My family and other animals

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Spring sprang into an unsettled summer of muggy days, flash rainstorms and sunny spells at the start of the month. As the weeks had flown past in May, it felt like one step forward and two steps back for our bees. A few sunny days brought the excitement of seeing them draw fresh comb, then the weather turned and hopes of swapping new frames for old were washed out.

I couldn’t blame the bees. The HiveAlive treatment I had given them for suspected nosema had certainly perked up the colonies. They were flying like fury, bringing home bucket-loads of pollen, and were no longer sluggish as they busied themselves inside the hives. The problem was that they had come out of winter too weak and couldn’t quite manage to get the same foothold on the season as some of the stronger colonies at the apiary. It was just bad luck.

“But it’s an odd sort of year,” said my dad as he listened to me talk about the bees. “I don’t see much flying about.” He didn’t know then that it was all about to change.

While Emily has been on maternity leave, my family has taken turns as hive partners. My German cousin Mario was the first to put on a bee suit and be introduced to the bees. He was surprised after thinking that he had only come to visit us for lunch, but he took to beekeeping very well.

mario1

mario2

It was a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon and as rain was forecast for Saturday, it seemed best to get the inspections done before the weekend. Peppermint’s colony was trying hard to expand as chains of wax builders clung together. I swapped out a couple of dummy boards for new frames and fed the hive syrup to make sure they kept going between then and the next inspection.

Melissa’s colony had stalled and with the weather forecast suggesting temperatures would fall the following week, I decided to move them to a nuc to keep them warm. “Will they know where to go?” asked Mario. I explained that the nuc would be moved to the position of the old hive, and then did just that. The crowd of bees that had gathered outside quickly moved inside. Mario was amazed.

My dad, who has cleverly avoided seeing a single bee on every visit to the apiary, saw much more than he bargained for when he took over hive partner duties for the next inspection. “I’ll do the smoker,” he said and he meant it. Never has a smoker been lit so professionally or kept burning so well throughout two hive inspections.

Dadbees

Melissa’s colony, our best bees which Emily and I have kept for almost five years through the same line of queens, were struggling and I knew why. The workers were old and tired. I may have kept them alive with feed and insulation, but now the weather was improving the colony needed a new supply of younger workers.

That’s when John Chapple came to our rescue. He kindly said that Emily and I could have a frame of brood from one of Alan Kime’s hives being kept at the apiary. With dad puffing away, I took a frame covered in capped brood with bees just emerging and, after checking the frame didn’t hold the queen or any queen cells, transferred it to the nuc.

It seemed to do the trick. When dad and I returned for his second beekeeping lesson, the bees had emerged on the new frame and were busy filling it again even as strings of wax builders were drawing out the next frame. It was hopeful but further rain was forecast that could slow down their progress again. Melissa’s colony were still feeding on fondant because of an unwillingness to take down any syrup so far this year. Fondant would keep the colony alive while trapped inside the nuc on rainy days, but it wouldn’t help them continue to build new comb and rear new brood.

Luckily dad had brought his toolbox and drilled a second feeder hole in the crownboard, which meant I could leave the bees both syrup in a mini rapid feeder and their beloved fondant in case they refused the syrup. This seemed to be exactly what the bees had wanted. I returned a few days later to find the feeder drained of syrup for the first time this year, while the hole in the fondant had doubled. The traffic outside the nuc entrance showed that this colony was busier than it had been for some time. I refilled the feeder and left them to carry on.

nucbees

bee returns home

When my mum took a turn at beekeeping duties, she was thrilled to spot the queen when I opened up the nuc. Although she seemed much more interested in beekeeper selfies…

mumbees

Last week I rushed to the apiary in a race against the summer storms. The first rumble of thunder didn’t come until a few hours after the inspections, but Peppermint’s colony was already grumpy. I spotted the queen, eggs and could see that the bees were now occupying six frames and starting to draw out the seventh. I also found a queen cell on the third frame. It was empty and I didn’t find anymore, however, I sighed because the urge to swarm before the colony was strong enough to be split could set back their progress. One step forward, two steps back. I closed up and hoped that it was supersedure the bees had in mind.

