Posts Tagged ‘beekeeping’

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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Part 2…

I make wine…lots of wine!  Did I mention previously that I am tea-total?  Well, I am, but that doesn’t stop me from making hundreds of bottles each year.  I rely heavily on the ‘kindness’ of friends and family for the testing and drinking phases, and surprisingly I am never short of volunteers – go figure!

Being a winemaker and a beekeeper means that at some point you HAVE to make mead…and I did.  Until last week, a beautiful demijohn was sitting ageing very nicely in the cellar.  It is a year old and I managed to get it bottled last week.  The labels had been previously designed and it was a really simple operation to glue them on using the fabulous new gummed paper I found after months of trawling the internet for something suitable and reasonably priced.

I must say that I was rather nervous about bottling it because this lot here seem to think that the minute it arrives in a bottle and moves into the cellar wine racks, it must be ready to consume….WRONG!!  Get you grubby mitts off my mead until at least 2016.


The bottle on the right is a little cloudy because I bumped the demijohn whilst filling the final bottle.  A little time in the cellar and it will settle back to the bottom of the bottle.




The bottling process consists of a lot of clean bottles, a floor standing corking device and racking canes to transfer the wine from the large Carboy or Demijohn into the bottles…..

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While I had my bottle washing volunteers a couple of weeks ago, we managed to clean and sterilise enough bottles to also bottle a few other wines.  I was desperate to get some of them out of the cellar where they had been bulk ageing because I had run out of empty carboys and demijohns to move the currently fermenting batches.  All in all, it was a very successful weekend of cleaning, bottling, corking, capping and labelling.

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This lot are now all safely ensconced in the cellar until I give the go-ahead that they are ready to drink….the hardest part of my job as a winemaker is keeping everyone at bay until I think the wine is mature enough.  I’m not giving them a chance to leave negative feedback because they couldn’t leave it alone for a couple of years; after all, I don’t have a problem waiting – oh, but then again, I don’t drink 🙂


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What do a beekeeper, a winemaker and a sewer have in common?  Me, of course!  🙂

Who would have thought that have such a diverse set of hobbies would come in so handy, but here is proof that being of the hyperactive mind persuasion does have its plus points.

In part 1 we examine the link between beekeeping and sewing……

I made my son a bee suit last year and this year I made hubby a new bee suit as well.  Different styles but equally loved by the recipients.



The bee suits are made from old work shirts that hubby no longer needed.  I sewed two together inside each other and added zips or velcro fronts and added elastic around the hems and cuffs to keep any curios bees out.  I also made the bee veils for them.  The one on the left for my son is a very different style to the hat I made for hubby with a veil attached around the perimeter.  Everything I used for these projects was repurposed or already in my sewing room – what a result!



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Two very happy beeks doing a hive inspection in their one-of-a-kind bee suits.

I am so happy that I have the skill to be able to make things, and it is even more special that they are made from items that would mostly find their way to landfill.

In part 2 I will look at how beekeeping is linked to winemaking in our house…..


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Hubby and our son have been going to beekeeping classes for the last month and now feel ready to get our hive populated. To make sure we are ready and in case a call comes in to collect a swarm, he had to make a bee transport box.
Here it is ready with its top bars and a cork to close off the entrance….

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If you are not that familiar with beekeeping, you may ask how on earth you get bees, and it is a good question which I will attempt to answer from a newbie beekeeping viewpoint.
Option 1
Buy bees in a small family group over the internet – but ONLY from reputable dealers please! When I say small, I mean a nucleus of about 20,000 bees and a queen bee. The problem for us with this is that the region we live in is bee disease free and we want to keep it that way so don’t want any foreign bees which could contaminate the local bee population.
Option 2
Buy a nucleus of bees from our local beekeeping association. A great option, but I don’t have money for that right now and we are the first people in our club to have a top-bar hive rather than the usual National or Warre hives.
Option 3
Lure a swarm to your new hive. You can add some lemongrass essential oil into the hive together with some beeswax and propolis and hope that a scout finds you and brings his bee friends back with him. Possible but not always successful and could take a while.
Option 4
Catch a swarm of your own in a bee trap. Another option that may or may not work depending on if you are lucky enough to put your bee box where it will be found by the bee scouts. If they do find your box and move in then you go collect it and take it home to the new hive.
Option 5
Collect a swarm from your area when a call comes in from the general public asking one of the local beekeepers to remove a swarm from their property that is in a less than convenient location – a particular favourite seems to be large bird boxes, trees and under the eaves!

We are going to try for option 5 because that way we don’t have to buy bees and the boys get to practice collecting a swarm of bees so they can take part in future swarm collecting.

Now, this is where you could help us. If you live near us in Lancashire and know of a honey bee swarm then let us know where you are and where the swarm has landed and we will see if we can pick them up for you. BUT! Please first check that it is actually a swarm of bees looking for a new home; not all bees in your garden are a swarm but you cannot miss a swarm it is a BIG BALL OF BEES!  You can find out more by going to the BBKA website and reading the great article they have about what a swarm looks like.

What is a swarm?

It is a group of bees together with the queen that have left the old hive that was becoming overcrowded in order to find a new home. They gorge themselves before they leave so they don’t have to forage for food and this makes them very docile. The swarm with the queen, usually at the centre of a ball of bees to protect her and keep warm, settles somewhere convenient for them (not necessarily for you) whilst some of the bees go search out a new home. When they find a suitable new home the swarm all fly off.  When you see bees out in the open in a big ball it is only temporary because bees only live in dark enclosed spaces.

Be kind to bees!! After all they are in real trouble from modern farming practices and disease but without them we would all starve.

Here are a few pictures of swarms….

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