Apiculture Up North – May 16 2021

Apiculture Up North is a blog where i will update you on my Community Beekeeping. In this blog post i am extracting feral honeybee colonies, delivering workshops, winning competitions, and looking out for swarms.

The weather hasn’t been great for beekeeping, but it rarely is. In the North East of England, we keep a close eye on the sky and take our opportunities. We have had some bright spells and warmer days (yes, I got sun burnt on Thursday, but a picture of the sun is too hot for my skin) – it’s mostly been wet with a bit of a wind.

I’m pleased it’s been raining. We had a dry April with barely any precipitation – the ground needed saturated. April was an uneasy month as I watched the pond level drop dangerously low for the thousands of tadpoles each fancying themselves as the next best frog in Meadow Well. Do the tadpoles even know what is going to happen to their bodies? I took containers to people who have ponds a bucket full went in the allotment pond, but I couldn’t rehome them all. Of course, the rain arrived just in time and gave those tadpoles more wriggle room.

I had enjoyed watching the bees at the pond during April. The apiary is not much further than 100 yards from the pond. They land on the wet rocks and take in water before making a bee line back to their respective hives. In the warmer days, the pond was humming and the female water gatherers worked to quench the thirst of a hive during the spring build up.

A honey Bee gathering water from a pond
A honeybee gathering water from the Pond

This week the first groups of people who booked onto the Beekeepers Experience visited our beehives. Thanks so much for getting involved! Fortunately, most sessions fell on a day when the weather was on our side but one session has been rescheduled for the near future. Some were confident as they arrived, eager to learn more about apiculture and asked lots of questions from the start. Others were more nervous. I reassured them that it is expected to be nervous; most people, when growing up, are told to avoid the bees and stay out of their way incase they get stung. With our bee suits on, and working slowly, we can minimize the risk of being stung.

It’s incredible seeing people take an interest in the bees at our apiary. Those curious yet apprehensive participants soon find that their interest takes over, helping them feel calm and be distracted from their concerns. One participant began the session rigid, making as little movement as possible as to not disturb the bees which had mistaken his bright yellow gloves for a flower. Fifteen minutes later he was removing frames from a beehive and finding the queen! To see the smile on a person’s face when they are holding a frame of honeybees, I boldly handed over to them, is incredible. It reminds me of my first apiary session, I was unable to listen to the skilled instructor because a bee had landed on my hand and marvel set in. Our Beekeepers Experience is a great way to feel more connected to nature, a sneak peek into the world of the honeybee, or Apis Meliffera. I’ve loved hearing feedback from participants: thank you for taking part and supporting our Community Interest Company.

A participant on our Beekeeping Experience holds a frame for the first time
A participant on our Beekeeping Experience holds a frame for the first time

I was visited by two photographers in recent weeks. Richard Blake is working on a project for his fine art degree which involves the honeybee. His girlfriend arranged his visit so he could take pictures of the bees to further his understanding and find some perfect framing of the colony. He took beautiful photos of our queens and was curious about the hierarchy of the colony. Richard compared what he had learnt about ants to help him develop his comprehension of the ways of the honeybee and her colony. Here are some of the photos captured by Richard:

Eddy Maynard is creating a project in aid of Mental Health charities. Mind is an example of this and a fantastic organization; they do critical work to support people struggling with their mental health and promote suicide prevention. Eddy is creating the project called ‘What makes me happy’. He travels around meeting people to find out what makes them buzz. Eddy did great at the hives and is creating a wonderful project.

I am lucky to have been visited by two talented photographers, I now have some high-quality images of the bees and their hives taken with professional equipment. I found it interesting seeing my beekeeping from a different, and better framed, perspective. Be sure to check out Richard & Eddy’s work.