Melissa’s nuc bees had a similar story. The workers were less irritable but there was no sign of the queen and I found a single queen cell on the second frame. It wasn’t the best-looking queen cell, perhaps even an emergency cell, and in fact looked similar to the slightly squashed queen cells that Emily and I had found about two years ago when Melissa’s mother, Myrtle, had mysteriously disappeared. It was a disappointment after working so hard to help our best bees recover after winter. It seemed their fate lay in one small stunted queen cell. I closed up and left a note in the roof to make sure the colony wouldn’t be disturbed by beginners on a Saturday while the new queen emerged and mated. Fingers crossed she’ll beat the odds and successfully take over the hive just as Melissa did two years ago. 

So that’s where I left the bees, waiting for the summer storms to pass.

thundersmoke

stormbees

Meanwhile in the garden I had discovered that keeping tadpoles can be as much work as keeping bees. The problem was that I had been woefully unprepared for the frogspawn that was fished out of the pond into tubs to actually survive and survive so well. The tadpoles are thriving. I feed them once a day with a mixture of lettuce, raw meat and fish pellets. And I change their water every other day because the tubs don’t have a filter.

The tadpoles stay with us may be brief, but I’ve tried to make it as pleasant as possible. As the larger tadpoles start to grow legs they need structures on which to rest closer to the water’s surface. This is where a few pieces of bric o’ brac came in handy, and were much cheaper than rock and pond accessories from aquatic suppliers.

toadstall tank

Alice tank

A tadpole tea party! Frog mum, or dad, watched from the water iris in the fish pond as I gave the tadpoles their new toys. I hope she or he approves!

frog mum

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24 thoughts on “My family and other animals

  1. I love your tadpole tea party, it I s brilliant! So frustrating for you that the bees are being so slow to build up this year, are the other hives in your apiary in a similar state? I really hope things start improving soon.

    • Oh it is frustrating! Emily and I had a terrible year with the bees in 2012 when it rained and rained and we only kept them alive by feeding each Saturday, so they went into winter fully stocked up. Since then we’ve worked so hard that it’s horrible to be so unlucky with the bees coming out of winter in such a bad state. I heard a mixed bag from other beekeepers at the apiary, some lost hives and others didn’t, but because Emily and I only keep hives at the apiary it’s a double blow.

      I don’t really like to comment on how other people’s hives are doing, because they’re not my bees, but as far as I can tell the other colonies are fine, which makes me feel better. It would be a horrible thing if everyone’s hive at the apiary were doing badly.

      I think Peppermint’s hive has a chance of improving even if they slow themselves down with a swarm.

      Melissa’s colony may have only one chance – if the queen doesn’t emerge from that one cell, or if she does but fails to mate due to bad weather for example, then that colony is lost. I can give them a frame with eggs from Peppermint’s colony but essentially our best bees will be no more.

      I do hope for less drama soon! πŸ˜‰

  2. Your family is delightful, both the two- and six-legged members. I wonder if Peppermint’s girls might just be doing a “practice” queen cell or just be a little confused. In any case, I hope they all do well. It’s pretty much guaranteed bees aren’t going to do *exactly* what we expect them to do.

    When I was a kid we had a big bass pond and would sometimes get out the frog eggs and bring them to school to watch them develop. It’s fascinating! May all your little swimmers turn into happy, healthy hoppers!

    • Thank you, I’m quite fond of the two-legged ones as well as the six-legged and tailed ones. Peppermint’s girls probably are confused, and I suspect it’s a practice cell but it’s also the swarmy season so I’ll have to keep an eye on them. Unfortunately rain is forecast for most of the week in London, so I might not be able to open the hive. Of course, the rain might halt plans to swarm or then again, as a bee inspector once told me, the rain might increase their urge to swarm as the workers get frustrated being cooped up indoors. Will have to wait and see once it’s dry. I’m going to the apiary this afternoon to feed them. At least they can get on with drawing out new comb while it’s raining this week, because temperatures are staying warm. I’m determined they’ll at least finish the season in a full brood box and ready for winter!

