When I first started beekeeping I was sure that there was a system, a methodology, some list of stuff I would have to do at predetermined times during the year. My adherence to this mystical list would result in a happy, productive and the calmest hives since Roger Patterson last popped a crown board.
What a numpty I was to think such a thing!
“bees don’t read books” – it’s a saying you hear often when recounting your latest beeking woes to friends, typically followed by knowing chuckles.
Although beekeeping does have a number of important activities which must be carried out during the season: disease monitoring, pest management and swarm control; it is more a tactical process than a strategic one.
Choosing the most appropriate tactics to overcome the many challenges keeping bees throws at you during the year is at the heart of the art of beekeeping.
Based on my experiences this season I’m going to be retiring some methods I’ve been using for the last few years:
- Artificial swarms – this is swarm control method I was taught when starting. I’ve had awful luck with it this year and compared to simply moving the old Queen into a nuc when I find swarm cells, artificial swarms are lot of box juggling for little benefit.
- MAQS strips – these are a great tool for Varroa control. However; I’ve found whilst strong hives can handle the treatment weaker ones can suffer. Next year I’m going to try some of the thymol treatments again so I can compare.
When I was a child my Mum would often say to me “you eyes are bigger than your tummy” as I piled roast potatoes onto my Sunday dinner plate. This weakness bit me on the arse this year when I took on two extra apiaries to help some people out. I like playing with bees so jumped at the chance to rummage in other peoples toy boxes.
Sadly my spare time wasn’t as accommodating as my enthusiasm. Keeping bees with no spare time turns into a frustrating series of dashes between sites over the weekend. I’ve managed to pass on one of the sites which should mean next year I return to a more relaxed hobby.
Next year I’m going to start learning how to raise queens using the grafting method. Spare queens raised from my own stock is very appealing to me and it’s something I’m keen to invest time into mastering.
As the season starts to wind down I’ve treated all my hives, fed them up and in the next few weeks I’ll be slapping the mouse guards on. My local association runs some great winter talks and if you’ve never attended any of these talks, I know a lot of people don’t bother, you should really make the effort.
Listening how other people manage their bees keeps me inspired during the winter and often influences my plans for the following season.
I’ve had a somewhat unfortunate start to the season. I’ve lost one hive and two artificial swarms have failed to produce a new queen. It has got me thinking about how I manage swarms and queens going forward.
I’ve reached the conclusion I’m probably done with artificial swarms. This was the swarm control technique originally taught to me when I started beekeeping and I’ve stuck to it ever since. It is still popular with many of my beekeeping chums but maybe just because I like a simple life I’ve found the box jungling becoming increasingly tedious. The nucleus method in which the old Queen is rehomed with bees and some stores requires fewer pieces to me moved around. I’m a huge fan of the Payne’s poly nucs, they are cheap and with the recent additions of feeders, broad as well as super boxes very flexible.
it has become painfully apparent to me that hanging your hopes of requeening on swarm control provides enormous scope to be disappointed. This year two of my hives have failed to raise a new queen. this has left me with the choice of buying a queen, putting more young broad into the next and hoping for the best or simply uniting them with a stronger hive.
With this in mind I’ve decided next year I’m going to start raising my own queens. I’ve seen several demonstrations as well as attended talks about the mysterious art of breeding bees; frankly it’s all been akin to black magic to me. However; the advantages raising your own queens provide is undeniable. The ability to replace failing or lost queens with daughters from queens proven to perform well on your own apiaries gives options which are invaluable.
To this end I’m going to be researching queen rearing over the winter break and acquiring the appropriate equipment. As one of my association members who is a keen queen raiser pointed out to me beekeepers have practically unlimited access to the raw materials to raise new queens. So there is plenty of opportunity to get it right.
I’m both exciting and nervous to start this next stage of my hobby.
Beautiful picture credit – https://www.flickr.com/photos/napafloma-pictures/
The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of beekeeping highs and lows. I’ve lost queens, bitten off more than I can chew, swarms have run away before I collected them; but I do have a shiny new new bee-shed.
My love for my new bee shed is the clearest sign yet that I’ve entered that period of a man’s life when a warm shed, radio 4 and a hip flask is the path to contentment.
For years I stuffed my beekeeping kit into various nocks and cranies of my house as well as my garden. For example, four flat packed hive roofs have been living in the corner of my dining room for several months. Hive bodies, stands, boxes of wax and all the other paraphernalia of beekeeping could be seen everywhere.
Something really had to change.
My only real problem was where I could put a shed/small workshop in my garden. I live on a hill and my garden is sloped upwards towards a wood. It is split into three levels, the first two being flat and the last on quite a steep incline. It is this last level of wasted garden which was the obvious place to put a shed.
The idea of digging the slope flat really put me off as it would have been an awful lot of work. As luck would have it a neighbour was having a summer house built by a garden rooms company, Bakers Timber Buildings, who have developed an ingenious system of timber bases on metal stilts.
From this picture you can see that by placing the frame on metal posts there was no need to dig out the garden.
The shed was made to order so it fitted the gap and as you can see it stands on a nice bit of decking which is very handy for storing boxes on. My only real complaint being that as it is so high I sometimes feel like I’m manning a North Korean lookout post.
Inside it has a workbench and I’ve installed some shelving to keep tools and various beeking kit. As it is new obviously I’m keeping it tidy – not sure how long that will last.
Since completion I’ve been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve built all the frames I’ll need for this season and the next; cleaned every piece of kit I own, made some thymol mix mixture and painted …. well everything I could.
Whatever happens this season my beekeeping shed is most definitely the highlight.