Browsing Posts in Bees

Three day course on husbandry for bees!

This week, myself and Diane have attended a three day course in the art of husbandry for bees at the beautiful Wood Lane Countryside Centre in Sheffield.A suit to go and meet the bees in.

It was put on by our good friends Ground Work South Yorkshire as part of the Sheffield Bee Buddies Project which we were involved with last year.  As I’ve previously said, funding has now come through to continue the project, but at the end of this year, we’re on our own!

All the hives and equipment will be ours rather than the project’s, so to start to help us on our way, this three day course was organised for future ‘Hive Managers’, which means that Diane and I will be the first ‘port of call’ should there be any emergency -like a swarm, for instance.

Our tutor was a brilliant chap called ‘Bill’ who’s a senior member of the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association.

Sheffield Beekeepers Association is a member of the Yorkshire association, so when I join the Sheffield branch, I’ll automatically be a member of this.

Unfortunately, the weather recently has not been kind to bees -they really don’t like the cold and rain, but on the Monday and Tuesday we were able to spend some time out at the three hives actually sited at the centre.

Up to the right here you can see Diane all kitted out before I checked her zips.  Putting on a bee suit reminds a little of scuba diving!  Every one has to check their partner’s zips to make sure they’re all secure against any bees that might want to wander inside.Checking the brood frames.

As soon as we got outside, our head beekeeper, Charles wasted no time in taking off the hive-top, then the feeder and crown board then the ‘super’ which in a few weeks time -if the weather picks up!- will be full of honey.

You can see it on the left of this photo behind Charles who’s holding the queen excluder upside down having just taken it off.

Because she is a little larger than the workers, this excluder stops her going up into the super and laying eggs.  The supers are just for honey!

Starting at a frame on the outside of the brood box, he lifted it out, carefully shook off the bees -over the rest of the brood box, then inspected the frame.

And this is where it starts to get very complicated!

When you’re checking bees and their hives, you have to watch out for many, many things.Bees in their brood box.

Firstly is the condition of the bees themselves.  Do they have much varroa on their bodies?  This evil little mite is now endemic amongst all British bees, so you wouldn’t have to call up the regional bee inspector.

More serious diseases are American foulbrood and European foulbrood.  These are notifiable, so if you see these, or even think you see either of these, you’re straight on the phone: “HELP!”

Luckily, these two evil diseases haven’t spread this far North yet, so you’re probably more concerned with the look of the frames.

You should be on the look-out for drone cells (…they’re longer, and stick up out of the frame…) and also possible queen cells.  These are shaped like peanuts in their shells, sticking right up out of the frame.

Holding a frame of bees.

Anyway, this was meant to be a fairly short post, but I kind of got carried away.  Bees tend to do that to you.

Suffice to say that please don’t take anything I say as being ‘Gospel’ when it comes to bees.  As you can see, I’m just a ‘Newbie’, and probably will be (bee!) for years to come, but the Good News is that bees are the second most written about subject in the English language.  There are absolutely loads of great websites, millions of books written and you really could not meet a friendlier and more helpful bunch than your local bee keepers.

…But I’m scared of bees!

Well, so was I!

Up until going on Jez’s previous course for keeping bees last year, I would run a mile if I thought there was any chance whatsoever of seeing one.

Now, well, I’ve completely changed my tune.

Bees are great!

Women everywhere!Girlies everywhere.

(…And before all you lads get excited, I’m talking bees here, boys.  Sorry…)

Yesterday afternoon saw the arrival of Charles, our new head beekeeper and three hives, and up to the right here was how they looked this afternoon.  Marvellous!

As I was saying the other day, we’ve been way too long without them, and its good to see them back.  Even though today, with it being so cold and generally miserable there weren’t many braving the weather, it was great to be able to sit on the ‘Chatting With Bees Bench’ that Ian (no relation) and I built all that time ago and see some out and about.

Tomorrow the weather is set to be sunnier, so when I’m over there, I’ll get some shots of them coming and going.

Today was a day off digging!

The area for one of the new potato beds.Here’s a shot of one of the two areas that we (…well, Gary, Shaun, Derek and Patrick, mainly…) dug over before we started.

Under that pile of soil was a carpet, so we had to weed the soil, move it up to the Orchard Plot in wheelbarrows, then remove the carpet from underneath.

When that was done to our satisfaction, the lads (…minus me -I was down on my own plot…) then dug it all over and extended the bed to include the one that you can see with the bread crates on.

