Me, myself and the Bees

Me, myself and the Bees

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Show me the Honey...

A time in the beekeeping calendar has arrived recently for GlastonBees.  It all started when taking 1 super filled with frames of Honey from Gwenyn Mêl 2 (the National hive).  

After taking up the kind offer from a friend, I had the use of his honey extractor for the weekend to speed up the process of collecting honey.  Gwenyn Mêl 2 (the national hive) have a brood chamber and a super to use for their colony development, so the other super filled with honey was considered excess by moi.  

This year I have gone from 1 lovely colony of honey bees to 3 lovely colonies of honey bees.  The 2 newer colonies arrived in June and August, and have yet to produce, what I deem the recommended amount of stores for them to survive through to the spring of 2014.  So without any hesitation, the Honey that was just taken from Gwenyn Mêl will be stored and used to supplement the others as and when required. 

This did baffle the minds of some people who were expecting to get honey from me as soon as some were available.  Well the way I see it is this...  These wonderful ladies have worked their little arses off at every available opportunity to make this Honey and it is the best possible food for them to feed on.  

Why another person would take most of this honey from the lovely honey bees and replace it with a sugar syrup or ambrosia, is something which I struggle with.  I understand that there is a potential financial gain to be made, but I believe that bees should only eat honey, and their own at that.  They should only be provided an alternative such as sugar syrup if it is the last resort, as a matter of survival. The benefits of the bees must be prioritised before the benefit of the beekeeper.

So far there has been only 2 jars of honey taken from the heavily laden container.  This wonderful Cwmbran honey tastes amazing, yes I may be biased but those who have tasted it have also agreed, that it tastes better than shop-bought honey.

For the time being the honey bees living in my hives will be closely watched to check on the amount of food stores that they have, with plenty of food in standby incase they need a help in hand.

Nos da bawb

Labels: , , ,

Please take a seat...

Hello again, how are you today?  Just thought that I would keep you updated with some of my adventures.  Recently I was asked if I would refurbish a couple of benches for a family. After thinking about it for a few moments, it was decided to see what I can do.

When I saw the benches, it became apparent that they were looking a little worse for wear and needed a little care.  The first job on my list was to retrieve the benches from the customers home without a certain someone who lived there knowing about it. These benches have sentimental value to the family, so their longevity was of the utmost important and I wanted to do an excellent job for them.

Upon my arrival at home I had a closer look at what work was needed, it was decided to replace all of the wood with new, brush back all of the wrought iron, straighten the metal supports, followed by a spot of paint and replace all of the bolts, nuts, washers and screws.

After a few hours of scrubbing the metal down with a giant metal toothbrush whilst making some callouses on my hands, I paid a little visit to an annoyingly expense shop to purchase some hammerite spray paint.  Two tins must be enough, surely...

In between the coats of paint drying, I started on replacing the wooden slats.  Inside my wood shelter were some pieces of Larch that were just crying out to be used.  So after a visit to the table saw, the Larch was cut into slats awaiting the next part of their transformation.

Now it was time to visit the planer and thicknesser.  This will give the wood a nice smooth finish to the wood, and show off its lovely peachy coloured grain.  After the wood has gone through the thicknesser it is time to visit the table saw again to have their final cuts to ensure they fit perfectly on the bench.

Holes were then drilled in the wooden slats for the new 6mm thick bolts, followed by countersinking the holes.  Time now for me to switch on the concentration.  Each piece of the wood needed to be exactly the same, the holes and countersinks needed to be in the correct place to ensure a lovely finish to the benches when completed.

Back to do a spot of painting again, and the sudden realisation that the two tins of spray paint will not be enough.  So another visit was needed to the annoyingly expensive shop to purchase another two tins of hammerite paint.  

Once the painting and wood work was done, all that was left for me to do was to reassemble them and return them to their rightful owners.

I am very pleased to report that they absolutely love their benches... What do you think of them?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

This is one way to get Honey Bees out of a tree...

This story begins at Gate 1K in Edinburgh airport awaiting to board a plane to Bristol.  We were on our way back home after visiting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which by the way I must say is amazing, what a great city Edinburgh is, I would recommend you visit...

