We are a small, hobby beekeeping setup currently with just four hives. We will expand to around 10 hives next year and the plan is to have a lot more honey for sale from then on. We take great care to
harvest our honey in very clean conditions and we only coarsely strain it to remove large particles. We want our honey to retain all of the pollen grains and nutrients it naturally contains, so we do as little to it as possible. No heat is used, nothing is added.
Our apiary is next to where the old Crawley village malthouse was situated back in the 19th century. The brewery that made beer from the malt was also close by and the farmhouse is still there albeit surrounded by a housing estate. Our apiary and the allotment site upon which it sits is part of a green corridor that runs through our town and our bees have access to large wooded areas,
parks, gardens, and grass verges. The 'No Mow May' initiative has turned every small patch of grass into a flower bed and has made such a difference to our bees, as has the planting of a multitude of bee-friendly flowers in many Crawley gardens. If you want to help the bees more then it's simple - just plant more flowers, ivy, fruit trees, meadows and hedgerows and make yourself a small
wildlife pond. If you decide you need to use pesticides and weed killers then use them at dusk when the bees are in bed and use the least toxic/long lasting as possible. All of that will help the bees and other animals and at the same time improve your life. It's a win/win situation!
Our first harvest of Crawley Honey that is large enough to sell.
The honey this year is clear, very sweet and straw coloured.
This may be due to the large amount of clover that flowered everywhere in Crawley, thanks to 'No mow May'.
Things have changed quite a bit since I last updated this page. Our garden colony did so well so quickly, that they swarmed several times
in the spring. Each time we were able to collect the swarms and re-home them in new hives. This was made infinitely easier due to the fact that we have been given seven more hives, an apiary out on the same allotment patch that we already have an allotment on (outside our back gate) and all of the tools and consumables necessary to run a small beekeeping business for several years. The
only thing missing was bees! At first
it was almost overwhelming how much equipment we had, especially as all of the hives needed to be completely restored. It took me about a month of hard work to get them all looking ship-shape and ready for bees. They were all scraped, washed, bleached, repaired with polyfiller and finally painted all the colours of the rainbow. During the
renovation I was able to collect and reuse about 1.5kg of beeswax, 85g of propolis and even 5kg of honey.
The apiary itself was completely overgrown with brambles and the ground was so bumpy and full of holes that it was dangerous to work there. We've put down loads of topsoil and levelled it all up and we've renovated the large pond that we couldn't even see when we first took the plot over. Now it is healthy, full of life and covered in lily pads.
There's a long way to go yet though - we want to have an equipment shelter and large flower beds and the different colour hives are all going to be set in a circle facing outwards. That way the bees shouldn't get confused which is their hive and we will be able to work on all of them from inside the circle. We also need to try and fill all the hives with bees next year, which we will do
starting in the spring by dividing our
strong colonies and possibly from collecting swarms from around the town. We will also need to raise quite a few of our own queens and we're really looking forward to getting started with that.
This year, as far as honey goes, we've made a small start. Our strongest colony (G1) has been very productive and has produced ~60lb of honey and G2 has given another 25lb. The other three hives have all made a fair amount of honey but at the moment they need it all to keep themselves healthy but even they will have some to harvest at the end
of the last nectar flow. Next year we hope to have around eight hives all making honey but one thing about beekeeping is, you can rely on the bees being unreliable, so we will just have to work hard looking after them and keep our fingers crossed.
I finally (after trying several times) catch the extremely fast queen in G1 and mark her with yellow.
The blue queen in hive G2. Here she is standing on sealed honey.
Well it's been an up and down ride looking after our bees. They made it through the winter but soon developed diseases due to a varroa mite infestation. We tried to do the best we could but their numbers plummeted. Things got desperate when we saw the old queen carried out of the hive dead.
We managed to get a virgin queen from some beekeepers in Partridge Green and we put her in the hive but we didn't think we had enough bees of the right age to even look after her. We were very surprised a month later to see her laying away merrily. Since then the colony has increased in size and all trace of disease and mite has gone. The bees seem very healthy and happy and so are we
This week we managed to catch our new queen and mark her so that she is easier to spot next time. She now has a white spot on her thorax.
The colony has plenty of stored honey and we are planning on taking some of it in the next week or two. So that the bees can replace that missing honey with new stores for the winter, we will feed them until October with a sugar syrup. In the spring they will have used all of those stores and will start once again filling the frames up with natural nectar instead.
Our first year or so of beekeeping has been difficult, especially as we started just as lockdown began but we think we are starting to turn the corner and get a little bit better at it. Someone asked me the other day 'is beekeeping easy' and I said 'NO' in an instant. You have to get your head around a lot of concepts as well as getting proficient with handling them. It's probably
something that takes half a lifetime!
February 2nd 2021
The bees in G1 have been mostly huddled together in their nice warm hive through the winter but on a warm day when it gets above 8oC they come out to stretch their wings and take a comfort flight.
Our second beehive arrived today. It's another cedar National Hive and it will sit just a few feet from the first. We will have to think of a way to differentiate it so that the bees don't go in the wrong front door. Our plan is to divide our existing colony just before they get too cramped in their hive and decide to swarm. We may have to provide the new colony with a new queen or wait
for them to breed their own queen but that
shouldn't be a problem. Our immediate concern is whether the bees make it through the winter.
We managed to make a single candle from our collected wax, along with several food wraps. We plan on making our own candle mould for next year when we should have a lot more wax.
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 2020
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
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