your hive will look as though many of the bees have disappeared. This is because the bees in the hive have compressed in to a small ball.

Brood Nest Size in Autumn

(from: http://www.backyardbees.ca/user_files/winterizationGuide.pdf)

As the sunlight hours diminish in the fall, and the quantities of nectar and pollen coming in to the hive decrease, these factors become clues for the queen to decrease the quantity of eggs she lays.

The decreased size of brood nest allows for the populations of the beehive to slowly diminish in to the fall and also increase the spacial access for pollen and honey storage in the brood nest locations without the necessity of building more wax or expanding the hive size.

This is a very important part of fall because the colony must be at just the right size for the amount of honey stores available to the colony as well as large enough to keep the colony warm throughout the year. Too large may cause them to starve out, and too small may cause them to freeze to death. This is the important risk that the beehive is concerned about when entering the fall!