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Beekeeping, Books, Articles, TV and/or Rants, Honey, Honey Bees, Queen Bees, Varroa etc, Wasps

‘Clinging on for grim death’ might be a phrase….

Bee up or Bee down?  Is it like an elephant's tusk?

Bee up or Bee down? Is it like an elephant’s tusk?

The first hives of which I can find pictures are almost trees in their simplicity.  At a guess, some hollow tree full of bees had been plastered with clay and carried into the bee garden, laid upon stakes and fitted with a movable plank front … The interesting point is that the honey is being cut off by a curved knife, into a bowl, and the bees are flying round indignantly.  Dorothy Hartley Food in England  MacDonald & Jane’s, 1954.

I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer….
We closed active bee season in autumn around here with a bit of a dilemma, one we have not had to face because we’ve never had it before.  The ‘it’ being honey.  Of course, the bees have had their stores in the brood box, and every once in a while, they might look like they were readying to accumulate something major in the honey super.  But then nothing much would happen.

This year though, we had about a half a dozen frames worth of honey in the lower super of our main hive–Let the good times roll!  But it was spread out over the frames so in August we thought we would wait a bit and see if they did anything with it.  But no.  So we had to decide a)whether we should take the super away, and b)extract the honey.  We were able to answer the second pretty quickly:  not enough honey to warrant borrowing an extractor and embarking on all that work and mess.  There was enough there to get a jar or two, though.  It was around early autumn that I came across an interesting blog post that described the process of crushing comb, complete with photos.  I immediately thought “That’s for us!”  Maybe the same amount if not more mess, but low-tech, low cost.  I think at the time I had ‘Liked’ the post, but have lost sight of it now unfortunately.  I am going to try to find it, though, because the photos are really helpful.  Luckily, though, Rusty over at the Honey Bee Suite covered the subject in early December in her post No extractor, no problem.. [I have since found this wonderful video on Linda’s Bees blog.  This gal knows her stuff!]

The next issue took a little more time to resolve because what we wanted to do seemed to go against all that we were taught in bee practice.  You might remember in past bee inspection posts that we had been a bit concerned about the lack of complete stores in the brood box of the main hive. Because we had only about 6 frames of honey spread across the super we thought it might be best to leave the super on, through winter if necessary, in case the bees needed it.  But we were not sure if this was appropriate or recommendable.

On the Long Lane Honey Bee Farms blog post,  How Much Honey to Leave On?, I found what seems like sensible advice pertinet to our situation (albeit for a climate a bit colder than found in southern England):

Another common mistake is to think that a surplus of honey stored in supers guarantees there is plenty of stored honey in the brood nest area. This is not always the case. A colony can use two brood boxes to raise brood during the summer and store their winter surplus in the upper supers. Then, as late summer
and fall approaches, the colony will move the honey from the supers down into the upper deep.If a beekeeper removes all supers filled with honey without inspecting the brood nest area for stored honey, the hive could go into winter with very little stored honey

Honey frames can always be removed in spring before the season begins in earnest.

So this is what we have done.

Bees out stretching their legs in December

Bees out stretching their legs in December

Did I say ‘grim death’?

In November and December, we had quite a range of weather here, from a deep freeze with hard frosts to balmy almost spring-like weather.  We continued to be concerned about the main hive on the balmy days.  While the garage bees would be flying about on their poo flights, there would be no sign of movement from the main hive.  So worried was I that I finally opened the hive on a day that was somewhere between balmy and deep freeze (week after Christmas I think).  Much to my astonishment and relief, the bees in the main hive were not only fine, but vigorously so.  To the extent that whenerver I tried to move about the frames in the super, they became exceedingly grumpy.  They clung on to the frames, looking at me with their little bee eyes as if to say “Go on.  Make our day.”  As I hadn’t bothered to light a smoker, I felt little able to indulge their mood for stinging.  I slapped some fondant in the main and garage hives and got out of town (so to speak).

Now we have snow and freezing temperatures, so no sign of life from either hive.  We have ordered some oxalic acid in preparation for their January treatment.

Of Bees and Sheep
One of the enjoyable activities in which we participate as members of the local beekeeping association is staffing the bee booth at various events around the county.  The last was at Ely Cathedral for its Harvest Festival.  Although we had a lot of interest, we were located across from live sheep, and as we were without our glass hive of live bees, we were hard-pressed to compete!  The sheep even made it into the newspaper account

Food in England

Yet Another Queen Bee
I began this post with a quote from a book everyone must read.  Yes, I said everyone (I made this comment at Thanksgiving dinner, and someone actually followed my orders!  Must be because it’s a great book, or I am very persuasive, or because I made the best turkey of my life….).  Dorothy Hartley essentially traveled around England to gather the information for this book. It was published in the 50s and is still in print.  And, it’s not the food of royalty or upper class, but of everybody.  For example, there is the process for assembling the ‘Bargee’s Pail’, resembling the ‘Mediaval Cauldron’.  Basically this is the slow cooker for those working on barges, cooking not only the main meal but dessert as well all in one pot.  Each course or component of the meal was   separated by a layer of pastry.

Lucy Worsley, a British historian, did an excellent job of delving into Hartley’s life and work in a tv program aired in the UK in the summer.  For more information see here and here

And just one last question….