So anyway back to the airport, I mean story...  Whilst stood amongst fellow passengers at Gate 1K, I turned my telephone on to check for messages.  A new message arrived, it was from my answer phone...

The message went along the lines of: Bees in a tree! Need removing! Would you help?

Of course, I just had to call them back to get more details on how I could help.  I arranged to visit them the following morning to fix this little quandary, and boy it was a spectacular quandary.

Workmen carrying out tree maintenance cut through a branch of an Ash tree, with unexpected consequences.  Honey bees began flying around in distress which was the reason for my presence here.  The Ash tree had enormous hollows throughout most of its trunk and branches, living inside approx 15 - 20 feet up inside a branch, were a large colony of Honey bees.  Due to the branch being removed the previous day, the bees retreated to the hollow trunk as a lot of their comb fell to the ground along with the branch.

After careful thought, these Honey bees could not continue to live inside the tree successfully, they would not of been able to survive the winter and spring due to the amount of comb that was lost at this time of the year (23rd August), their home is now compromised, so the threat of robbing, exposure to the elements or attack was extremely high and and therefore they needed to be re-homed urgently.  Some scratching of the head was required to figure out how to remove and re-home them as gently as possible.  I did not want to do this to them but it was their only chance.

The re-homing part of this for me is easy, get one of my bee-homes and insert bees, however on this occasion removing them was going to be a challenge.  Due to their location within the tree, it required cutting them out.  Thankfully the workmen who found them the day before were on hand to assist with this part.  

The Ash was felled expertly and lowered ever so gently to the ground.  Now that this was on ground level, it made life easier for me to get eyes on and access to them.  I tried to get a closer look inside but more surgery of the Ash was required.   It required drilling deep holes into the tree at certain points, which allowed me to ascertain where the colony was, which in turn allowed me to inform the workman where to cut.  

Time to give the bees a hand job...

When I said "it's time to give the bees a handjob", the two workmen found this extremely funny.  In fact this was the second time that I had them laughing a lot.  The first time came when I moved my bee collection kit box to a safe place just behind my car, shortly afterwards I needed to move my car and so jumped in and reversed over the box destroying it into many pieces, many laughs were had at my expense.

After some fine cuts with the chainsaw, I was now able to get my hands inside and retrieve some of the comb and transfer some of the ladies into a box for transporting.  Here I was able to see properly the extent of the ladies home, comb with brood, all stages of bee development and honey all stored in substantially tough comb, which tells me that they were living here for some time.

In total it must of took 3 and a half hours to get them from there.  

The plan was to leave them to settle down for the afternoon and return that evening to collect them.  However in the adjacent field were rather large cows, bulls and sheep, who were beginning to get curious as to our presence in the field.  Trusting these livestock was an issue, so it was decided to transport the bees sooner rather than later.  So after collecting all of the remaining comb and as many bees as possible, we headed off into the distance.

We drove the few miles through the rather bumpy lanes on our way to the main road, incredibly carefully and slowly.  This was to not disturb the bees any further as there were tens of thousands of bees in the boot of my car, inside a container while some other honey bees were taking the journey with me but sitting on the dashboard and looking out of the window listening to a bit of Mumford and Sons.  
Upon a sharp left corner, a Mercedes car and my car came head to head abruptly.  I was not speeding but it still required me to put my brakes on hard and fast, giving thanks to my slow speed and the ABS for not crashing.  Another car was behind me so the Mercedes had to wait on this corner for us to pass.  The driver put his window down and gave me a disgusting look of anger which quickly changed to looking completely puzzled as he noticed my choice of clothing at that time, which was a bee-keepers suit with the veil up.

Later that evening the lovely honey bees were re-homed and are now living in one of my bee-homes until a discussion is had to determine their final resting place.  At least they are now living in a safe place being well looked after.

I cannot imagine the stress that they went through the past few days.  I feel sad, almost remorse that I needed to destroy an item of such real outstanding beauty, another amazing example of Honey bees living naturally with no help from humans, providing some much needed proof to question the current scepticism of some critics.  From this destruction and death though, comes life.  Although their situation was dire, they have been given another opportunity. 

