Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

I am fine, I can do this!

I have a plan, all I need to do is execute it but be on my toes in case the bees do something to scupper my plan!

I was now sitting in front of the Poppy hive – I ran through Phil Chandler’s comments in my mind to reinforce my process.

What to do first?  Okay, let’s move the left hand side follower board to the right and move at least 5 frames of brood, stores and bees across to the left and this will become the first nuc.  Done – now I move the final topbar across – the one with some of the queen cups (now well and truly sealed and waiting to hatch).

I add in another follower board to create a sealed nuc and seal the entrance with a cork.



I choose my topbars carefully and move 4 of them full of bees, brood and stores into a box so that I can carry them across the garden to Travis hive.

I fill in the gaps with empty topbars, take some photo’s to show the new layout and seal her up with the lid (no mean feat in a wheelchair let me tell you!)


I head off to Travis with the new hive members.  A quick check and they are still in a ball.  I open the hive by moving some of the topbars out of the way, making sure I don’t disturb the ball too much for now.  The new frames are inserted and some of the empty bars are removed to reduce the size of the hive.  I fill up the sugar syrup containers, seal the entrances with corks and collapse back in my chair.

Job done – now to wait and see what happens.


As luck would have it, it poured with rain the next day and so I didn’t bother to open the nuc or Travis because it was pointless.

Next day (today) – oh, happy days!  The ball of bees have moved – they are now all on the comb and combined with the other bees.  I remove the cork but not much is going on as the weather is still a bit cool.  I refill the jars of food and leave them to it while I go and check on the new nuc.

The new nuc (nicknamed Barnaby – all the hives are named after our grandchildren) – which is in the same topbar hive as Poppy, but separated by boards is now checked on.  They are still all present and accounted for.  I open the corked up entrance and wait….and wait….and wait.  Eventually after ages a couple of bees appear and start to fly.  A quick peep under the other topbars confirms they are all okay, just a bit sluggish.  I feed them too.

I reduce the size of the nuc as it is still 9 frames big – NOT nuc size.

By this time the sun has started to shine and with a bit of extra food the activity level goes up and I leave them to get adjusted to the nuc.

I head inside for a much needed cup of coffee and lunch.  I bring it outside into the now glorious sunshine and while I am enjoying myself, the activity levels sky rocket.  All 4 of the hives and the nuc are incredibly active and I breathe a sigh of relief because this is a good sign.


I will give them a few days and check them all through the windows without disturbing them.

Hopefully in a few weeks we will have 4 thriving colonies to get ready for winter.

No gloves, new veil, 0 stings – 🙌 







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I was just sitting amongst the bees enjoying the gorgeous sunshine when…..

A lot of bees during my observation had come out of the box and started to orient themselves to the new location…this is something new bees do to find their way home again, and also when any changes happen outside the hive – perhaps a fallen tree or something blocking their flight path.  No big surprises there, but suddenly there appeared more than normal until a steady stream of bees emerged.  My heart sank when I realised that they were swarming – exactly the reason we had carried out this whole exercise to begin with.

​New beekeeper panic moment!

Stay calm, stay calm, stay calmer….

How bad could it be? I had seen swarms on videos before.  However, nothing quite prepares you for that moment when you’re sitting next to the box and the air is literally buzzing with thousands of bees.  I observed them for a while and noted that they were staying just above the garden and mainly directly above the hive.  I think this is when the queen would normally get shoved out the hive to follow them to a nearby spot to wait for scouts to find a new home.

Luckily for us we hadn’t yet released the queen from the queen cage because when some of them realised what was happening a LOT of mad fanning stared around the box entrance.  This was the signal they had been waiting for, and they promptly started to swarm back to the board and into the box again.  What a relief, but what to do now, because clearly their instinct to swarm was still in full swing and what if they tried again.

We decided that we wouldn’t wait any longer but rather dump them straight into the new hive so they would perhaps think they had swarmed.

The Travis hive was positioned in a suitable location and some of the topbars added leaving a nice gap to dump them into the hive.  Hubby did the honours as the box was rather heavy, and within no time we had them all contained in the new hive.  The queen was released and we left them to settle in.

Our colour coding system of pins – Green for new/empty comb, Yellow for honey/stores, Blue for brood and when we spot the queen we place a clear pin on the bar she was last seen.  Each time we do an inspection they are updated and a photo is taken for printing and putting into our inspection records….



The next day – nothing – no activity, just a big ball of bees clinging to the topbars as if they had swarmed and were waiting for news of their new home from the scouts who were clearly the only ones coming and going from the hive. Arrrggg….now what?

Looking through the observation window…..

 Just a big ball of bees!

I know, I know a man who might be able to help – The Barefoot Beekeeper, Phil Chandler over at http://biobees.com/index.php​​​​​​​​​​.  We had met Phil a couple of years before during a weekend about Natural Beekeeping in Brinscall Hall.  I dropped him a note on Facebook and in no time at all he came back to me with this response….

They may have already decided to swarm as we did the artificial swarm so that could be why they weren’t settling into the new home – their instinct wasn’t yet appeased.

