Apiary News & Jane’s Essay on Beekeeping.

Jane’s bees on their holidays at mine after swarm control

The sun is out as I write early in the morning of the only good day forecast for this week. Arctic air has been hanging round the UK for nearly two weeks, and cold rain most days makes foraging impossible for the bees. Today I will be inspecting my three colonies in the out apiary before going up to Jane’s on a farm just outside Aldearn. She has been feeding her colonies since this bad weather started because they are on single brood boxes and relatively small, still. They were overwintered in nuclei and were building up steadily having really flourished in May which was our warmest May on record. The two colonies felt strong enough to make swarm preparations and had been divided for swarm control using the nucleus method.  One colony even swarmed with a virgin queen (this happened to me too this season) taking a load of honey away. The urge to reproduce seems even stronger this year. So many people are telling me that their swarm control methods have not been successful and swarms are leaving sometimes long before queen cells are capped.

Hungry Bees

Back in my home apiary, I checked all 6 colonies yesterday when it warmed up and I got a surprise; it was a pleasant one for a change. I’d given one of the strongest colonies some shallow super frames with starter strips for cut comb after the dandelion flow was over. I knew that there was a field of OSR within reach, but it was nearly at an end and I figured that the colony would use the last of that nectar for drawing out comb. A week ago, most of those combs had been built and some filled with OSR honey. They were bulging and I considered harvesting, and carefully extracting, so checked the water content with my refractometer. Since it registered 21% water, I decided to leave it in the hive and risk it setting solid on the comb there. The temperatures were barely 7- 10 deg C, let alone the necessary 15 deg C for OSR to secrete nectar. When I checked on those combs yesterday the bees had scoffed all the OSR honey, phew! The OSR field is now green so hopefully the bees will refill these combs with some tasty honey suitable for cut comb.

The dandelion honey is very yellow though probably not pure dandelion. It has soft set itself with a nice crystal and mouthfeel. It has been one of the most popular tastes and I have almost sold out of jarred honey. Fortunately, I got a good harvest with enough stored in buckets for later.

Avoiding Theft

A big disappointment this week was having 2 jars of honey taken from the doorstep without payment. It is more than disappointing; it really gives you a nasty feeling and makes me quite cynical. A friend said she hoped they didn’t enjoy it and I said that I hoped it was the nicest honey they ever tasted so they felt guilty nicking it. For the first few days after the daylight robbery, I hoped that I might find that they hadn’t had the cash at the time and would come back later but it is more than a week on and no sign of it.
I’ve had advice about getting real and fake security cameras and am grateful for all support. One thing to reduce the risk will be not leaving it out overnight. We have hardly any night at the moment as we head speedily to the longest day and Solstice on 21st. It is only faintly dark for a few hours between midnight and 3 am here.

My other thought was to write a friendly customer note advising them that having no car in the driveway is not an indication that I am not about and please knock on the door and speak to me if they have any questions, or want to consider an alternative way to pay for honey if they don’t have cash.

I’m keeping quiet about it with my neighbours because they are all really nice, friendly, and supportive of each other and would hate to think it might be someone in this wee hamlet. I have written this off and have moved on now I’ve shared it with you.

Adequate Nutrition

How do I know that my colonies are doing alright in this income dearth due to unseasonably cold weather? How will I know if their nutrition has been compromised? Well one of the key things I looked for yesterday was the state of larvae and whether they were lying on dry cell beds, or cell floors cushioned with royal jelly. The cells glistened with RJ and there was plenty stored fresh pollen and pickled pollen in the form of bee bread. Some colonies had less honey stored in the brood boxes than others but they had access to adequate stores in the honey supers. A couple of nuclei needed immediate feeding.

The Walrus.

There are a few select blogs that I enjoy reading every week and Steve Donohue’s Walrus website is one of them. He wrote in more depth than me this week about managing colonies in weather like this and it makes good reading: https://thewalrusandthehoneybee.com/starvation/?sn=c&c=1097#comment-1097

What to do With Wedges?

