With slightly warmer weather this week, the supers are filling with nectar, at long last. From the cabbagy odour and yellow pollen, I note that most of it is OSR, but bright yellow wax and patches of deep golden honey tell me that they are also collecting dandelion nectar. I walk through the field below the house to check out the profusion of dandelions, amongst the grass grown for silage, and they are covered in honey bees. An oyster catcher rises from the centre of the field and wheels around calling out an agitated message so I keep to the field edge and cut short my visit.
I walked with an old friend from the south for 7 miles along Nairn’s west beach today and enjoyed hearing the familiar sound of skylarks overhead. There were so many whin/gorse bushes in full bloom today it was dazzling despite an overcast sky and impending rain. Sea pinks/thrift dotted the grass above the shoreline and the waves crashing on the shore made a pleasant change from my usual road walks.
World Bee Day: 20th May.
It’s world bee day today but every day is world bee day for me as there is not a day that I am not thinking or writing about bees. I haven’t done anything special in terms of promoting bees among the wider world but Connie visited and we talked insects all afternoon. She raised the subject by telling me about making bug hotels at school and we talked about the definition of bugs and how there is actually only one order of true bugs; hemiptera. We admired all the shield bugs and talked about why some are so brightly coloured. She was fascinated to look at all the different families and we studied books and my insect collection. It raised lots of questions and ended with buzz pollination and importing bumble bees to pollinate crops like tomatoes. We talked about buying fruit and vegetables in season from our own country as much as possible, and Connie tells me that she will have her own garden in the new home in Wales. Her granny Jean in the south is a keen gardener and they will work together which makes me happy, and it will much easier saying goodbye in early July knowing that Connie will be closer to both sets of grandparents and all her cousins.
We celebrated World Bee Day with hot chocolate and oatcakes slathered in the last of the heather honey. Before she left on her pink bicycle we picked some of her favourite fruit for her daddy to make a rhubarb crumble with.
One of the strong colonies was making swarm preparations with charged queen cells full of larvae and royal jelly this week. I made up a nucleus using 2 frames of stores , 2 frames of brood and bees and the old queen and an empty frame for the queen to lay in. Because it is staying in the apiary and some may fly home to the parent colony, I shook in 2 frames of nurse bees as well and shut them up for 3 days. Yesterday they pushed out the grass blocking the entrance and came out to do some orientation flights. Once the new queen in the parent colony is laying well I shall unite the nuc back to have a strong colony for the summer nectar flow.
Wild Brace Comb.
This is what happens when you think that what started the season as a nucleus cannot possibly build up after the end of summer to fill a whole 18 frame double walled Glen hive, so you dummy up the end frame. The new beekeeper got a surprise as did I. Luckily, this comb was easy to remove as it was not attached to the crown board, but to the easily removable dummy board. It was full of delicious heather honey as Paul lives on the edge of the moors. Insulated double dummy boards would have prevented this happening but the honey-filled combs provided good insulation over winter.
The bees are strong and healthy and a sugar roll test reveals low varroa levels. They will be making swarm preparation soon so Paul has bought a nucleus box and a second hive; this time a double walled WBC hive. The bees came from Cynthia May’s prolific colony, and the double walled hive and Paul’s good care kept them well and strong over winter.
By the way, it would be impossible to move this hive to perform a Pagden artificial swarm.
Another week of poor beekeeping weather is brightened by being able to go out and about visiting friends and I pop in to see Sandy who is downsizing his apiary and has generous equipment deals on offer. I buy a couple of spare hives and some varroa floors. Sandy has made the floors himself. He is careful about apiary hygiene and changes the floors every spring. The varroa trays have been made from cut up “house for sale” signs from a local estate agent.
I love visiting Sandy who has been keeping bees since 1954. He has so many great stories to tell and this visit he tells me that he was first introduced to bees when he worked at Darnaway Castle as a vegetable boy in the gardens. It was his job to select the daily vegetables and carry them up to the castle for the butler to inspect before they went to the kitchens. If Sandy met the laird on these trips he had to doff his cap.
