A beekeeper’s notes for July

“It was clever of you to buy a house with a honey extraction room,” said Emily. The garage had been fixed up and painted white by Len, my dad, a few weeks ago. I’m not sure this was exactly what he had in mind – there was some talk between him and John about a dartboard – but the newly decorated tool shed worked perfectly well as a honey extraction room.

The supers were placed on the floor and the frames decapped on a work bench. In the corner of the room a new manual steel extractor, kindly gifted by the lovely people at DK Publishing (more on that in another post), spun out the honey beautifully.

Tom had generously helped Emily and I to take the supers off of the hives, and drove us from the apiary to my house. He had patiently waited as we single-handedly picked off each and every bee still straggling the frames.

The rhombus board had done a good job of clearing the supers, but there were around 50 bees in each super. “I love how you two do beekeeping,” Tom joked, because our method of taking away the supers was so painfully slow! I worried that my house was further than the three or four miles estimated for a forager bee to fly from the hive. It was sad to think of ‘lost bees’ trying to find their way home from my garden. A feather lent by Tom helped speed up the process.

After lunch at home we made short work of extracting three supers of honey in the factory set up in the garage, with John also taking a turn at spinning. First Emily’s super from Andromeda’s hive at the allotment was spun out to reveal dark, deeply floral-scented honey. Then we cleaned out the extractor to spin the next batch from Melissa’s hive – a beautiful rich gold, fruity honey with hints of blackberry and lime. Finally we spun out Pepper’s honey which was again darker and smelt of forests.

Three different types of honey from three differently tempered hives. It was a good job the garage doors were closed because a determined wasp headbutted the back window desperate to get inside. We had to see her off a couple of times.

That done, I poured us some old fashioned still lemonade and we had a walk around the garden. I was happy to show Emily the bees at the bottom of the garden and, of course, the fish. The masons and leafcutters are no longer flying about, but I did find a small sweat bee to show Emily on one of the creepers. The air may feel like autumn is coming, but the nectar flow is attracting bees of every size and shape to feed off the Passion flowers, jasmine and primroses.

Later that evening we drove Emily home and got treated to a curry by Drew for all our hard work.

The honey has sat in my kitchen for a week to allow air bubbles to settle to the surface. It is less clean than last year’s crop and will need filtering before jarring.

The cut comb was easy to put into trays – a happy accident thanks to a super frame not returned to Pepper’s hive one week.

Yesterday a month’s rain fell in one day and I got home to find the fish pond almost overflowing. The fish were inquisitively peering over the edges. I thought it best not to satisfy their curiosity and removed a bucket of water to lower the water level. It continued to rain all night.

This morning felt fresher but still unsettled. John drove me to the apiary to return the wet supers for Melissa’s and Pepper’s bees to clean up. The wasps were out and a few robber bees, so we had a quick look inside, put the supers on, and closed up.

Emily had seen Melissa (our best queen for hiding) last weekend, and all seemed fine with the other two colonies. At this time of year, when the wasps and robbers come, I find it’s better to keep the hives closed and less stressed by skirmishes. Emily put entrance reducers on to help the guard bees better defend the colonies, and I started the Apiguard treatment on Melissa’s hive.

Jonesy was inspecting his neighbouring hives. “Can you smell banana?” He asked.

“Isn’t that the smell of the alarm pheromone?” said Emily.

“Do you smell banana a lot?” I asked.

“All the time,” said Jonesy.

That done and we all finished up for tea and cake. Alan had started a bonfire to burn up some rubbish. Jochen arrived to tell us about a swarm he collected with Bill at Harrow Beekeepers.

The weather had made the bees irritable this weekend and even the gathering of beekeepers was modest. I left the apiary as Alan’s bonfire started to roar higher and the skies darkened with clouds.

When summers turn out to be this good for the bees, I wish that I could keep hives full time. The BBC recently had a great feature on learning to be a bee farmer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33663048

With plenty still to come in bee land, I left the apiary to return in August.

Sorry if the formatting of my post is off. I’ve been without a computer for over a month, getting online is a little challenging but another set of beekeeper’s notes are done.