In doing so, we’ve ‘gained’ a path to plant in, and tomorrow I’ll have a load of bedding plants for down the side of the hedge I’ve nearly finished on my own plot.  In return, LEAF will be gaining a couple of jasmine plants that Ian potted on a couple of weeks ago from down on my plot.

These two beds -there’s another by the fence at the other end of the plot- will be potato beds, and in the coming days, we’ll be whacking loads and loads of seed potatoes in.  You can never have too many potatoes, especially at the rate we get through them when we have a fire!

Our friend, the robin.Mitzi, our Plot Cat was elsewhere this morning, so our friend the robin came to help us.

Well, he didn’t help as such, but he certainly got more than enough grubs to feed his no-doubt growing family.

In this shot to the right here, I hardly needed the zoom on my camera on at all -he’s getting so tame he comes right up to us.  And when he wasn’t with us, we could hear him calling from the nearby trees: “Hurry up and get me some lunch!” he seemed to be saying!

It was far too cold to be sat around drinking tea and chatting over lunch, so after a quick bite to eat, I went down to my own plot to…

…Carry on cutting the hedge!

While I was there, I just had to take some photos in the greenhouse.

My, how stuff is shooting up!Beans, jumping for the sky!

At the back here are some of Matt’s ‘Assorted Runner Beans’, and in the foreground are some of the broad beans that Ian planted a short while ago.

In the brown tray you can just see the edge of to the left here are some white cabbages that we’ll pop out in a few weeks time.

Of course, we’ve got some organic slug pellets and of course, we’ll have some proper netting up to stop those greedy pigeons.

On the other work bench in my greenhouse, Ian had started off some leeks, and here they are to the right.Leeks and ...something?

The long, thin things are obviously the leeks, but there appears to be something else in there with them.

There’s too many of the same thing for them to be merely weeds, and when I showed this to Ian he admitted that he may have planted something else in there as well and then completely forgotten what he planted.  I guess it’ll be exciting trying to work out what they may be!

Anyway, I’d better get off.  Hopefully more tomorrow…

And on our Plots… 05/04/12

…Spring has most definitely sprung!The orchard nearly in full blossom.

Here is a quick shot of our orchard this morning in the sunshine, and as you can see, most of the fruit trees are in blossom.

Last year, I remember we had a bad storm almost as soon as our trees came into bloom like this, and we lost quite a lot of it in the wind and rain.  Well, checking with the weather reports this morning showed that (…crossing fingers here…) there should be no high winds or stormy weather for a good few days.  Let’s hope that this year we can keep the blossom on the trees long enough for them to be pollinated.

And talking of pollination and bees, Charles our new head bee-keeper popped in unannounced today to give us an update on our bees.Re-vamped bee area.

They were due to arrive tomorrow, but with the weather being so awful yesterday, The Man from DEFRA who needs to inspect them before they’re moved couldn’t get to see them.  This has been slightly put back to the middle of next week, so by Thursday, they should be safely on-site and settling in.

And we can’t wait!

I know it sounds silly to say, but without the hives, there’s definitely something ‘missing’ from LEAF.

Anyway, Diane and the lads have pulled out all the stops before the arrival of the new hives, and up to the left here you can see the re-worked bee area.  The screens to the top right have been mostly repaired or replaced, but the main thing is the new stumps running in a much longer line.  This clearly marks the limit as to how near we can get to the hives without needing bee suits on.

Charles will be making a couple more trips early next week to sort out the arrangement for just what the hives will stand on.  Current thinking is traditional bee-stands sat on breeze blocks.  Of course, I’ll get some photos when they’re in position.

In other news, it appears that Ian has once and for all sorted out what the ‘peappleum’ on my plot is.  Down on Area 34, we’d lost just a couple of blooms, so today Ian brought one of them up to compare close-up with the LEAF fruit trees.

After much ‘umm-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’, it was decided that the tree we have on Area 34 is…

…A PEAR tree!The LEAF pot-pear.

Ian only discovered this by accident!  After several of us going round the various trees, comparing branches, leaves and blossom, Ian noticed a sad pear tree sat in a little pot quite close to the new bee area.  This terrible shot to the right shows it, and the leaves and blossom are an exact match.  Sorted.

On leaving the orchard to go towards the kitchen area, you pass one of the stands of LEAF rhubarb.

And it’s looking pretty good right now!One of the stands of LEAF rhubarb.

I remember last year we have a massive hail storm with hailstones so big they punched many holes right through the leaves.  It looked like we’d had an attack of huge slugs!

Luckily, none of that this year, and already I can’t help thinking of Matt and his incredible rhubarb & ‘x’ pies.

This is where: ‘x’=’anything’!

