At last we have a warm enough day to get the solar wax extractor out and process some cappings and old shallow super frames. The cart is also useful for this job as I can now easily move round the box to get the full sun onto it. A furniture restorer wants 2kg of clean wax with no residue from varroa treatments and I can produce that.
The Summer Solstice.
It’s hard to sleep on nights with almost no darkness and I spend a fair bit of the night awake watching the sky. This is what it looked like yesterday from the back garden with colour seeping in at 02:51 hours following the solstice. Not long after the photo was taken the still early morning silence was broken by the umistakable vibrating buzz of bumble bees working the honeysuckle outside the bedroom window. Not even the birds were stirring then.
Breakfast with Wildlife.
I share the early morning with nature this morning. Relishing my first cup of cafe latte in the rescue rocker, I notice a bushy red tail moving along the wall and seconds later this beautiful red squirrel is breakfasting on peanuts just a few yards from me. The lush foliage offers a little privacy but squirrel is getting used to humans and remains on the box as I move nearer to take photographs.
I’m excited to find 3 species of bee on these sage and thyme herbs, from the lamiaceae or dead-nettle family, at the same time. It was impossible to capture them together on film but I saw a honey bee, bumble bee and a solitary bee from the Andrenidae family of mining bees. Here is the mining bee that came to quench its thirst on the laundry I was hanging out the other day.
The garden is noisy because a family of blue tit (Parus caeruleus) babies calls for parental attention. The shrill insistent tone ensures a quick reponse but it’s a constant job for both parents. I notice that both great tits (Parus major) and blue tits are picking up bees from the grass in front of the nearest hive. This little blue tit above is learning to feed itself on a more acceptable form of protein as far as I’m concerned.
I hear and feel the crunching of shells underfoot as I walk near the bee shed to photograph these tiny birds and I see snail shells on all the hard surfaces and paths. Song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) are plentiful in the garden this year and I’ve watched them bashing snails on the path before.
I sink back into the rocker for a second cup and a long-tailed vole appears on the scene. It changes its mind about crossing my path and retreats to the undergrowth and I throw a small piece of oatcake in its direction.
Conversations with Beekeepers.
I have a long telephone conversation with a friend who has kept bees for over 40 years and currently runs 40 colonies. Rob lives up in Tomatin where it is too cold to winter bees so he moves them not far from me for winter, and later for the OSR crops near the Moray Firth. We talk about the season and Rob tells me that, with only 2 weeks of OSR secreting nectar, he has a smaller than usual crop but he is hopeful for a heather harvest in August. He tells me that he uses the Demaree method of swarm prevention before the colony makes queen cells for swarm preparation. Rob starts the Demaree manipulation when his colonies have 8 frames of brood. I’ve described this method in a previous blog. He doesn’t come down from the hills to see the bees every week so this method works well for him.
Rob has lost only a couple of swarms this season. One of them he caught and hived but when he returned next day they had gone. A couple of days later he noticed that they were actually under the hive and building comb but fortunately he managed to keep them at home after the second time of hiving. As we finish the conversation, Rob promises to bring me a bag of whisky bung cloths from the famous Tomatin Distillery where he used to work. The wooden bungs are wrapped in hession squares and stuffed into the barrels to seal them. If bees could smile then I think they would when I fill the smoker and send glorious whiffs of top quality whisky into the air.
Another friend called in yesterday and was offered a seat in the rocker. We sat drinking tea in the blazing sun and talked bees. Mac runs 70 plus colonies and a bee supply business. His method of swarm control involves re queening since a new queen is less likely to swarm in her first season. I’m hoping that he will write a wee guest blog and share some of his experiences with us in the future. This works well for him too and the bulk of the swarms that he collects are from other beekeeper’s apiaries. In fact, just after he left a call came in for help from a beekeeper called to a farm to collect a “swarm” .
Thank goodness for mobile phones and technology. Mac went to the rescue to find that the swarm had gone into a loft so this was not a recent one, rather an established colony. He located them with thermal imaging and gave advice on cutting them out to the beekeeper who had arrived before him.
The Nucleus Method of Swarm Control.
The nucleus method of swarm control doesn’t reduce hive congestion by much and the parent colony soon builds up again in a good season and they may want to swarm again but it is useful if you want to get a spring harvest of OSR for example. I think that if they still feel strong and if you haven’t been careful enough on day 7, following making the nuc, when you remove all queen cells apart from one in the parent colony, they may swarm with a virgin queen.
This happened to me last weekend when I was on the phone and my son alerted me to possible swarming because of the noise around one of the hives near the house. There was indeed a lot of noise and activity around the hive entrance but I thought it was the new virgin queen going on a mating flight so I casually dismissed the warning with some reassuring words about mating flights and carried on the conversation. A few minutes later I heard a shout and arrived to find a swarm pouring out of said hive and settling on a nearby shrub. On inspecting the hive, I found the queen cell that I had chosen was open, and on the next frame a tiny queen cell looking more like a drone cell. I opened it and out shot a virgin queen.
I always remember Ted Hooper’s advice in his famous beekeeping book that if several virgins emerged at once the colony wouldn’t swarm because the queens would stay and fight it out. This was my logic for returning the swarm to the parent colony, and almost a week later they are getting on with things and I’ll be checking soon to see if the new queen is laying.
I could of course have been more careful opening that cell and kept the virgin queen in a cage until I had safely hived the swarm but that was what I chose to do at the time.
Marketing the Harvest.
My strategy is to supply a few regular customers throughout the year by processing small batches of honey and storing the rest in food grade buckets. I keep an order list and fulfil that before putting my honey for sale sign up at the gate. This year I’m using the fabulous hamper box, that very kind relatives sent full of consumable goodies for my birthday, to store honey at the doorstep.
Probiotics for Bees.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the presentations still available via Zoom during our busiest season so I’ve not been tuning in. However, I did listen to an interview with Sean Leonard from the University of Texas on Inside The Hive TV with Humberto Christiani about honey bee bacteria and protection against varroa and viruses. One nugget of information cleared up something on feeding bees probiotics for me. Surprisingly, honey bees have about 10 species of good bacteria in their gut compared with hundreds of thousands in ours and the probiotic preparations sold to us for bees contain bacteria that are found in human guts rather than honey bee guts which weakens the case for using them in my opinion.
Children’s Garden Design Competition.
It has been an interesting week with an invitation/nomination to appear briefly on national radio to comment on gardening for pollinators in capacity of expert beekeeper. I agreed because the person asking said I would do it from home over the telephone, but when interviewed by Janine, researcher from BBC Radio 2, it transpired that it is an outdoor show in Glasgow on Friday 25th on breakfast radio, and it’s too far for me to travel. They found someone else to appear but I was interviewed again as a possible candidate for another show.
What’s exciting about this is that it is about a pollinator friendly garden design competition for children in the UK aged between 6-12, and the winning garden will be created on an NHS site. I promised Janine that I’d promote the competition which will be judged later in the summer. Entries close July 5th so there is still time for you to encourage children in the UK to enter.
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