Even though previously I felt sad about their situation, I now feel joy, I feel pride and a great sense of achievement.  
I feel this because I build beehives, I build bee-homes  I build beautiful homes for beautiful bees, people get in touch with me to purchase a bee-home or to inform me of bees living in an unsuitable location.  It is a great feeling, knowing that I'm extending life by giving a lovely colony of honey bees another chance of survival, albeit through delivering homes, training or education.   

The episode confirmed once again my inner compulsion to work for them and I will continue to do everything in my power to aid our bees, regardless of where they come from, their colour or their previous history.  I genuinely struggle to find adequate words to portray the consuming awe I feel when spending time with them and I feel incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to spend some of my life making friends with our honey bees.  

On this occasion, even though it was me who decided whether they had a next chapter in life, it was me who was disturbing them, it was me who moved them by hand.  The fact is... that they still allowed me into their home, they did not attack me, they allowed me to work at the best of my ability, to be able to improve their situation.

For that humble bee, I salute you


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Resistance is futile Gwenyn Mel 2...

This morning I returned to the workshop to check on the previous days swarm from Gwenyn Mel 2.  I peeked inside the window and was greeted by the sight of a mass of bees... Excellent... I thought, they like their new home...

At this point I decided to phone my Warré beekeeping friend and guru that is David Heaf.  We were have a nice chat about the bees and other bee related lines of conversation when I noticed that the bees in the Warré hive had decided that the Warré was just not quite adequate enough for them.  Hundreds, then thousands of them were pouring out of the hive and getting ready to swarm again.  Thankfully I was speaking with David who gave me short and simple advice to fix this little quandary.

Time to don the suit and gloves again and get the box ready to collect the absconded bees.  Without hesitation they went into the same field as yesterday, probably ready to have a laugh at my expense watching me clamber over that fence again.  This time though they decided to go that little further and thankfully for me settled on some ferns about 3 foot off the ground around 200 metres away in the next field over again. 

I really did not want to lose this prime swarm from Gwenyn Mel 2, they were a large swarm who have worked wonders so far this year, and as it happens, came from the swarm that I collected last August 29th 2012 which thinking back now was quite a memorable day.

Well the bees are now in the box, time to return them immediately to their Warré with one slight modification.  Once again the bees has changed my plans for the day but I intended this to be as swift as it could possibly bee.

After another debacle, climbing over the fence, I headed straight for my workshop to collect a queen excluder.  The bees were placed nearby the hive while I got it ready for their arrival.  Time to remove the roof, quilt, top bar cloth and top bars and place all of it to one side, as I placed a queen excluder between the bottom box and next box up.  It is a somewhat surreal experience transferring bees from cylindrical container to a hive, literally pouring bees from one box into another and using a brush to gently persuade the others to go in also.

I returned the top bars, top bar cloth, quilt and roof as quickly as possible without causing more disruption to them.  The reason for the queen excluder this time it to prevent the queen passing through into the bottom box and absconding again, taking the rest of them for another adventure.  The queen excluder will stay in situ for a couple of days just to ensure that they decide to settle in this home, so they can make it their own.

After allowing them to settle down, the visible signs of the queen inside were becoming apparent, with bees heading into the Warré hive and bee bums raised in the air telling all others to head this way, excellent...

Time for reflection and calm now... 

So as I lay down beside them to watch them regain order from their adventure from the previous hour, I begin making films and taking more photos, not only for my memory, but also so that I can share my experiences with you, as I'm sure you want to have a small insight into our adventures.  

Hopefully my record of photos and films will inspire you or others to get involved with bees or maybe even help you one day if you so happen to bee in a similar situation yourself.  

Anyway, time now for me log off and have some nice happy dreams.


Labels: , , ,

The swarmy ones

On Tuesday 16th July I was sat on the bench just outside my workshop taking in the view and enjoying a well deserved break.  There was beautiful sunlight and an overpowering heat from the sun, freshly picked radishes to munch on, horses to watch, birds to listen to and then there is a noise...

This noise was gradually getting louder as the time flowed on by me.  I looked up and there was the reason for this noise, it was my bees.  There must of been a few dozen of them flying around in patterns around 3 foot above my head, within a few minutes there were hundreds of bees and the noise was dominating more and more... Oh well break time is over...

