This is my first winter as a beekeeper and I've been attending all my monthly branch meetings during the year, reading up on bees and what the beekeeper can expect in December in the many beekeeper diaries you read both in books and online. Quite a few said it's a time to relax, put your feet up and enjoy the season's festivities before getting back into the swing of routine inspections and hopefully extracting honey later in the year - if we've looked after our bees well. Having said that, it's obvious that the bees themselves have thrown the books out and have other plans of their own.
Three weeks ago, I wasn't looking forward to the job in hand - that of treating the girls with oxalic acid - to try and bring under control the high level of varroa mites that Lizzie and her family are carrying... literally! The worry of vapourising the colony, as a new beekeeper, is quite daunting when you've never done something like this before. The way I looked at it was I had to be cruel (to the mites) to be kind (to the bees). So how are they doing?
Peering outside this morning, I looked across at the girls and all was quiet on this cold and drizzly sort of day. Interesting to see that where Lizzie and her family are clustering towards the front of the hive, there's a dry shape on the outside of the hive. The weather this month seems to bring with it a range of different temperatures. One day there's a hard frost, the next bright and sunny and the girls are out flying. With the frosty weather last week, it was ideal to venture into unknown territory for me as a new beekeeper...
It's been a while since I last wrote about my beekeeping journey and the books tell us that as the autumn months slip away, our bees should be preparing themselves to see them through the winter. This is a time when the queen stops laying, the drones (boys) will have been kicked out and the colony reducing in size. With the hive all closed down, there's no inspections to do, other than to check the reduced entrance, heft the hive to gauge amount of honey stores inside and generally check around the hive to make sure all is well.
With beekeeping inspections coming to end at this time of year as the girls start to prepare themselves for winter, myself and two other beekeepers have got together to begin a correspondence course which will hopefully lead us to become more knowledgeable about honey bees and may even lead us into areas of beekeeping that we would like to venture in the future. This distance learning course is a long road ahead of us right now but we're aiming high to get our Intermediate Theory Certificates and then on to the Senior Theory Certificates.
It's late September, the sun is shining and taking a walk around Budleigh Salterton, I don't have to go far before I see flowering ivy that has attracted a wealth on insects, including honey bees. This creeping plant, which produces flowers in the autumn, is the last source of natural food before the girls will start to hunker down for the winter months. Before setting off, I looked across at the hive and saw a lot of activity around the entrance which means they were on a mission to bring back stores for the colony.
What with the beautiful hot and sunny weather we've been having of late, the girls have continued to head out and find new sources of nectar in and around their home. Mornings are a great time to watch them as the sun is low and it's easier to see them fly off into the distance. Equally, it's just as much fun standing outside beside their beehive late at night listening to the hum of bees inside as they work away in their world of darkness.
With the honey harvested at the beginning of this month - 47lbs all jarred and labelled - the job in hand immediately after was to manage the level of varroa mites in the colony. Over the past few months leading up this moment, I've questioned whether I'm doing the right thing using MAQ strips, which is a seven day treatment, compared to other products on the market. For me, getting it over and done with in a week is better than applying treatment throughout the year. If I forgot one, would I be back to square one in managing the level of varroa in the colony?
Not in my wildest dreams of becoming a beekeeper in May this year did I expect to be extracting so much honey from queen bee Lizzie and her girls. Having read books written by new beekeepers in their first year and other beekeepers at the local apiary branch that they have had very little harvest in their first year, here I am with nearly 30lbs of honey all decanted into jars and labelled - and there are still two supers on the hive filling with more honey.