I inherited this wedge from an old beekeeper many years ago and never really knew how to use it apart from keeping the bee shed door open. The penny dropped this year when the boxes on a particularly strong propolis- producing colony were glued together. I use National hives with bottom bee space and sometimes the top brood box is so stuck, after I break the seal at the corners, that the top bars of the frames in the bottom box stick to the bottom bars of frames in the top box. If you are doing this alone the bees get squashed if you put the box back down while you wonder how to sort the problem. On the other hand, if you come across this annoyance, you can push the wedge in between the boxes, it allows you to smoke the bees away and separate the frames without jarring and upsetting the bees so much.

Mining Bees

While I was waiting for Jane to collect me to work at her apiary this lovely little mining bee, or one of its friends, landed on my arm and settled for a few moments. When the sun came out these sweet little bees (Andrena spp.) were all over the bright orange fox- and- cubs flowers (Pilosella aurantiaca) from the asteraceae family.


This is the first beekeeping year that I have had to rely heavily on Linton, Cynthia, and Jane for helping lift heavy boxes in the apiary. Dislocated shoulders take months to strengthen, then I managed to over-stretch leg muscles and get piriformis syndrome which is pretty painful and can take months of regular exercises to heal. The good thing about that has been the companionship of working closely with friends. Jane feels the same and wrote some thoughts on her own beekeeping journey. Thank you, Jane, and it’s over to you.

Jane’s Journey

Jane teaching new beekeepers.

I always knew that I wanted to keep bees but that thought didn’t actually emerge until after my Mum died in 2003. Many times, throughout my childhood she brought honey to the rescue for coughs and colds mixed with lemon or ginger, for spots, for cuts and grazes, because, she said there is a magical 4% within honey that heals us.

Who knew? All I remember is her daubing Uncle Tam’s face with honey when he fell down the steps at the back door. And his face healing up quite quickly. A connection with honey had been formed.

Time marches on and in 2014 we moved from Aberdeenshire to Nairnshire. The bee thoughts became a reality. Instead of just thinking “I’ll join an Association” I did a bit of snooping and one name kept popping up. I decided to approach this person and ask about bees, and her advice was to join the local association and she would meet me there and support me if I decided to go ahead. We lived in a gorgeous spot at the top of a hill, backing onto woods and moorland, a very quiet place, albeit a bit windy but a perfect location to start.

Driving home with my first colony of bees in the back of the car was like driving home from hospital after the birth of a first baby. I still feel like this, fretting if they are finding enough forage, looking for signs of disease- I suppose I would call this stewardship. I am a lucky soul to be able to care for (and frequently be confused by my bees). I am, I think doubly lucky to have had a patient, quiet mentor, and now close friend to advise and chat these confusing bee- details away to.

Again, time has been trotting on and we have moved house which has been an eye opener on the bee front. We decided to help each other this year and do colony inspections together which has been one learning nugget after another. Today, for example, we witnessed quite a large number of bees at the front of one of my colonies all nasonov-ing. I had noticed this and wondered at it, but her commentary was that perhaps these bees were guiding a newly mated Queen back to the hive.

This could be, because up here in the Highlands (and perhaps everywhere else the weather has been awful- bitterly cold, windy and rainy). Today was the second day in a row of 14 -16 degrees. Fingers crossed we see eggs soon!

The strong feeling of connection came a couple of weeks ago after some honey extraction. This is a job that I do not enjoy at ALL. The mess, the sticky surfaces, the time needed to undertake this mammoth task is daunting (for me anyway). We were in the kitchen, had worked out our routine for uncapping, spinning the frames this way and that, and together we opened the door of the spinner… a beautiful golden eruption. Flowing warmly and waxy-heat-honey-smell filled the room. I was kneeling on the floor and Ann was kneeling to the side: Look at that!” We looked and watched, then looked at each other. Big smiles. Eye contact and a close connection got even closer. What fun we are having!! I am so lucky!

2 thoughts on “Apiary News & Jane’s Essay on Beekeeping.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.