I stood up and stepped towards the hive to see what was happening, it appeared that the ladies of Gwenyn Mel 2 were thinking about swarming.  Quickly I went to the workshop to retrieve my bee suit, gloves, a box and most importantly my phone, as I needed to make a quick phone call to cancel some work that I was expected to go to that afternoon and so that I could record this experience.

The sky in front of me was transforming before my very eyes, the previously mentioned hundreds of bees had increased to thousands, then increased to tens of thousands, honey bees were flying in amazing swirling patterns in the sky, the noise of their tiny wings flapping was inspiring, obviously my first thoughts were to record this experience and share it with you.

I was fully kitted out with suit and gloves with a phone recording some of the Honey bee adventures. 

Ever so gradually they were hovering towards the hedge line nearby, so I clambered through the ditch to look into the next field to see the general direction that they were heading in.  Luckily for me they began to settle on a branch nearby, however to get to it was not going to be an easy task.  So after moving along the hedge line I noticed a potential way through into the adjacent field, but it did require climbing through a heavily overgrown ditch with stingy nettles, brambles and a temporary wooden barrier.

They were only 10 metres from their hive, but it must of took me 10 minutes just to get to them.  More filming of the swarm was required, my senses were in overdrive, being in awe of the noise that was being produced by the bees, awe of the sight of tens of thousands of bees flying around me, again in these amazing swirling patterns.  However I was there to collect the majority of the bees, place them into the box and return them to another home made by me.

Whilst waiting for the bees to settle down, I began to struggle with the heat from the sun, it was 1430hrs or 2.30pm on a cloudless, scorcher of a day, sweat was coming from parts of my body I didn't realise sweated.

After waiting for them to settle down and recording their activities on film, it was time to move them back towards their new home.  After another fence climbing expedition and walking an incredibly long way around I was back on familiar ground.  I decided to settle them down on the lawn under the shade from an apple tree.  The box was turned upside down with an entrance made for them to return, as they all settle back down, then a tarpaulin sheet was placed over the top of the box to exclude as much light as possible.  They finally calmed down around 1715hrs or 5.15pm, just enough time for me to change attire and drive to the reservoir to do a spot of cooling down in a kayak.

The plan was... To leave them inside the box to calm down, return after kayaking around 2100hrs 9pm to transfer them into a new home.  This time my accommodation choice for them had changed, previously they had lived inside one of my National Beehives, now however they were to be moved into my brand new and sparkling Warré Hive.  

After some assistance from a fantastically, patient friend, we managed to move them into their new Warré and left them alone in peace to adjust to their new surroundings.  

All that is left to do tonight is, return my friend home, and for me I must return in the morning to check on the lovely ladies.  TIme for bed I think.

Nos da, cysgu yn dda

Labels: , ,

Monday, 17 June 2013

The questions that children ask...

Recently I was invited to attend a class of children, 7 and 8 years of age to talk about keeping bees.

So just after the half term holidays had ended and schools had returned to activity, I popped in for a chat at the end of a Tuesday afternoon to Cross Ash Primary School.  I was greeted with a wonderfully warm welcome and "oh you're the Bee Man" followed quickly by lots of children who caught a glimpse of the bee hive that I was carrying, their response to this sight was jubilation. 

Whilst it was still break time for them, I was led straight to the class for me to set up.  I certainly do not remember my class room at that age, but I certainly hope it was as eye-catching as theirs.

Every available space was packed with information.  I spent a few minutes reading Welsh from the walls and admiring their hard work.  

When the teacher and children arrived, I was greeted in Welsh by the whole class, which meant I was to have an unexpected practical exam in Welsh, luckily for me my Welsh head was working in partnership with my consciousness that day which meant I replied and did not feel daft if my brain went blank.

And so it was my time... To speak to the children that is.  Huge disappointment appeared on their faces when their teacher told them they had to wait until the end of my talk for them to ask questions.  

They were all sat down eager with excitement, while I was stood contemplating on how best to present my knowledge in a manner in which they would understand.

So I began talking about the equipment that bee-keepers use, and showing them around a training hive which I brought to show them.  A training hive is an amazing aid to use.  Basically it is a brood chamber filled with frames which have photographs on them showing the reality of life inside a colony of Honey Bees, the children went absolutely mental for it.

