Once a week during the winter months I like to take a walk to the apiary to check all is well. Having prepared my three colonies for winter, even though beekeepers are no longer opening up their hives, we still need to check that the entrances are clear and no damage to any of the hives. We've had our fair share of rain and strong winds lately, so it a pleasure to stroll out this morning with the sun shining to check on the bees.
Last year I decided that to have a better understanding of my honey bees, it would be useful to sit the British Beekeepers' Association exams and undertook a correspondence course with two of my beekeeper friends in preparation of taking Module 1: Honey Bee Management later in the year. Cathy and Imogen have been keeping bees longer than me, so I had a steeper learning curve having only two beekeeping seasons under my belt. So how did it go?
It's been a long day and it's now time to put my feet up this evening knowing that I've changed some minds! Yes, I managed to change the minds of four people who were adamant they didn't like honey. Having a taster pot to try of honey that's made right on your doorstep was a massive mind changer for them. Not only did they taste, but they also bought honey for themselves and as Christmas presents for their friends.
Today it was off to my very first Christmas craft fair in Newton Poppleford with my little pots of honey beautifully presented in their little organza bags. It's taken quite a while to put these all together but when they were finally on the table, they looked absolutely amazing - even if I say so myself!
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.
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?
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!
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.