Experienced beekeepers may be surprised at my wonderment but this is my first year of keeping bees. I thought I knew about bees. I knew about the waggle dance and how it worked. I knew about Varroa and Colony Collapse Disorder. I was not too surprised when I found out that I knew very little about these things, I was expecting a steep learning curve, I was look forward to it. What I was not expecting was to be astonished so often.
My partner and I retired a couple of years ago and we had no intention of growing old in London. So packed up and moved to Sleaford. So what to do in my dotage? It would have to be something you see on Countryfile. Then suddenly on the crowd funding web site Indiegogo there it was, a Flowhive. My misadventures with the Flowhive frames will have to wait, but I was smitten. I would keep bees. It looked easy enough.
So I read a book, bought two hives (one did not seem enough) and completely forgot to tell the wife. Seated around the Christmas table I announced that my bee hives would be arriving soon and found out that not everyone had the same attitudes to keeping bees. January was a little difficult.
To prove my competence I bought more books, signed for a course (one of the best things I did) and purchased a couple of bee suits (one did not seem enough). The more I read the greater the wonder spread through me, closely pursued by doubt. Seventy thousand bees in a hive! Unpredictable swarms! Fifty pounds of honey! What’s a legal record for Varroa treatment look like? I needed to do more research. Another book, loads of Internet pages and videos (more about those next time).
However, the best thing I did was join the local Sleaford Beekeepers Association. Visiting other peoples apiaries and just seeing them open hives and handle bees is the single most useful thing a novice can do.
The bees arrived at the very beginning of June. I suppose I should not be surprised how many mistakes I made but I am. Serious things like under calculating the Varroa infestation and trivial thing like leaving the Correx board in. Both of these moments sparked wonder. First how big these superbly named Varroa destructor are and secondly to discovering round blobs of black stuff on the Correx. Were these some evidence of a health problem not yet in the text books? It turned out to be pollen, oriental poppies evidently. I not did know the bees could fly that far!
Once a week I cracked open the hive looked in with wonderment. Find the queen and some brood, but there is always drought. Were those diagonal lines of empty cells on the brood frames important? No. Why can I not see any eggs? Because I need stronger reading/bee glasses. Also the little bug(ger)s almost completely ignored the technically superb Flowhive frames in the super but diligently drew out foundation in the brood chamber.
So the bees and I manage to get through to September and I have three jars of honey. The wife does a quick calculation and works out that each jar cost £600 (I’m not going to tell her how wrong she is). The BBKA News arrives and informs me that I have to close up my bees and not disturb them to the spring! How am I going to check up on them? What if the colony starts to collapse? And most importantly how am I going to get my weekly buzz? I have duty to keep an eye on them.
This is where all that reading becomes useful. The bees form a winter cluster to keep warm. So if I drop a thermometer into the hive I can still monitor them. A quick Ebay search and a £2.75 (including postage) digital thermometer is on its way. I drop the probe through the hole in the crown board and sit the display on top of the insulation I have added. This works fine, pop the lid off, a quick look and roof back on.
But what happens at night when it is much colder? Well to cut a long boring story short (not unlike one of those beekeeping videos too easily found on the web). I now have a wireless thermometer with two probes, one in the brood box and another measuring the outside temperature. With the receiver in the conservatory I can take great delight in the middle of the night of shuffling over to the receiver and checking the hive temperature. Record so far a thirty six degree difference.
There’s a small wooden box in my garden that is warmer inside than my house. Astonishing.