Saturday, 29 September 2012

Sue has a Bee Buddy

Sue inspects the hives with the help of her new bee buddy.

Saturday 29th September 2012

Sausages sold out!
Today we sold out of sausages, only two weeks after the two boys came back from the butchers.
It's making me think about how to get the next three chopped up. I'm thinking that if we've got lots of shoulder joints left, we could get this cut of meat made into sausages next time. If it's what the customers want...

I spent much of the day putting a top wire along the fence that was supposed to keep the sheep out of the veg garden. I didn't realise, when I let them in there briefly the other day, what the ram-ifications would be. They have clearly realised that the grass is greener and took great delight in hopping the fence several times today, leading me a right merry dance as they did so. But I don't mind too much, as I know that I'll have the last laugh. They are beginning to fatten up nicely now!!

A Bee Buddy
Event of the day was Sue getting a new bee buddy. I've not mentioned the bees for a while, and that's because we have both been feeling a little out of our depth. You can read as much as you like about keeping bees but nothing quite prepares you for actually being responsible for a colony. We had a little help along the way, when we had emergencies, such as the bees' determination to swarm in the early days. Without this help we would probably have lost our bees, whereas we may now actually have two successful hives.
You will all have heard about the problems our honey bees are going through at the moment. It's hard to pinpoint the reason for this, though I suspect its a combination of pretty obvious factors - much the same factors that have caused a fundamental reduction in levels of wildlife everywhere.
Anyway, responsible bee-keeping is the best friend our honey bees have right now. With this in mind, we dutifully joined the Peterborough branch of the BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) a few months back and heard little more for our thirty odd quid a year.

Back to feeling a little out of our depth.
Plenty of detailed bee information here. It's interesting, but probably only if you keep bees or are thinking about it.
This is a crucial time of year for the bees. They must accumulate enough stored honey to get them through the winter. Many will die of starvation, but enough must make it through to keep the colony going when things warm up next spring.
We nearly missed the time for treating the hives for varroa. This is supposed to be co-ordinated by the local associations so that all beekeepers hit the bug at the same time and in the same way. Unfortunately, nobody told us and it was quite fortuitous that we realised just in the nick of time. So a couple of weeks ago we gave the bees their first dose of Apiguard - a natural remedy. The bees collect the Thymol crystals to remove them from the hive. However, in the process they take them down through the hive to where the varroa mites are lurking. As long as maximum daytime temperatures remain over 15 degrees (hence the urgency!) it will kill a good percentage of the varroa mites. Timing is important as it must be given to the bees after the main flow of honey.

We also realised, just in time, that we should be feeding our bees with a sugar solution so that they could build up their stores. Again, without any experience we had no idea if they had enough honey. But in such a dull year, and with the colony splitting a couple of times, it was always likely that we would need to supplement their feed and resist the temptation to draw off any honey for ourselves.

But still we did not really know the state of our colonies. Should there be more at this time of year or were we OK? Were we too late with the food and varroa treatment. And if so, what should we do now. Did we need to reunite the two colonies? All these questions and more. The most important question - is there anything we are totally unaware of?

And so it was that Sue decided to contact the local  BBKA and seek assistance.
To be more precise, she requested to be assigned a bee buddy. We have never had a bee buddy before, but it really is the best way to learn and avoid disasters along the way. A bee buddy is an experienced local beekeeper who offers their time once in a while to look through your hives and explain what's happening and what steps to take.

The bees were very active today,
probably because they are being fed now.
And so, today, Sue met her bee buddy, actually the woman who looks after the hives at the farm where I get my straw and pig potatoes. Small world.

It was great to find out that both our colonies are doing well now. We need to keep on feeding till they stop taking the sugar solution, probably well into October, and Sue was given some fondant to give the bees around Christmas time, to help them get through the coldest days of winter.

Sue put the bees back up to brood-and-a-half. This seems to be the favoured way round here, not something we'd ever heard of in London. It just means that as well as a deep brood box, a super frame is used to give additional brood space. Otherwise the hive can get too crammed in summer, encouraging the overcrowded bees to seek alternative accommodation.

So, for the moment that's it. We feel much more secure abut keeping bees now that we have somebody to help us. It's a great weight off our minds.
Maybe one day we will be experienced enough to be somebody's bee buddy. You never know.

One more cute picture of Elvis and family!

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