      I never raised tadpoles when I was a kid so catching up now πŸ˜‰ I hope they all turn out as happy as your frogs πŸ™‚

  3. It is great that your family have taken so well to beekeeping. It was a great piece of ingenuity from your father to spoil the bees with a choice of fondant or syrup. Good news on the frog front too! The weather here is bizarre and we are having very changeable and wet weather – not at all like the usual June weather. Amelia

    • Yes, my family have really enjoyed being beekeepers this year πŸ™‚ I’m sorry to hear you’ve had wet weather too, John and I were watching the news about the floods in France. I hope it has not affected your bees and garden too badly.

      I had hoped the so-called record-breaking hot summer forecast would be true and our bees would then be booming. But there is still time for it all to come right. πŸ™‚

      • We have been very lucky here with no extreme rain. It is much cloudier than usual but the bees nip out between the showers. They are not filling up the supers yet though.

      • That’s good to hear and your supers may get filled in July and August. This week’s rain has been the wettest for a while. I’m hopeful the new queen can go on her mating flight even on a cloudy day.

    • He’s not that interested in bees yet, although they seemed very interested in him πŸ˜‰ I miss doing inspections with you, but it has been nice to share beekeeping with my family this year πŸ™‚

      The weather forecast is changeable, of course, but this week looks like a wash out. I rushed to the apiary this morning when the rain had stopped, hoping to do an inspection, but it was pouring by the time I got there. Oh well, I’ll keep an eye on my weather app and hope a window appears again. Also hope Melissa’s daughter has a chance to emerge and mate during all this rain!

  4. Hi, Emma,
    I do find reading your blog quite heart warming, and there are always little tips that I pick up from your experience. Thank you for that.
    It is great having the whole family sharing your joys and frustrations with the bees. I definitely believe that beekeeping duties should be shared. Specially if you have not forgotten scones and tea afterwards! – Kourosh

    • Thank you for your kind words Kourosh, I find reading your and Amelia’s posts equally heartwarming and your connection to the garden. Yes beekeeping experiences should be shared because bees are wonderful, and because that’s how I learned from others who shared their experiences. πŸ™‚

  5. Well, clearly Melissa is missing Emily. That is why they seem sad and forlorn, especially if they’ve figured out that Emily is paying so much attention to a lowly drone. πŸ˜„

    We had cold rainy weather for a while in the US, I had a hive swarm in April and was lucky to have their new queen mated. It took a full four weeks though before she started laying. Our weather has mostly turned and they appear to be recovering now.

    I’ll bee thinking healthy thoughts for both your brood and your tadpoles.

    • Yes that must be it! The bees are feeling jealous this year because Emily has a new drone and I’m planning my wedding. 😏 I’ve noticed that we seem to get the weather after you, so I wasn’t surprised by the rain coming back and if your weather has turned then probably ours will too 🌞

      Thank you for your healthy thoughts for my brood and tadpoles and I wish your new queen a bountiful season ahead!

      • A wedding? Congratulations!! Poor Melissa will really feel lonely after that. Good thing you are training your family up to take over πŸ™‚ Hopefully our warm weather will arrive soon for you.

  6. Seems the whole family are loving your Bees Emma. This Spring and Summer months have I am sure taken their toll on the Bees, I tried to rescue one or two bees in late spring who I found exhausted and others than just didn’t make it..
    How long is the average life of a Bee once it starts collecting after winter?
    Your photos are great and love the fact that you had frog spawn too.. We have had about 4 or five frogs and expected frog spawn as we saw frogs mating. but either we didn’t spot it or the fish ate it..
    Love your tea Party in the pond Emma.. πŸ™‚

  7. That takes baby (or ba-bee) sitting to a whole new level! What a supportive family you have Emma. Summer’s been a stop-start season for most of our wildlife so far I think, even the wildflowers are opening randomly, some early, some late. Not so good for insects that rely on them for sustenance. That’s the poshest tadpole hotel I’ve ever seen, brilliant idea!

    • Yes my family have bee-n great! πŸ˜‰ What a strange summer it has been. The June gap was dreadful this year, for our hives at least, I went to the apiary every day for two weeks last month and found the syrup feeders drained dry each morning. The flowers in our garden have been blooming out of time and not good for pollinating insects as you say.

      The tadpoles are all grown up into froglets now and moved to the frog pond we made in the garden, but their high survival rate suggests they had a good stay at the luxury tadpole hotels πŸ™‚

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