I’m thinking of ‘emergency’ runs up to the local ‘Tescos’ for double cream…

And of course, I’m thinking of Plot Tea!

Even though it’s Good Friday tomorrow, I guess there’ll be quite a bit happening down on the allotments.  If not up at LEAF, then certainly down on Area 34.

More then.

Fun in the sun. 22/03/12

After this morning’s early low, clinging mist, the sun soon came out, and as we had our Head Beekeeper, Charles arriving, it made working outside all the more enjoyable.The demonstration hive.

Today he brought with him a ‘demonstration hive’ of a single comb with glass on either side.  You can see it here to the right with Fran eagerly snapping away with Diane’s camera, Diane next to her and Gary to her left with his camera phone.

I waited while everyone had had a good look and had taken shots on their various cameras before I got up close with my own.Close-up of the demonstration hive.

Its a shame this shot on the left here didn’t come out any better, but the sun angle was wrong, and I couldn’t help but get the reflection of the box in the glass side.

Still, if you click on this image to get the enlarged version, you’ll see the bees hard at work.

There’s something about bees, how they live and work that I find totally fascinating.  I really could quite happily sit all day just watching them.

After we’d ooh-ed and aah-ed for a good while (…of course drinking tea at the same time!..), it was time to crack on and get some frames built for the hives being delivered in a couple of weeks.

Moving down to by the greenhouse and the large working area this affords, Charles wasted no time in showing us how to build a frame.Building a frame.

The parts for these come ‘flat-packed’ (…A bit like IKEA, but with no screws missing!..), so all you have to do it knock them together and then insert the ‘former’ that the wax comb is built up on by the bees.  Sometimes, the wax formers are a little misshapen or over-sized -ours today were just a gnats too long, but a sharp Stanley knife and a straight edged rule soon sorted that out.

Once the comb former is in, its a simple matter to tack it together using quite long tacks so they go right through the wood.Tacking it together.

To the left here you can see Charles putting the bottom three tacks in which line up nicely with the metal ‘hoops’ embedded within the comb itself.

We seemed to take forever building these, but Charles says that with a little practise on a cold winter’s day (…indoors, obviously!..), he can knock together about 30 an hour.  Practice makes perfect!And we have a go!

To the right here you can see Fran on the left next to Pam who’s standing next to Carol.  From the right inwards we have PXI Nick, Shaun, Gary then Jon on the far right.

Someone laughingly remembered ‘The Generation Game’ with pairs of contestants having just a couple of minutes to complete some task.  Well, this took us a few more than a couple of minutes!

I left the group early to go do some digging down on my plot, but not before I’d made a couple of frames up, and here you can see my first in the new super that in just a few weeks time will literally be buzzing!Grafitti.

As you can probably work out, each of these will hold ten frames.

In total we made up fifty frames for our five hives.

Not bad going for complete beginners, eh?

Buzzin’! 22/03/12

Today our new Head Beekeeper, Charles, is due down to The Plots for about 10.30am.

He’ll be here to meet and greet us, but also to join us in making the frames for the five new bee hives we’ll be having delivered in just a couple of weeks time.

All exciting stuff!

I’ll Blog later with photos to tell you how it all went.

Beans, Bees & Berries. 04/08/11

Last Saturday was definitely a days of ‘B’s!Runner beans in flower.

Here you can see just a fraction of the runner beans we now have coming into flower -and fruit in a lot of cases.  These beauties are by the entrance to the Therapy Plot, and were planted a week or so after the others further back into the plot.

By the next weekend after this -if not before- we’ll be stocking up our freezers and desperately looking for bean recipes on ‘Google’!

Purple French climbing beans in fruit.Here you can see just one of the poles of other beans -this time some purple climbing French beans that are particularly delicious lightly steamed (…to try to preserve the excellent colour…), or even quickly stir-fried in a hot wok.

Of course, this being LEAF and all, we don’t mind at all when we send a volunteer out with a bowl only to have them come back quite some time later with it empty and with a guilty look on their faces!  Its quite funny, really, but there a quite a few volunteers who when they first started with us regarded the word ‘vegetable’ in much the same way as you’d regard the words ‘shop-lifter’ or ‘mugger’, they were so ‘against’ them.  Just a few months later having first planted, then tended and now finally picking (..and eating!..) them, they’ve completely changed their minds.

And on to our bees!Wot, no bees?!

Here you can see our hives as of last Saturday, and as you can see, most of them have gone!