I find it a real pleasure speaking with children, their thirst for knowledge is second to none, their thought processes amaze me and it actually helps me breakdown the world of bee-keeping as I need to articulate myself talking about a very broad and adult orientated subject on a level that inspires, excites and is educational to the future of our world.

After I finished my talk, it was open to the floor for questions, amazingly not a single hand stayed down, all shouting "me, me, me".  (I cannot remember any time that I attended an event with adults where there was such a similar level of enthusiasm).

Some of the questions were:
"How many bees are there in the world?" 
so I replied "well there are some 20,000 known species of bee the world" 
to which I was interrupted with "no I meant how many bees are there actually living in the world right now?"
While my brain was contemplating doing some insane and impossible mental arithmetic with average numbers in colonies, by species of bees, I overheard a reply from the floor stating that "there must be zillions of them".
Good answer.

"Where is the worst place that you have been stung?"
My initial thoughts were, 'in Newport' or 'up a tree,' but I decided on going with "on my right hand".

Some of the other questions included:
'How long do Queens live?'
'Why do you steal their honey?'
'Have you named your Bees?'
'How high do Bees fly?'
'Will they sting me?'
along with many others.

Between the unexpected welsh exam and the absolute concentration from them, to their fantastic questions, I had an amazing time...

I cannot wait for the next time I get an opportunity to speak to a class about something which I love doing.  I strongly urge you to share your knowledge with children if you also have the opportunity, it is unbelievably rewarding.

Labels: ,

Thursday, 6 June 2013

And so the swarming season begins for GlastonBees.

Today (Wednesday the 5th of June 2013) I was telephoned and informed of a swarm of Honey Bees at a residential garden in the urban jungle that is Cwmbran.  Whilst talking on the telephone I was given a telephone number of who to call and an address.  Yeyyy... Honey Bees...

So after calling the number I arranged to be there within the hour to re-home a colony of Honey Bees.  Firstly I needed to visit my workshop, collect my bee keeping suit and other paraphernalia   Lots of excitement was beginning, thinking of collecting some Bees, however there was also anxiety... because last time I collected Honey Bees it was not a performance I would like to repeat.

A little while later I arrived at the house, pressed the door bell and waited for a response.  A gentleman answered the door and we proceeded to go straight into the back garden to get a look at where exactly these ladies have settled, thankfully for me (and them) they were about head height in an easy to reach bush.

Now to my plan of attack, no that is a bad choice of words... My approach goes a little something like this, in order of priority: 

Put bee suit on;
Take some photos;
Use loppers to prune the bush;
Take some photos;
Position empty box underneath colony;
Use loppers to cut branch and lower colony into box;
Stand back, and wait to confirm that the Queen is inside the box;
Take some photos and video;
Pack up my belongings;
Try and get a cuppa tea;
Confirm that the Queen is inside and collect as many workers as possible;
Load the car;
Transport the Bees to their new home.

Amazingly and wonderfully my approach worked perfectly without a hitch (as if it would happen any other way), it did help that I noticed the neighbour set up a video camera and I didn't fancy them taking £250 from You've been Framed.  Now that the ladies are in the car, it is time for us to take a trip to their new home.  It was a lovely 17 or something like that mile journey in the car listening to a bit of Muse on the way (I think the ladies like Muse, especially "New born" and "plug in baby") with the air-con on the lowest setting.  

Well the ladies couldn't of picked a finer day to be re-homed, glorious sunshine, warmth and the fact that I had some spare time.  So the bee suit went back on, I set the hive up and began to move the ladies into their new but temporary home.  After some 40 minutes or so they had settled down enough to walk near them without the suit on, with pride oozing from me from such a professional, without incident swarm collection.

The next chapter for these lovely ladies begins this weekend or early next week as they get moved into their brand new, sparkly home (it wont actually be sparkly).  I have been asked to build a Warré Hive for a customer, so looking forward to completing this type of hive and move the ladies into their final home for them.  

Lets wish for a fantastic summer of weather so these and all pollinators have the best possible chance of reproducing, pollinating and surviving until next year.

Labels: ,