Sunday, 23 October 2011

Why do bees make honey?

The bees we call 'honey bees' (Apis Melifera) form a permanent colony.  Although each bee may not live for long, the colony of bees should continue indefinately, if disease, weather or predation don't get to it!

In the areas of the world where bees are native, there are generally distinct seasons, so plants do not flower all year round.  This means that the bees have to have some means of storing food to keep them going during the part of the year when they cannot collect nectar.  Larger animals get through the winter by storing food as fat inside their body and then using this energy over the winter.  Since one bee may not survive the winter it makes more sense to the colony to store its food supply externally.  This is honey. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

How do bees make Honey?

I was asked this question at Hanbury Hall last week. Here is a description of the work that the bees do to turn nectar into honey.

These bees are filling wax cells with honey, ready  for sealing like the cells at the top of the photo

Friday, 30 September 2011

Inspecting and feeding the bees

Most weekends we inspect the bees at Hanbury Hall to make sure they are OK.  The honey has been extracted now and so we are feeding the bees sugar syrup to replace the honey we took from them.  Here is a short video showing how we go about opening the hive and looking at the bees.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ouch .. Lucy got stung

We were looking at the bees today and one of the gardeners at Hanbury Hall came over.  So I gave a frame of bees to Lucy to go and show to her.  As I passed the bees on their comb over I thought 'they seem a bit lively!'.  Ten seconds later, Lucy got stung!  Fortunately the gardener, who was not in a bee-suit was left alone, but Lucy, in a bee suit, got stung through her leather glove!  Lucy, who has been beekeeping since she was tiny, brought the bees back and put them in the hive, then smoked the area she had been stung (it hides the smell given off when a bee stings. The smell attracts other bees to come over and sting the same area).  Only after that did she walk away to remove her glove and inspect the damage.

When I went to find out how she was, I found that the bee had left its sting in her glove and she was busy showing visitors the sting!

Bee sting stuck in a leather glove

As you can see from the photo, when the bee tries to pull away, they leave their sting in your skin (or in this case the glove) and also leave behind their sting gland, which continues to pulse and force venom into you.  If you get stung by a bee, then quickly flick off the sting gland with a fingernail.  Don't try to pinch it off, or you will squeeze more venom into you.

The story had a happy ending for Lucy.  Because the sting had to go through her glove, by the time it got to her finger, it only scratched her, so the pain and swelling were minimal.  Anyway, as a beekeeper, you expect the occasional sting .. it reminds you to treat your bees considerately!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Getting that sticky stuff in the jar!

Lots of beekeeping books recommend that you extract your honey into buckets and store your honey in the sealed buckets until just before you sell it.  Before you can put the honey into jars, you have to warm up the honey in the bucket, which needs some kind of warming cabinet (or I guess an airing cupboard if you chuck all the clothes out of it first).  Then you tip the warm honey into a 'ripening tank' (tank with a valve at the bottom), possibly filtering it when you tip it in.  Then you leave the honey for several days so that any bits float to the top.  Then you can skim off the 'skum' from the top (actually mostly tiny bits of beeswax).  Finally you can put the honey in jars.  Then you clean everything ready for the next time you want to bottle some honey!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Thanks for cleaning the supers

On Sunday we went to Hanbury Hall to take back the supers from the bees after they had cleaned them up.  The bees have taken all the honey out of the extracted 'wet' supers and stored it for thier own use.  They also tidied up the broken edges of the honeycomb.  Have a look at the picture in an earlier posting of the smashed-up honeycomb after I had messed it up with a combination of scraping open the cells with the uncapping fork and then spinning out the honey.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Using bees to clean up the supers

Spinning the honeycomb in the extractor gets out most of the honey but there is still a film of honey over the inside of each cell.  To clean this up we need a cleaner which is small enough to get right inside each cell and recover the honey.  What does the beekeeper have available that can get inside honeycomb cells ... oh yes ... bees!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Extracting honey - or how to coat the entire house with a thin layer of honey!

So, we got the supers with honey in them back home without too many bees.  Luckily I can get directly into the room where I do the extracting from the back door, only walking over lino flooring.  Even so I try to save large pieces of cardboard (the box the chicken run came in was great ... covered the entire floor) to walk on.  You cannot avoid getting drips of honey on the floor and it then gets spread everywhere you walk.  I have tried putting down newspaper, but as soon as there is any honey on the paper, the paper sticks to your foot and then you end up trying to walk about with half a newspaper flapping off your shoe!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Harvest Time - sorry bees, but I want your honey!

This is one of the most exciting times of the year.  We have been looking after the bees all year and now comes the moment to take off the honey.  You can make a guess as to how much the bees have collected, but until it is home and in the jar, there is always an element of 'counting your chickens before they are hatched'.  The colony could be robbed by wasps, there could be a period of cold weather and the bees eat the honey ... and so on.