As the nights draw in and we get the thicker duvet out but what do the bees do? We are told that they all huddle together in the middle of the hive in the shape of a rugby ball with the queen at the centre. The bees on the outside of the “scrum” will move into the centre when they get cold as the ones in the middle move out.
But how true is this? How much do we know about what goes on in the hive in the winter?
Well one man who should know is Derek Mitchell and on November 24th he is giving a talk at 2pm at the Colliton Club in Dorchester.
Derek is a researcher into the differences in heat transfer between man made and natural honey bee nests at Leeds University School of Mechanical Engineering. Derek’s fascination with honey bees over the last 7 years has shown him that the deeper you delve into how bees exploit the physics of heat, the more impressive the feats of honey bees becomes. Derek is a well-known lecturer on this subject and was on this year’s lecture programme at The National Honey Show.
I have read the comments by others who have heard him speak and this looks like one we cannot afford to miss. Down here in Dorset we may think we are
too far South to worry but after the weather last winter I think we should make every effort to be as informed as possible.
Just to give a flavour of some of the points that may be covered I looked at the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping site and was amazed at how much I have assumed – wrongly!
And don’t forget the Christmas Social at the Colliton Club in Dorchester on Monday 3rd December at 7pm. A chance to meet with other beekeepers, play skittles and enjoy the buffet.
It seems like an age since the Dorset County Show but I felt it more important to show where we are with the threat from the Asian Hornet.
The threat has not gone away – and I suspect it never will – but in the meantime as a bit of light relief here are some photos from the show. Or at least there will be – but I have just received notification of an Asian Hornet nest in Alresford just to the East of Winchester in Hampshire. At the moment there is nothing on the government website.
Yesterday I wrote a page for the website about the Asian Hornet and how it was important that we all remain vigilant and on the look out for this pest. And today we received notification that it has already arrived in the UK.
The government website states that an Asian Hornet was found at Fowey in Cornwall. It has been definitely identified but unfortunately it was not caught.
Aware of the risk to our honey bee population, and therefore to much horticulture, the government has set up a surveillance and monitoring zone of about 2 km radius and it is hoped that problem will be eradicated as it was at Tetbury and in North Devon.
To get an idea of what is involved in “surveillance and monitoring” I recommend reading the blog by Judith Norman on the BBKA site. It makes for very interesting reading.
If you have not done so now is the time to download the app for your phone – just search for Asian Hornet. It is suggested that you sit by your hives for some 15 minutes watching what goes on. If the Asian Hornet is in the vicinity that will give it time to come back to the hive for more bees.
It is that time of year when many of us are extracting honey – hopefully. In a couple of blogs I will cover some of the possibilities and techniques.
The first thing to do when getting the honey is to remove the full frames from the hive. Normally I put a board with a rhombus bee escape on the hive. I did this on one of my hives this year – but then life got in the way and I was not able to get back for a couple of days.
The result was the bees found their way back up to the honey and when we opened the hive we had bees right up to the crown board. Give them more than 24 hours separated from their stores and they will work out how to get to them. Clever little buggers these bees!
Now there are some who would tell you that you can clear a super with some smoke and a bee brush – well some you can but not this hive. These bees are not very friendly and even less so when I am trying to steal their stores.
One option, which I had never previously considered, was suggested at the recent bee meeting. Instead of taking a whole super just take a couple of frames from the middle of the super, shake off the bees and brush the rest off with a bee brush.Then put the frames out of reach of the bees. Push the remaining frames in the super together and put a replacement frame at each end of the super. This ways the bees are far less disturbed but it does mean that collecting ten frames takes five visits.
Anyway the title of the blog is decapping since that is what we were doing at the recent bee meeting.
One technique is to use a decapping knife. Below is my knife. The pen is there simply to indicate the scale.
My method for using this was to keep the knife in a tray of very hot water and when I came to use it I would support the frame vertically on end then slide the knife across the comb taking off the caps. A hot knife cuts through the wax caps more easily. You can get decapping knives which are electrically heated removing the need for the tray of hot water.
Using a decapping knife can be quite messy and results in a tray of wax cappings and honey. It can also miss a lot of the caps since bees do not build the frames with a view to making life easy for the honey thief. In addition there are some cells which are built larger than the others so the knife cuts off not just the cap but also a lot of the cell and its contents.
This picture shows the start of the decapping process using a knife. The frame is supported on a piece of wood resting across a bucket which will collect the drips of honey and the wax cappings.
Note that the wooden support can be made at home by screwing two blocks of wood on the cross beam so that the beam cannot fall into the bucket and then drill a suitable size hole for the end of the frame.
Or you could spend over £30 for a plastic holder that may not fit your bucket!
The angle of the knife is quite crucial as the aim is to remove all the cappings but none of the honey.
This shot shows the frame almost completely decapped. One advantage of using a decapping knife is that at the same time as you are taking off the caps you are also trimming the frame to fit the hive better. This is not the case with the hot air method of decapping described later.
Bare knees are not necessary but it is easier to wash honey of knees rather than trousers.
And this shot shows the frame almost completely decapped.
Note the cappings in the tray, These can be strained to get out some more honey and when you have got all you can then you can return the cappings to the hive and let the bees sort out the rest. The cappings are best returned to the hive from which they came to avoid cross contamination and upsetting the bees with smells from another hive.
In recent years I have used a completely different technique – hot air gun. The one I use is sold as a hot air gun by Screwfix. I hold the frame vertically as we do for knife decapping and then pass the hot air over the front of the frame. It takes just seconds for the caps to melt and draw back from the cell opening. I never let the gun stay over any area for too long as I only wish to melt the cap and not the cell or the honey.
In a recent session I was extracting a whole super and I only had two drops of wax that fell in the tray. The rest was left on the super ready for the bees to use again recapping full cells.
Anyway that is enough about decapping. Next time we will look at the extraction of the honey from the cells.
We had about 15 members attending. We looked at a Top Bar Hive, Polyhives, and Nationals as well as having a lovely apiary tea in the shade of the orchard. The bees were very well-behaved considering how hot it was. We also practised using a refractometer on honey in the comb and some already taken off.
Our first meeting of the season was very successful and enjoyable. It was at Nick Knight’s apiary at the foot of the White Horse Hill. About 20 people attended including some very new beginners who, thanks to Nick, were able to handle bees for the first time. Nick also opened his Top Bar Hive which was very interesting to many of us who have not seen one in action before. The meeting ended with a tea break and a bit of a Q&A session.
A happy group of beekeepers – a buzz of beekeepers?
A frame from a top bar hive.
A moment of contemplation before we open a top bar hive.
This Sunday, 20th May, is World Bee Day to raise awareness of the importance of the Honey Bee in the environment and in our economy.
I have had a look at the web site link given above and it is full of a wealth of useful information and well worth looking at.
Locally we are doing our bit with a display at Poundbury Garden Centre It has produced a lot of interest and I advise you to pop up and have a look – perhaps even answer a few questions from the curious.
Sorry to raise this issue again but it is something that has not gone away – in fact it is becoming more worrying.
There has been a sighting of the Asian Hornet in Bury in Greater Manchester on a cauliflower which was traced back to a farm in Lincolnshire. This one was identified as an Asian Hornet Queen – but it got away.
Estimates of the damage that the Asian Hornet can do vary but it is estimated that a single Asian Hornet can eat 50 or so honey bees a day.
It is suggested that the next two weeks are the most crucial if we are to prevent this pest becoming established in the UK.
I know I have said it before but there is an excellent ‘Asian Hornet Watch’ app available to download from the Apple and Android app stores which can be used for identification and reporting. This is not just for beekeepers but for anyone.