Last week it was cold and wet and no bees were to be seen. Today was surprisingly warm, and taking a look at the floods of bees zooming into hives around the apiary I decided to put my bee suit on.
There were loads of my lot hob-nobbing on their front porch, smeared with a bright yellow pollen – possibly from the snowdrops or purple crocuses which have sprung up around the apiary? To my horror, I found when I popped my head in the hive that they had completely finished off their fondant. Luckily Pat, one of the many nice Ealing beekeepers, has some at home which he sold me; he’s going to pop it in my hive when he goes down to the apiary on Tuesday.
Went on to the monthly meeting the Ealing Association has in a local scout hut, every second weekend in the month. This week John Chapple (the Queen’s beekeeper!) brought in a hive from his garden, which had sadly died (a living, or not-so-living example, as he put it!). He wanted us to try and guess what had killed them off. A lot of dead bees had fallen through to the floor, where something had eaten off their heads. Some earwigs spilled out of the hive still wiggling away, but the gardeners amongst us pointed out that earwigs are vegetarian, so spiders got the blame for the beheadings. John eventually gave us his opinion that the cluster had got split into two, causing them to die of cold. There were plenty of stores but not enough bees to form enough of a cluster. John pointed out that with most of his hives he punches a hole through the centre of each frame to allow bees easy access through, which he hadn’t done with this one.
Next we were given a reminder about how to do the ‘shook swarm’ procedure which we need to carry out at the apiary sometime in March. The National Bee Unit have on their website a free step-by-step pdf factsheet on how to do this. Very basically it involves shaking your bees into a new hive with new frames of foundation and burning all your old frames, in order to help prevent disease. Since everyone at the apiary started shook swarming about four years ago there hasn’t been a case of European Foul Brood, whereas before it used to reoccur almost annually. I’m a bit nervous about doing it, both because the bees aren’t necessarily grateful for being shaken into a new home and because my queen is unmarked, so I hope I can find her. If you shake a queen in you risk damaging or losing her, so you’re supposed to find her first and keep her safely in a queen cage in your pocket.
Finally John gave us a fascinating talk about his travels to see bees in Oman. There are not enough bees to pollinate the palm trees there at the moment, so the palm trees are being pollinated by hand by cheap labour. The government is therefore keen to encourage beekeepers, and providing someone has passed an exam will supply them with free queen cells. Bees are also valued for their honey, which fetches a great price over there. This is partly because Omani bees are smaller and produce much less honey than western Apis Mellifera honey bees – about a frame and a half of honey per hive a year. The bees are usually kept in a single box with no supers as they do not need extra space for stores. John said the Omani government are extremely well-informed about bees, as they recognise that their oil will eventually run out and they may need to fall back on their previous top exports, dates and limes.
Bees in Oman face several difficulties ours do not here, from the danger of the heat rising to levels at which their wax melts to persistent predators such as giant hornets and ants. Omani hives have hornet traps and their legs stand in pools in oil to prevent ants climbing up. The traditional way of keeping bees is in hollowed out palm trees, but nowadays most beekeepers use Langstroth style hives. John has taken lots of photos and the plan is to have a little slide show, so I will look forward to seeing those.
This isn’t related to anything above, but I found this great photo on the internet of a man far braver than me: