Hands-on in the hive!
For a long time it's been in the back of my mind to keep bees. My parents kept bees growing up and I used to help them and occasionally go into the hives with them. It always interested me and it's always something I knew I'd take up as a hobby. Since my mother launched her new business BeeLoved that Dan and I designed, I've been helping a lot with managing the social media and talking with other beekeepers and bee enthusiasts online. I'm really enjoying learning about bees every day and knew that it felt like time to start looking at keeping my own bees as hobby. Problem is, I'm on a third floor flat with no roof space or ability to keep bees. I headed online and I was doing some research when I came across a website which allowed beekeepers, aspiring beekeepers and those with available space to keep bees to connect with each other. It was there that I found Hugh's details, who was a beekeeper around the corner. I got in touch and within a week I was talking to another beekeeper, John who was happy to help me manage his hives since he had a bad sting reaction and was rushed into hospital. He didn't want to stop keeping bees but he also didn't want to be hands-on in case he had a bad reaction to a sting again. So, with a couple emails and calls later, we arranged for me to go down and meet John and Hugh and go into the bees with them.
I got suited up in my super large bee suit and headed to the hive at the bottom of the garden with Hugh and John who were also suited up. Dan was near by taking lots of photos (thank you Dan. All the photos on this blog are by him, talented thing).
Hugh smoked the bees and he took off the roof of the hive. He started with pulling out the frames and inspecting them. The frames were the super box which contains the honey stores. Below the super is the queen excluder and below that is the brood box. There were plenty of honey stores and the super was heavy which was a good sign. The super was almost full though so it will be worth putting another super on to keep the bees busy (the bees are keen on swarming... I'll talk about that in a bit.) but it will mean more honey too! We took off the queen excluder (this stops the queen from going into the honey super box and laying eggs in the honey stores. Honey with larve in it? No thanks!) and proceeded to inspect the brood box. The brood box is where the queen lays her eggs and where they are reared to become worker bees. We could see the signs the queen was laying which was good. There were eggs and larve. There were also lots of queen cells at the bottom of the frames. This tells us that the hive is ready to swarm. Rearing a new queen means that the old queen will eventually leave the hive with approximately half of the bees to make a new hive. I wrote a blog post yesterday for BeeLoved about swarming, why it happens, how it happens and everything in between. You can read it here.
We had to remove these queen cells to temporarily postpone the bees from swarming. It is very likely that they will swarm at some point in the future. It's possible to create an artificial swarm which is essentially a controlled swarm created by the beekeepers but I'll write another blog post about that some other time.
We worked our way through the frames and inspected them. I was really surprised with how docile the bees were. I was expecting to get stung but the bees didn't attack me at all. I have been in hives in the past where bees have been very aggressive and have been trying to sting me though my bee suit. When they feel an attack is happening, they release pheromones warning the other bees there is danger which is why they can get very angry very quickly. However, these bees were very calm and lovely to work with.
After checking the frames, we put the hive back together and took time to look to see if there are any varoaa mites present. A varoaa mite is a pest which feeds on adult bees (reducing their efficiency to work) and the developing brood. This is very a destructive pest and if it isn't controlled and treated it can wipe out a hive entirely. Every bee hive will have the varoaa mite. There are a few ways to check for varoaa mites and the easiest method is to have a sticky white sheet which sits under the hive which will collect dead bees and dead mites. You can check these regularly to see if they are under control.
Just as we were finishing up, Dan noticed that a bee had managed to lodge itself in the trampoline canvas - with its sting! When a bee stings, it will kill the bee. It is the ultimate sacrifice of life.
Huge thank you to Hugh and John for being patient with me and giving me the opportunity to go into the hive and learn more. I'm so excited to do this again next week! Also, big love to Dan for the pictures.