Why is it every time we have a warm day around here, a ginormous wasp appears out of nowhere?

****Almost forgot!  The charming picture is of a bee sculpture given as a Christmas gift by Tony, he of the Christmas nuc last year and of the better photos to be seen on this blog.  It is now a piece of garden sculpture, hanging on our garage.  Thanks, Tony.  Now get to work on that sour dough bread for my birthday!


14 thoughts on “‘Clinging on for grim death’ might be a phrase….

  1. “it’s a great book, or I am very persuasive, or because I made the best turkey of my life….”
    or all of the above, it is a great read, you are v. persuasive and it was the best turkey! 2013 honey will be interesting, I can remember having just comb and honey in a plastic tub as a kid – lovely…

    Posted by Jo | January 15, 2013, 3:49 pm
  2. Yes, it is the work of Tony. And thanks for reminding me, I knew there was something I forgot to put in the post. We have put it on the garage, a piece of garden art. Really cold here, snow all day yesterday.

    Posted by mylatinnotebook | January 15, 2013, 5:12 pm
  3. Glad your bees are alive and buzzing. Like the sound of the ‘Bargee’s Pail’!

    Posted by Emily Heath | January 15, 2013, 8:44 pm
  4. Is that first photo an outdoor thermometer? And the second a mouse guard? Both are so much lovelier than the sorts we have seen.
    As for taking honey it seems problematic to try to guesstimate how much a colony will need to get through winter although that is what most professionals do. A number of hobbyists harvest in spring once there is a strong flow under way.

    Posted by theprospectofbees | January 15, 2013, 9:31 pm
    • It would be cool if it were a thermometer! But cool enough as a piece of garden sculpture. I suppose we could call it Bee on Steroids…

      That hive was handmade and so the mouse guard is a custom-made one. As such, the bees manoeuvre around it like little trapeze artists! The mouse guard we have on the main hive is just a sheet of metal with holes.

      In the UK, we do an early harvest around May.June, whenever the rape seed is at an end. That is because rapeseed honey does not bear leaving around. From what I have read, winter-left honey should be harvested before there’s a real flow on. Have I got that wrong?

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | January 16, 2013, 4:48 pm
      • Ah. At the angle of the photograph the wings looked like a pointer to our aged eyes. A very cool garden sculpture.

        The holey metal sheet is what we have seen in use. The green bars are much prettier. What are they made of?

        As for winter-left honey it is likely we who have it wrong. A googling we must go. We agree on the general notion of not taking it until assured that it will be replaced but whether one should take it when flow is imminent or just started or well under way…less certain than we thought.

        Posted by theprospectofbees | January 16, 2013, 7:04 pm
  5. Are you going to feed your bees sugar water or are you sure they’re going to survive without it? My father-in-law was a ruthless beekeeper (he did it for the money) in Germany and he’d rob the hives in late summer of all their honey and then feed them sugar water over the winter and they survived without any problem (until varroa mites anyway).

    I had a lot of crushed comb honey this year because I bought a hive where no foundation had been used so the comb was every which way in the hive and there was no way to extract it. The crushing and hanging in a mesh bag worked pretty well but a lot of beautiful honey remained caught up in the wax and it broke my heart to think of wasting it. So we melted the wax in a solar beeeswax melter and ended up with lots more yummy honey and some wax to turn into candles. http://laurarittenhouse.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/solar-beeswax-melter/ Don’t waste a drop of it, your bees worked hard to make it and it’s just too yummy to rinse down the drain.

    Posted by Laura Rittenhouse | January 15, 2013, 10:57 pm
  6. While you are battling snow we are battling extreme heat here in Australia. I have been worried for my poor bees on the two record hot days we had last week. Expected to come home to a big puddle of melted wax and honey oozing out of the hives. But they seemed to survive (I assume, as I haven’t had a look for a few weeks). We had a bumper honey crop this summer, a first for me. We did a quick extraction of one box to give them more rooms (fears of swarming as that was also our new experience this summer). Three weeks later the bees had filled that box and it was 100% capped and sealed.

    I made the mistake of not leaving enough honey for the winter a couple of years ago and my weak hive did not survive the winter. If there is not enough honey it is definitely worth waiting until spring. Your bees will have a big healthy start to the season.

    Posted by spiceandmore | January 15, 2013, 11:19 pm
    • Thanks for the info. Although I live in the UK, I;m from the States and heard a lot of bad stories about the heat there this past summer.

      Your bees sound really productive! Mine, on the other hand, aren’t. Which is about as kindly as I can put it. I have great hopes for this summer as I have to brand new queens, newly minted from the multiple swarms I had last spring.

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | January 16, 2013, 5:01 pm
      • This is the first year that we have had such a productive hive (the other hive swarmed a few times so not yet productive). It took us by surprise that is for sure. Hopefully you will have a good summer this year.

        Posted by spiceandmore | January 22, 2013, 5:47 am
      • Fingers crossed. I must say that the close of season in this hemisphere is compensated by being able to beekeep vicariously through Australian beekeeper bloggers!

        Posted by mylatinnotebook | January 22, 2013, 5:27 pm

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