July 2010

This month is often a quiet month for beekeepers because the bees are busy bringing in nectar by the bucket load and, if there is enough space in the hive to store it all, there is nothing left to be done. It’s been like that over the past 11 days with an early nectar flow from the blackberry and clover in many places. I‘ve been adding extra space to several of my hives to accommodate this sudden influx – but I’m not complaining! Earlier in the year, I had taken two hives over to my Portscatho apiary to forage on the winter-sown oilseed rape that flowers in May/June time.

This year was very strange, as it was for another beekeeper that experienced the same thing as I did. Normally, once the OSR flowers start to fade from their strident yellow and the green starts to show more predominantly, it is time to remove the honey crop from the hives; otherwise it sets like concrete – literally! However, this year – and at least two of us had this – the bees had not sealed the honey in the comb by the time the flowers were going over. If extracted in this condition, there is a possibility of fermentation taking place, which, if it happens in the jar, can cause distorted lids and the honey escaping and getting everywhere.

I went back to the hives one week later, no change: two weeks later, no change: I went back again a week ago, no change! Throughout this period the honey remained liquid in the comb, not setting as expected, but by this time I felt it had had enough time to be ripened by the bees and, since it was not dripping from the combs, I extracted it. Normally, this would end up going straight into jars and would be solid within a day or two of bottling. Not this year! So, time will tell if I extracted too early or if perhaps the bees gathered something else which they mixed with the OSR (maybe hawthorn) to delay the granulation.

Because things are quiet for me on the bee front at this time of year, I take the opportunity to visit local schools to talk to them about honeybees. I take an observation hive (which has glass sides and a single, vertical tier of combs) stocked with bees, my smoker and hive tools, a model hive, some wax and some bee suits. The children love smelling the wax and dressing up in the bee suits and smelling my smoker! At the end of the talk (which is often the children talking to me and telling me how they got stung by a bee (usually a wasp!), how their granny saw a swarm of bees once, how they have seen two queen bees tail to tail in the street, how the bees in their garden live in holes in a cob wall and not in a hive, etc etc!), I show them the bees through the glass walls of the hive.

They find the queen (marked by me with a white spot on her thorax) and see the difference between workers and drones, they see honey in the comb, as well as eggs, open brood (larvae) and sealed brood (pupae) – and they love it! Last year, I went to a local school and talked to two classes and the following week received two packages through the post. Each of the children (about 60 altogether!) had drawn a picture recalling my visit and it was fascinating to see which parts of my talk had gelled with which children, each of them picking up on something totally different from the next! Today, I have just returned from talking to five classes, an all-day job – and I’m shattered! But what a worthwhile and enjoyable way to spend a day! Let’s hope I was talking to the beekeepers of the future today because these children are our investment, not to be mismanaged.

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