He progressed to helping with the bees and enjoyed that, especially on wet days when he could shelter inside making up frames. Sandy sat exams back in the day and contributed much to beekeeping at local and Scottish Beekeeper’s Association levels (he is modest and hides his light under a bushel).
Sandy is a talented skep maker and he made the exquisite skep featured in my visit to the US blogs of 2019. It was made and donated by Sandy for the Bees for Development silent auction organised by my friend Megan Denver of Hudson Valley Bee Supply. It is now owned by a new friend of mine, Colin Coan of NY.
At the end of last season I increased the apiary and bought in a couple of colonies from a friend who was leaving the area. At the first inspection this season, the queen was up laying in the super which held their winter honey stores so I put her down in the deep brood box with a queen excluder between the boxes. 24 days later when all the brood had emerged from the shallow box, I removed it and destroyed the comb.
The comb was old with larval skins in the cells and I couldn’t use it now to collect honey so I burnt it in the BBQ. I use recovered wax for making foundation but only if there is no chemical contamination and the beekeeper regularly used Amitraz (Apivar) to kill varroa. It can linger in the wax. I have no facilities for cleaning the wooden frames with boiling washing soda so I set up a jolly bonfire and burnt the lot. Very little wax dripped out but some collected in the underneath tray so didn’t make a mess on the path.
Obviously I had to stand by for a while so that the nearest woodpile didn’t go up in flames too but I’d chosen a still day. It got me thinking about how therapeutic a good bonfire can be and a great way to clear out rubbish such as old notes and out of date stuff. I never burn books and would only do it if we ran out of fuel for the stove in the middle of winter. But, as any visitor knows, running out of wood is unlikely to happen around here. However, the first beekeeping books to go would be the series of study notes that we all know if we are sitting the modular exams! They are now out of date and cringe-makingly prescriptive in my view. On the other hand, if the house went on fire and I could only rescue one book it would definitely be Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy. Talking of books brings me to a great new book that I want to share with you.
James Rebanks: Book Review.
Book Review: James Rebanks
Title: English Pastoral: An Inheritance
Author: James Rebanks
Publisher: Allen Lane
Year First Published 2020
This book is an account of one man’s personal relationship with the land that he and his forebears have known intimately over many generations. If you got to know Rebanks the writer through reading his bestselling debut, The Shepherd’s Life, this next story will captivate and engage you more intensely. His writing style is richer and even more descriptive, and he has the ability to draw the reader into the scene so that one almost hears the plovers cry and sees them wheeling low over spring meadows. This book combines the beauty of our land with the ugliness of aspects of modern farming, and Rebanks doesn’t mince words: he tells it like it is.
If you don’t know the author, he is a delightful surprise. Rebanks grew up in the Lake District on a small farm raising Herdwick sheep, cattle and a few crops to sustain these animals. As a child of the 1970’s Rebanks found himself wedged between the old and new ways of farming. Led by his adored grandfather, his family clung to traditional farming for as long as possible but eventually gave way to fertilisers and pesticides etc.
High school education was neither received well nor rated highly by Rebanks, but he read avidly at home and graduated later from Oxford University. He has travelled widely, worked for UNESCO as well as raising a family and managing the family farm.
It feels like a privilege to share this account of a family working together to reverse the damage to the land and ecosystems, and set an example to others of what can be achieved in just one lifetime. Rebanks calls in specialists and takes advice from many people, and the land has changed to become richer in biodiversity and yet is still an economically productive farm.
As beekeepers we have a responsibility to provide our livestock with plentiful safe foraging. We cannot do it alone, but if we bring the public on board it will go a long way to improving things in our damaged environment. This book offers an insight into new ways of doing things and gives hope for the future, and confidence that we can do things better.
I was excited this week to find that the Irish Apiculture Diploma course is open for applicants. It is aimed at novice beekeepers and will provide a great way in for young people attracted to the industry as well as hobbyists wanting to be best they can in beekeeping. Bees & Beekeeping – Apiculture (Diploma) – NUI Galway