Jez, our ‘Chief’ bee-keeper had been the other day to move some ‘supers’ (…those are the multi-story’ boxes on the bottom brood boxes…) over to these two ‘nucs’ (…Pronounced ‘Nukes’…), and he’s taken the rest of the nucs away with him.

“Where have they gone??!!” You excitedly shout (…well, we did…).

They’ve gone on holiday!

I kid you not!

Because its the heather-flowering season, Jez and quite a few of the other Sheffield bee-keepers have taken some of their hives onto the moors surrounding Sheffield to let the bees collect the pollen from the heather.  ‘Heather Honey’ as its known is highly sought after and much more expensive than ‘normal’ honey.

So, while the rest of the colonies are away, the ones left are busy pollinating all our many flowers.  Wonder if they’ll get postcards? “Heather is nice.  Wish you were here!”


And so finally onto the ‘Berries’.  Blackberries, to be more specific.Blackberries, anyone?

Millions and millions and millions of them.

Hopefully this Saturday we can persuade some of the Plot Kids that it would be a really, really good game if they each took a massive punnet out to them and we can have a competition to see just who gets the most.

Then, I’ll have to get some muslin to strain the pips out, then this year, I shall make Blackberry Jam!  I threaten to last year, but this year, what with having a new kitchen and cooker and plenty of jars for it, I really must give this a go.

But I must use a muslin strainer.  I remember eating blackberry jam last year with scones and whipped/clotted cream, but had to spend hours later with a tooth-pick getting all the ‘pips’ out of my teeth.  It really took the pleasure out of this excellent fruit.

Well, not this year!

…Anyway, my coach has truly turned into a pumpkin, so I’d better leave it for there, Dear Reader.


Queens: Out! 21/04/11

Today Jez returned, this time to check on the ‘nucs’ he brought along the other day and to check the big hive for the remaining Queens and remove all but the ‘main’ Queen.Checking the hives.

Here you can see him, fully suited up checking over one of the small ‘nucs’ for newly laid, uncapped brood.

He found many in all the hives, and this shows that the bees are ‘settling in’ well to their new environment.

After checking them over, he moved onto the larger hive for the Queen operation.Taking out a Queen pupa.

Here you can see him handing Diane one of the Queen pupae into an egg crate.

Notice Diane’s hand. (…and by inference, the rest of her…)  Completely unprotected!

Jez kept warning us about possible bee-stings and how the insurance wouldn’t cover it, but for some reason, we were all cool about the whole affair, and once again, no-one got stung!

Strangely strange, but oddly normal.

Thoroughly checking all the hives took well over an hour, and afterwards, Jez was drenched in sweat from the claustrophobic suit and tight rubber gloves., but when he was finally done, he pronounced all the hives fully fit with no sign of the dreaded varroa mite, and the possible problem with the Queens now fully under control.

More bees. And seating. 19/04/11

Jez made a flying visit today with four more replacement ‘nucs’ that had been lost over that long, cold winter,New nucs. and here you can see them in the centre and left of the photo.  Eagle-eyed readers may well notice that the big hive on the right has shrunk.  This is because Jez has now taken the top feeding box off the top.  With so much pollen about, they have no need for the fondant mix that kept them going over the cold period.  He says he’ll return, probably on Thursday morning to have another look at the Queen situation in that big hive, and if necessary, he’ll split the hive into two separate colonies.

Last post, I outlined the work planned for today, and I’m pleased to say the majority of it got done!  The ‘old’ seating area up by the metal shed has now been replaced by some shiny new, longer planking.New seating.

If that table wasn’t in the way you’d be able to see that its a few inches longer.  Ian and I have replaced the top tree stump on the right hand side, putting a couple of pretty hefty nails between that and the bottom stump so it won’t move.  We’ve also seated the new planking further in on both stumps, so the nails holding them in place certainly won’t fall out as the previous ones tended to.

All they need now is a few coats of that excellent green paint, and at the same time we’ll sand down the remaining planks then paint them in the same paint so they’ll all match.  While the previous varnish may have looked good when it was done, it really doesn’t last, and if the weather’s a bit iffy, it takes days to dry.  We’ve found that the green paint, with it being completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly is dead good fun to slap on, and if you give something enough coats, we think it looks pretty good.  …So green paint it is!

Elsewhere on The Plots, our two beds of rhubarb are really coming on leaps and bounds.Rhubarb! If you click twice on this picture, you’ll see the flowers just starting to form.  I cut these off from this patch, but the other patch up behind the metal shed we’re leaving to flower and hopefully seed.  After all, with Matt ‘on the pies’, you can really never have too much rhubarb!

