Liquid gold... captured in a jar

Liquid gold - honey jars

There's nothing quite like pouring liquid gold into a jar... honey produced from your own colony of bees. The girls have exceeded themselves again this year beating last year's honey crop of 72lb, which is pretty good going given I only took up beekeeping at the beginning of 2016. This honey is all from my original colony which, by the time the main nectar flow in July begins, is very large colony and has a strong foraging force that literally work themselves to death bringing back their bounty.

Overwintering bees... when to put your feet up

Hives in the apiary

It's that time of year, when the clocks have fallen back and the nights are beginning to draw in and it begins to feel like winter is almost upon us. The days have a definite nip in the air and so the bees themselves will be starting to hunker down themselves as they start to cluster for warmth inside their hives.

At this time of year, as a beekeeper, we can start putting our feet up - well at the apiary itself - as there's plenty of work to be done in getting the equipment ready for next season.

So what's to be done to get the bees through winter?

Busy bee preparations

Beekeeping equipment being cleaned

With what looks like the summer coming to an end, excess honey extracted from the girls and a pile of bee equipment cluttering up the house, it was time to take it all outside and start cleaning it ready to store away until needed next spring.

Back to the fuchsia

Honey bees working fuchsia flowers

The weather this bank holiday weekend has been exceptionally hot, giving the bees a welcome break from the bad weather we've had for most of the month, to get out and forage. With it being so changeable, the bees have depleted their stores that they've been working hard to build up to see them through the winter. But they're out in force now bringing in the nectar!

Bees and bandages

Fractured scaiphoid in left hand

The months of June, July and August are a busy time for beekeepers. There are the weekly inspections of all your colonies to look out for signs of swarming and to take measures to prevent, such as doing an artificial swarm, so that your bees don't become a nuisance to any neighbours. We also need to keep on top of the varroa mite levels in colonies, which is a constant battle, as our honey bees Apis mellifera have no natural defence mechanisms and could very easily succumb wiping out whole colonies.

Predicting the spread of the Asian hornet

Dynamics of V. velutina nests in England and Wales showing its spatial spread and rapid increase in numbers

The yellow-legged or Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is native to South-East Asia, and is a voracious predator of pollinating insects including honey bees. Since its accidental introduction into South-Western France in 2004, V. velutina has spread to much of western Europe. The presence of V. velutina in Great Britain was first confirmed in September 2016. The likely dynamics following an initial incursion are uncertain, especially the risk of continued spread, and the likely success of control measures.

The joy of swarming

Cast swarm

I've taken this title from a presentation our Regional Bee Inspector, David Packham, gave at the Avon Beekeepers' Spring Day in April because what a joy it was to go and help collect a swarm of bees. Over the past few weeks, I've been hearing about lots of beekeepers collecting their swarms and been in envy. Being my first time, I got into a panic when I received a call from Allan, a beekeeper friend, saying he'd got a call about a swarm and would I like to join him. I soon settled down and gathered everything I needed - bee suit, wellies, gloves, smoker.

First honey crop this year

First honey crop 2017

It hardly seems that this time last year, I was getting my first colony of bees and here I am - one year on - extracting this year's first crop of honey that the girls have been busy making. Since breaking out of their winter cluster, Lizzie has been a prolific egg-layer and her family has increased into a good strong colony which means they have a good foraging force to bring back nectar and pollen.

The Romans... and honey bees

Honey bee gathering pollen from Alexanders plant

It's mid-April and have you noticed how green and colourful the landscape has become now that the days are beginning to warm? Here in our patch of East Devon, there is an abundance of a plant that grows along the coastal paths and hedgerows. Over the years, I've never really given it much thought, other than to know when it's growing by the smell - not a pleasant aroma to my nose! The plant I have since found out is called Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), a native plant in Britain that was introduced by the Romans.

Lizzie needs a double room

Double brood

Let me set the scene... I'm going about my business at home and every now again, I look through the window to look see how the girls are doing at the bottom of the garden. All seems to look fine with bees flying backwards and forwards, so I carry on with whatever I was doing. It's mid-afternoon and thinking of going out and again I'm passing the back door and naturally look across to see what the girls are up to. This time, my eyes are met with something very different - hundreds of bees hanging around the entrance of the hive. We're told not to panic...!

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