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16 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for July

  1. Great post and a great story. I was very interested to see that you have already collected your honey.
    The sunflower fields across the road are still full of flowers and every morning the bees are all over Amelia;s gauras. I will wait at least until the second week of August before lifting the two supers from one hive and one super from the other.
    I hope you get you computer back in working order quickly! – Kourosh

  2. The extraction sounds like a smooth operation now that you have a machine. I have heard that it is a good idea to put the super frames back on their respective hives for the bees to clean but I wonder why they do not start to fill them up again. That would be a nuisance. Do you only leave them for a couple of days? Amelia

    • Having the space in our garage helped to make it a smooth operation with Tom’s help in getting the supers to my house and John taking turns in wasp patrol and turning the extractor. Honey extraction is the simplest part of beekeeping yet the most hard work! πŸ™‚

    • Sorry – I’m going too fast catching up this weekend and I’ve just seen your question. So… I don’t mind if the bees fill up the supers again. They lick out the remaining honey (not a drop wasted) and mend the comb ready to reuse. Some beekeepers find this a nuisance if they only want the comb to be refilled the following season, and it is felt that their colonies already have enough honey for overwintering. They can then take off the supers after a few days to store the frames with ready-drawn comb for next year; and to keep the combs safe from wax moth if that’s a problem for their hives (we’ve not yet had problems with wax moth, fingers crossed).

      I like to make sure each hive has one super for winter – so I prefer not to take a super off a hive until they have filled up two supers: one for us and one for the bees seems fair. If the bees then fill up another super, the one we have returned, I don’t find this a nuisance as I know the bees will use this honey for themselves.

      However, the honey left on the hives for overwintering is tainted by late summer thymol treatments – we could take the supers off the hives for two weeks while doing this, but again I don’t mind if the winter honey is tainted because it will be used by the bees. (In fact, thymol-tainted honey can still be eaten by humans, it just tastes and smells funny. I know some beekeepers who don’t mind this, but then we’re a strange bunch at Ealing!)

      What you do with the supers also depends on your local area. If the weather is good for August and September (which seems likely this year) then the bees will have enough nectar flow, at least in our area, to refill a super. My garden is filled with bees every day feeding on nectar (not just pollen collecting) from passion flowers, the smoke tree, evening primroses, the jasmine bush, and many other plants I can’t yet recognise.

      In our area too winter is always unpredictable and the time between winter ending and spring starting proper often stretches longer than estimated and takes people by ‘surprise’ ;). Last winter was so mild and the bees so active that the supers left on the hive were light by December. We then went through almost two packets of fondant on all colonies before spring because of a late cold snap. Another super on each hive might have helped make sure the colonies had enough of their own honey to last till spring, which is always preferable to feeding.

      It’s good to know all the options to managing supers though, and you’ll get a feel of what is right for your hives as you become familiar with how the bees behave to changeable weather patterns and available forage in your local area. And, of course, it depends on your own aims for beekeeping and honey collecting.

      Honeybee suite has some good tips on storing supers over winter if they are not left on the hive, I particularly like that pesticides are not used on the combs: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-and-where-should-i-store-empty-supers/

      • Thank you so much for explaining all that to me. I had never heard of leaving supers on during the winter, so that clarified a lot for me. Such a lot to learn and in the end everything is flexible because of the weather. Amelia

  3. Pingback: The path to honey | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

  4. I am so pleased you got lots of honey and it makes it even better to have a place to extract the honey.. πŸ™‚ Your fish pond is looking well and the water is crystal clear.. Yes when it rains it rains, and the downpours have been torrential when they happen here too.
    Good to see lots of Bees about.. We have lots of bumble bees who have loved all of my snap dragon flowers.. I have sat fascinated in the garden watching them prise their way into the flower, some times the flowers are not ready to give up their treasures but the Bees persist and strain with their back legs to push the flower open.. Then emerge and rub their heads with their legs transferring pollen .. I so enjoy watching them.
    And I am learning so much more about bees from your posts Emma .. Thank you ❀

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