Possible solution – take some more bees from the other hive and dump them into the new hive with a few more topbars of brood and stores (honey and nectar).  Take out some empty spaces so they don’t have too much work to keep warm.  Seal them up for at least a day.

At the same time, it may be worth our while to take the topbars with queen cups and split them into smaller nucs and let them each raise a queen in case any one of our hives failed, and perhaps if we have any left over we could sell them on.

Brilliant – thank you Phil.

By now hubby was well and truly out of the country and I was dealing with this all on my own!  Luckily I have a ‘can do; never die’ attitude and the next day took a deep breath and headed out to the apiary again.

To be continued…..

0 sting day – bonus 😁🐝

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What an incredibly busy and fruitful week it has been in the apiary.

With hubby away, it was quite a job to do all the work on my own, and then it poured with rain and my path to the hives was no longer firm enough to keep my wheelchair from sinking – oh the joys of wheelchair beekeeping!

We started out by inspecting our Poppy hive on Sunday and were very surprised to see that they were raising at least 10 new queens – a definite sign that they were about to swarm, and the only reason they hadn’t yet left was the bad weather – lucky for us because last year we lost half of our only hive due to swarming in October because of lack of food.  In our inexperience we didn’t realise that there was a problem until the Bee Unit informed us, but the email was one day late 😦

With good weather predicted for the next day, it was essential we act immediately.  Getting up at 5am to finish off a topbar hive isn’t our idea of fun, but it was necessary for us to move the bees into.  Luckily it was 90% complete already and hubby and I only had to add legs, the glass observation window and a few latches.  The paint will have to wait for another day.

Here we have Travis hive….another hive made entirely from the timber reclaimed for the grandsons bunk bed which was replaced recently.


Topbars had to be cut and rebated to fit, and then a string soaked in wax was applied to give the bees a guide – and therefore, hopefully, straight comb….img_8728

Because we installed the glass observation window with silicone, I didn’t want to put the bees directly into the hive.  We had a box prepared and set up near the Poppy hive. Hubby found the queen and put her into a queen cage and placed her safely into the box.  He then selected the combs with lots of bees so that a good mix of bee ages was moved across.  This is essential if you want to have enough bees to look after the queen and to forage for food for the hive.  These were dumped onto a board leading up to the entrance of the box….

A few photo’s of the bees during the move into the box…..



This little lady is fanning, this is when the bees release a pheromone and fan their wings madly to let the other bees know where to go….. This is slow motion so imagine how fast those wings are moving!

I always get a few bees landing on me for a quick rest – or possibly a photo opportunity….


After about an hour all the bees had safely move into the box and I sat outside watching them – because watching bees is extremely therapeutic and I wanted to keep an eye on them.

What happened next was a total surprise and a definite first for me as a new beekeeper.

Find out what happened in the next episode of bees in Hesketh House’s backyard by Life’s An Apple.



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Bee awareness.

I love our honeybees, I could go so far as to say I absolutely adore our bees, but they are not the only pollinators so we shouldn’t just concentrate on saving them.

These little ladies with the remarkable ability to cut so precisely may be in your garden.

Have you ever noticed little semicircles or circles cut out of your leaves? Then you possibly have Leafcutter bees.

Until we moved into Hesketh House, which is a wildlife magnet, I had never even heard of them – but apparently they are 10 times better pollinators than honeybees which is why they’re so important.

They are one of dozens of species of solitary bees meaning they live on their own and make little individual nests. As their name suggests, they cut out leaves and roll them up into tubes inside a tiny tunnel burrowed into wood – and in our case, an old beer barrel hoist on the front of the house with an extremely well used timber beam (seen above to the left of the front door).

They’ve come back for the last three years which is a huge thrill for us.

This is my new wisteria planted very recently to grow up the front of the house and is providing them with an easy source of nesting material – they obviously like it even more than the roses.

The sacrifice of a few holes in the leaves is well worth it for these industrious little pollinators, and I hope they continue to use our house for many years to come.

In fact, our roofer completed his restoration and had the scaffolding removed just as the Leafcutter’s returned for their new season…..a good thing too, because one of those posts was right against the wooden section they use!

#heskethhouseapiary #heskethhouse #BackyardBeekeeping #saveourpollinators #savetheleafcutterbee #leafcutterbees #solitarybees

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Such excitement at Hesketh House this week  – I got to eat my very first cherry off one of my Espaliered orchard trees!

We did get a few apples and cherries last year as well, but we didn’t get to the cherries before the birds enjoyed them.  I am happy to leave them for the birds for a few years before we start to net them, but it was rather lovely to taste the last couple left for us….and they were delicious!

The Espaliered orchard is coming along very nicely and it really does bring me such joy to see them progress from the little stalks that arrived in the post a couple of years ago.


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In our excitement and ignorance to become beekeepers and save the worlds bees :-), we were a bit hasty in our choice of beehive.  Some of this may have been because we fell in love with a very cute beehive design at Costco; plus it also came with tools and a bee suit.  In hindsight and with a bit more experience we realised that we preferred the top bar hives (TBH) and wanted to move our bees….far, far easier said than done once they get established!


