Yesterday I did a session for a few Ealing beginners at the apiary. Clare, the Ealing association Chairman, had asked me to demonstrate lighting smokers and inspecting. But it wasn’t inspecting weather, so we could only really do the smoker bit. I am by no means an expert at lighting a smoker – I can get it going but it always seems to go out quickly – but I tried my best to pass on a few tips. I mentioned getting as big a smoker as possible and some fuels to use – cheap things like newspaper, sawdust and egg boxes. Last year Emma and I tried out lavender, which makes a lovely smell.
We then popped our heads in the top of a few hives. The first one we looked in had a couple of huge queen wasps sitting on the hive insulation, so we got rid of those. They then tried to get back in, so we found some gaffer tape in the apiary shed and sealed over the holes. They probably wouldn’t have done much harm unless they’d managed to get under the insulation, but no point encouraging wasps in the apiary.
After the session had ended I got talking to Ian, an Ealing beekeeper who has been very kind to me and Emma. He told me about a very simple method of starting a Bailey comb exchange, which is just to place a queen excluder on top of the current brood box and then an additional box full of new brood foundation on top, with some syrup to help them draw out fresh comb. In a week or two we can move the queen up into the top brood box and remove the bottom brood box frames once the brood inside has hatched out. This is a very easy technique for getting the bees to produce new comb, so that the old dirty brood combs can be discarded.
The rain seemed to have stopped and the sun came out, so Llyr, Emma and I went down to start the Bailey exchange on our hives (Llyr has just bought the hive next to our two). At first everything was going well and Llyr had managed to put the queen excluder and new brood box onto his hive without any bother.
Then Emma and I started doing our bees. We soon noticed that they’d managed to make some brace comb. Suddenly Emma cleverly spotted our queen on the underside of the crown board, darting amongst the brace comb. Luckily she had a queen cage clip with her, so we got the queen to walk in the clip and popped her in Llyr’s pocket to keep warm. At this point the skies darkened overhead and a hail shower came along! So we had an open hive, hail pelting down, a queen in a pocket and brace comb still to remove. Emma wisely decided to put the crownboard over the bees to keep them warm until the hail passed.
Eventually the shower cleared, so we could return the queen to the hive, pop the queen excluder on top and put the hive back together. Miraculously the bees stayed calm and didn’t get violently angry during all of this. English beekeeping has to be done in-between the rain drops!
The reason for the queen being up in the brace comb soon became clear; she had been busy laying eggs in it. Can you see what look like small grains of rice in the photos below?
In fact, occasionally she’d got so carried away that she’d laid two eggs in a cell! I’m hoping this was not a laying worker, as the eggs were right at the bottom of the cells and had been laid in a regular pattern.
Today (Sunday) I went to the annual Perivale Wood open day. Perivale Wood is a very special ancient oak woodland; at this time of year it is absolutely carpeted with bluebells. It’s usually closed to the public, but if you join as a member for £4 a year you can get access. There is a very still, calm, atmosphere beneath the trees, even though cars and sirens can be heard in the distance. Here’s a few photos..
By the way, there have been some political beekeeping events happening this week in London. I was stuck at work on Friday, but some beekeepers took to the streets in what is being called ‘The March of the Beekeepers’. The idea was to pressurise the Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, who will be taking part in an EU vote on Monday on whether to ban neonicotinoid insecticides. For those who are interested, Philip Strange has done a great blog post explaining these events: The March of the Beekeepers.