Tomorrow morning, I have another load of business to sort out -not least of which will be seeing Mr Ward Senior for lunch and getting a progress report on our new steel window opener brackets.

After that -early afternoon I guess, I’ll be back up at The Plots, and myself and Ian have major plans (…fully sanctioned by ‘Senior Management’!..) for the seating area up by the metal shed.  We plan to expand it greatly to allow more ‘bums on seats’ because on a Saturday early evening, its getting difficult to find somewhere to sit to eat!  We’ll also be moving the park bench down to the bottom ‘Demonstration Plot’ to make way for a new row of benches.  I’ll get some pictures to explain better later in the week.

So, I said at the start of this post that most of our planned work had been done today.  What I missed out was the planting that I said we’d do.  Well, I’m afraid I wimped out of this.  Today I was wearing a new pair of shorts, and because I completely forgot in my haste to put any sun-block on, the tops of my legs are very sunburned and very sore.  Thankyou very much.

More tomorrow, this time with pictures that actually show something…


After all the excitement of Saturday and my ‘late night blogging’, I completely missed my alarm call in the morning on Sunday, and it was only a call from Diane that managed to rouse me.

Still only half-awake, I staggered over to The Plots, and things weren’t quite over.  Jez had taken down the swarm and covered it in an old blanket then popped it into an old pillowcase.

Inspecting the remaining hive.Here you can see Diane -on the left with the shiny new beekeeper’s suit on- inspecting the hive with Jez for possible ‘Queen Cells’.  These are cells that as I said last post are fed royal jelly, and in total, Jez found more than 15 possible cells!

Pointing out a Queen Cell.If you single-click twice on the photo to the right, you will just make out the peanut-shaped Queen cell that Diane is pointing to with her little finger down towards the bottom left of the comb.

Of course, not all of these cells will become Queens, and some of the less-developed ones will either be discarded or deliberately opened and left to die.

The other ‘capped’ cells are future brood, waiting to hatch in a few days when they will emerge and become worker bees.Kyle with the old Queen.

Now, about this time I’d better point out Saturday’s error in my reporting.  When the swarm happen its the OLD Queen that leaves the hive, not the new one as I’d reported.  I am only a ‘bee-ginner’. Sorry!

On the left here, I was looking over Kyle’s shoulder as he held the plastic case with the Old Queen in and three of her ‘subjects’.

Jez with the swarm.So, with the aid of some long ladders and much skill, Jez managed to get the swarm safely down, into a pillowcase and into his Landrover, and here he is gently carrying them to his car.

It was important that they be moved as quickly as possible to cause the bees the least amount of stress, so he got them into his car and drove off pretty quickly.

Hopefully tomorrow he’ll be back to re-inspect the hive and see how the new Queen cells are getting on.  If needs be (…sorry!..), he’ll take one or more of them to help prevent further swarming.

When Jez had gone, Diane revealed that as a ‘Special Treat’ for us for getting out of bed so early on a Sunday morning, she’d brought all the makings for a fried breakfast.  Did we want to stay to share it?  For our answer, simply look back to the last post with reference to Matt’s gooseberry pie!

Breakfast was over all too soon, but Diane had another surprise!

Jon and the chocolate cake.Here you can see Jon, mulling over the difficult question (…hence the thoughtful look…) of whether to divide the sticky toffee cake into four or eight.

Luckily, he chose eight, so we all got a piece!

So, today was pretty quiet by comparison.

I’d had a little business to sort out in the early morning, but arrived at The Plots in time for an important meeting, the details of which I can’t yet reveal, but of course, as soon as I can, then I’m sure we will get it up here on our website.

Then, well, it was another day of ‘pottering’.  Just doing stuff that needed doing, and of course drinking plenty of tea.  Well, it was so sunny, we had to keep hydrated!

Tomorrow, even though we’re not meant to, we’ll be down there again.  This time I do have work to do.  This will be in the shape of re-making the top seating by the metal shed, hopefully with Ian, then after some hoeing, we’ll be planting some mixed salad greens that Jon has kindly donated .  They’ll be going into one of the new long planters by the new ‘Zen Area’ so in a few weeks time people will literally be able to turn round in their seats and pick their own salad.

You really can’t get much fresher than that!

Hopefully more tomorrow evening.


Buzzing. 16/04/11

No, we really mean it!

Today started off in the normal, ‘gentle’ Saturday morning manner, with tea and chats (…with cats?..), but soon after Gary arrived he made some excited comment along the lines of:-

“Er… Are they meant to be doing that?!”  While pointing over the shed onto the Orchard Plot in the direction of the beehives. continue reading…

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