Our bees have always been amazing – calm, prolific and very understanding and forgiving of new beekeepers but we didn’t want to push our beginners luck and mess things up in our first year…so we left them to over-winter and decided to move them in Spring this year.  We were so happy they survived winter and appeared strong, so it was time to make the move.  We were SO nervous, and weeks of dreadful weather and high winds scuppered our plans on three consecutive weekends.


Eventually it looked like we were in for a good day on Saturday so we had a few discussions and planning sessions and decided to go for it.

It was a well prepared plan – as well as one can plan with bees anyway!  We laid out all the equipment; talked through our action plan – again; suited up and headed out.

It was the boys job to inspect the hive, try find the queen and mark her before we moved them but even if we didn’t find her, we were committed to the move anyway.

1) They started at one end of the Warre – removed one frame at a time, inspected it and decided if it was in good condition to move.  If yes, then they shook off the bees into the top bar hive and brought the comb across to a cropping station we had set up with knives, top bar follower board (for the shape) and plenty of water and cloths to keep the area clean.  I cut off the sides of the comb to match the sloped shape of the top bar hive and immediately it was placed into the top bar hive – now the shook bees would have comb to work on whilst the rest of the move took place.

This process was repeated for four of the Warre top bars so that we in effect created a small nuc of bees in the TBH.

IMG_0052 IMG_0048

images-5…this is the shape we wanted once the square Warre hive comb had been cropped.

2)  The Warre hive was closed up, then moved about 5 meters across the garden and placed with the entrance facing the opposite direction – thank you to the Biobees forum for this suggestion – even though untried.

3)  The TBH was then placed in the original location of the Warre hive with the entrance as it was before so that any flying bees would know where to return to and find comb to deposit nectar and pollen.  The entire time we kept the TBH closed up with as many top bars as possible with a 3 or 4 bar gap where bees could be shaken into – we covered this gap with a grass mat whenever we went back to the Warre for another comb – this was to help keep the bees as warm as possilbe and not too bright – after all this entire process is already stressful enough for them).

4) We now reopened the Warre hive and continued to inspect, shake, cut and reintroduce the top bars into the TBH.

IMG_0049 IMG_0053 IMG_0044

5) Once all the bars we wanted were moved, we were left with a small number of bees in the bottom of the Warre hive.  These bees were shaken directly into the TBH from the Warre brood box.  We left all the parts of the Warre hive including the lid and sides propped against the TBH in case any walking bees were still reluctant to depart.  This would allow them to walk up the side of the hive and into the new entrance where there was plenty of fanning going on.

IMG_0035 IMG_0038

6) Finally we needed to block up the bee space on the Warre top bars.  This was achieved by cutting lathes of wood the exact same width and length as the Warre top bars except without the cutout for the bee space, and screwing them on top of the Warre top bars.  This effectively closed off the top bars so no bees could escape through the top bars and into the lid of the TBH.


Here is a picture showing the difference between our Warre top bars and the top bars for a TBH.  This gap has to be closed to stop bees moving out through the lid of the hive – and also giving other insects another route in.IMG_0858 IMG_0862 IMG_0856

7) Nothing left to do but put the lid on, clean up and give the bees time to settle in.

IMG_0013 IMG_0024

After about an hour most of the bees were inside the new TBH and appeared to be happily settling in.  By evening the old Warre was completely empty and packed away.

What an amazing couple of hours work.  A process that we were all dreading turned into a very well executed and successful move from a Warre hive to a Top Bar hive.  A great result, with minimal damage and stress to the bees, by my Beeks.


The bonus was that the one slightly tatty comb we removed had enough honey for us to harvest 500ml of beautiful honey – which we promptly enjoyed on crumpets for breakfast the next day 🙂


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I cannot believe that it has been a year since we received our first bees and I wanted to remind people that bees are SUPER important to humans and we should be protecting and not destroying them.  A lack of knowledge of these little creatures sometimes makes people fearful, but please protect our bees or we may all die of starvation!

If you see a swarm please contact your local beekeepers association or someone who keeps bees and they will take the swarm away.  DO NOT call an exterminator as they will simply spray and destroy the swarm.  This site will also help you to identify whether they are bees, wasps or bumble bees who have moved into your bird box or under your eaves.

Here is how the swarm may look……

bee-swarm trisha-marlow-swarm

…and you can read up about them in a previous post of mine here.

Here is a beautiful photo our son took of one of our girls….


…and here we are about to enjoy the fruits of all their labour…..

DSCN5429 copy

…and this is what the boys are most excited about….

IMG_0001…two demijohns (about 12 bottles) of mead that I made from the first batch of honey we harvested in August last year!  It is now crystal clear and ageing in the cellar until the end of this year when they get to test it (patience please boys!).

And to think, without these beautiful little creatures we would have no honey and therefore no sweet treats or honey wine….that alone makes them worth saving! 🙂

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