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Sussex Scrapbook  - Our honey bees
Green Man

Sept 5th update: It's three months since we got our bees and they are doing very well still. They have enough honey for the winter but we're going to continue feeding them so that they have more than enough.

Aug 16th update: The bees have almost filled the super with capped honey and they have plenty of nectar and pollen stored in the brood box. There is still pollen and nectar being brought into the hive and if that goes on for only a little bit longer then they will have made enough honey to get through the winter. To make sure we are feeding them with thick syrup and patties made of pollen and sugar.
We also got a really good view of our queen in the midst of her royal court on top of one of the frames.

Aug 8th 2020
The bees have settled right in and have been working harder and harder as the season has gone on. The queen has been laying at a fast pace and new bees have been born every day. A month after we put them in the hive they had drawn out all the frames in the brood chamber with comb and they had filled that with baby bees, pollen and nectar. They needed more room to live, breed and store food in, so we put another shallower box of frames (called a super) on top of the brood chamber. Between the brood and super is a mesh called the queen excluder which acts as a barrier to the queen and so no eggs are laid in there. Instead the bees use the frames in the super to store honey in for the winter.
After just another 3 weeks they had drawn over half of the frames in the super out with comb and they had filled that with nectar. They had even converted some of it into honey and were covering it over with a layer of wax to keep it fresh. We have to make sure the bees have about 14kg of stored honey to get them through the winter, as well as a store of pollen, nectar and a source of water. Any surplus honey over ~14kg is ours for the taking.
In the first year it is very unlikely that there will be any surplus for us, the bees haven't had a full season at full strength despite this being a warm sunny year. Next year we hope they will be strong from the beginning of spring and capable of bringing in a harvest for us next August.

 

 


June 2020
A family member died just before the lockdown and left us a small inheritance. In order to create something positive out of the tragedy we spent a good portion of it on everything we needed to become beekeepers, as looking after 60,000 insects, who in turn take care of the pollination of our food plants, is one long celebration of life and a fitting epitaph.
We had already been interested in bees and all other insects all our lives and beekeeping had always been an ambition, so we did have some knowledge about them already. However, you need to do some good research and reading before jumping in. You also need to become a member of a local beekeeping club with the accompanying insurance and very helpful lessons with hands-on experience. All lessons were cancelled of course due to the plague, so we replaced them with hundreds of YouTube videos. The Central Sussex Bee Keeping Association (CSBKA) very kindly appointed us a mentor and we were able to have several sessions with his bees before our bees arrived.

We decided on a Cedar wood hive because they last so much better outside than other wood and when it is treated with boiled linseed oil (it's safe for bees) it looks beautiful. The type of hive is a 'National' and we chose that style because it is the most common type in the UK and the parts are universally available.

The bees were delivered on June 5th as a small nucleus colony, know in 'beeker' circles as a nuc. This little package contained about 12,000 bees along with a store of honey and lots of brood in different stages of growth. Everything they needed in fact, to set up a new home with us.
We moved them into our hive the same day without any problems. They were very quiet and docile and were probably wondering what the hell was going on. The next day they remained very quiet with a few coming out, doing small circular flights around the hive and then bumping around trying to find the way back in. The next day more of them were coming out but they were still having trouble finding the door when they returned from their recce flights of the surrounding 20m. There were also a few dead bees under the landing stage of the hive and we have seen undertaker bees dragging corpses out of the hive. Even more macabre is seeing a bee come slowly out of the hive, cross to the edge of the landing stage and then jump off the 8" cliff to the paving slab floor below. They kick their little legs for a minute or two and then die. They must know they are dying and take themselves outdoors to do it, with their last selfless act helping to keep their hive clean and healthy. Unbelievable!
After 5 days they had completely settled in and when it was hot and sunny hundreds would come out, walk up the front of the hive and tentatively take off on their first foraging flights. It's really hard to see which direction they go in as they fly so fast, but they seem to be fanning out in all directions.

Now, most people would probably agree that having thousands of bees surrounding you while you smash into the inner recesses of their nest must be a very tense, fretful, even frightening experience. Well all those people would be very wrong. Being around the bees has an almost hypnotic effect. All stresses just vaporise as you watch them. Opening the hive is blissfully relaxing for the beekeeper and something that we now look forward to excitedly during the week. Our bees are so docile and happy, it feels like they know we are there to look after them. They don't attack you or fly at your face, they just go about their business. Even with the hive opened up, they still continue going in and out of the entrance as if nothing has happened.

 


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