Saturday mornings I run a Community Beekeeping project. The soon to be beekeepers are still assembling the hives, waiting patiently for bees to arrive some time in June. We finished off some frame building and then visited the beehives already at the apiary. For many of the group, it was their first time visiting a beehive. I carried out an inspection of a hive demonstrating how to take the hive apart, pull frames, and put it back together. My son Koa was with me and he became a beekeeper that day by taking his first sting. Unfortunately for him, it was on his top lip. A bee had landed on his veil and he pushed the bee towards his face. The bee, sensing it was being squashed stung him. Koa was being too daring with the hives, I think he was enjoying seeing a group of people come to see ‘his bees’ and played the role of an overly enthusiastic host. Although feeling deeply sorry for himself, Koa remains keen to visit the hives again and help me check the bees. He will be fine, here is a video of him visiting a different hive. My heart melts when he wears his bee suit!

Week one of the Community Beekeeping Project – we met online and went through basic theory. We now meet outside.

Saturday afternoon I visited a group at Wiltshire Drive Allotments. I had been invited to deliver a talk introducing people to beekeeping and answering some questions. I covered the basics and kept it to a two hour (very) basic introduction.

I covered:

Tools & equipment

The beehive and it’s components

Pests & disease

The life cycle: from an egg to a forager

Swarm management

I enjoy delivering workshops and sharing knowledge. I’ve had many opportunities and practice in public speaking when job roles have required. I hope to see some of the group again, maybe when they get their own hives, and I hope that they remember what I tried to say as much as I could: find a way that works for you and check those bees every seven days.

On Monday of this week, I joined Andrew from Greenway Integrated Pest Management and removed a feral colony from a chimney stack. The building had been damaged in a fire late last year and upon carrying out repairs, the colony was discovered. The bees have been taken to one of my apiaries and the building work can continue. I wrote a separate post on the extraction and made a video of it. Read it by clicking here and watch it here!

I won a competition on Facebook and the prize is a six frame poly nuc from Abelo. Michael Mcgowan who runs BeeFeet held the competition. Michael designs products for beekeeping, especially add on’s for Abelo poly hives. I’m looking forward to trying the nuc out, I haven’t used any Abelo products yet. Thanks Michael 😊

The Newcastle and District Beekeepers Association, of which I’m a member, had their meeting (bee club) last week. Diane Drinkwater presented ‘Swarming, The Rule of Three’. I don’t think beekeepers can ever listen to enough swarm talks; There is always something new, from another perspective, to consider. Diane is a Trustee of the British Beekeepers Association and it soon became clear to me that she is a deeply knowledgeable and skilled beekeeper. Check out her website here. Bee club is held online right now, I had the pleasure of delivering the digital presentation last month – Beekeeping: The First Three Years, although I am looking forward to when we can meet again in the same room as a community. The association have moved to a new headquarters and teaching apiary, I’m looking forward to seeing the facilities.

The bees are building up, spring is well underway and reports of collected swarms are trickling in. I enjoy reading stories of people collecting swarms, a local beekeeper found a swarm when walking his dog! I’ve got my eyes peeled now, I’m checking trees as I pass them and waiting for my first swarm call of 2021.

As the proverb goes….

‘A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly’

Proverbial bee-keepers’ saying, mid 17th century

I’ve read reports that hives are running out of stores, careful consideration will be made in regard to their food store; The poor weather is limiting the opportunities for the bees to leave their hive and forage. Weekly inspections of the hives (at least every 7 days) have began and I’m getting back into the swing of seeing the fascinating insects. I can, and have, spent hours watching them do what they do. I often wonder what they are doing…

Next week I am having minor surgery and I cannot do any heavy lifting for a few weeks. I’m pleased that the procedure is going ahead next week and before the season really kicks off. My beekeeping buddy can do the heavy lifting until I’m recovered so I can get my bee fix.

I make regular updates on my Facebook page and Instagram. I suppose that whilst I’m recovering I can spend more time doing more research – there’s always research to do – and working on some of my other projects.

1 thought on “Apiculture Up North – May 16 2021

  1. Richy says:

    Great Post showing us your world of beekeeping Dugy! Cheers!

    Reply

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