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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years celebrations! I had a warm Christmas and new year which was a first for me, certainly not the same as being at home but it was nice anyway. New Years Eve I spent in Sydney which was amazing, and it was nice to have a few days holiday!

Firstly I’d like to say a massive thank you to all our customers and readers, I really appreciate the support that you’ve shown to us over the past year. Our beekeeping experiences have gone from strength to strength and we will be running even more courses this year, keep an eye out over the coming weeks for the dates to be published for this summer.

I’d also like to ask everybody reading if there is anything they want explaining, It can be any aspect of beekeeping, I’ll answer any questions and I’m happy to share the way I manage my bees if anyone wants to know about a specific area of beekeeping. Just send me an email to matthew@holthallapiary.co.uk and I will answer your questions in this blog.

My bees at home are going well, a lot now have fondant on, It seems that many people throughout the UK are finding their bees going through food a lot quicker that expected, If you’ve got bees and not checked them recently It may be worth hefting your hive. Hefting is simply lifting one end of the hive off the ground to gauge the weight. If you’re not sure or they feel light then I would add fondant as a precaution. Next year I’m hoping to be able to share with you the weights of our hives as they progress through the winter as I know hefting is something that requires a lot of practice.

Bees Eating through the fondant… and a pesky mouse has messed with the insulation!

Back in Australia it’s been another busy month, this month we have spent a lot of time working with queens. We have started to requeen all of our hives to ensure they are in the best possible shape for next year. We are producing around 100 queens a week at the moment. The queen cells we produce are moved into mating nucs, these are small colonies that allow queens to mate before we collect them and move them into the queen banks.

Mating Nucs all set out in lines

The mated queens once ready to be introduced into a hive are kept in a queen bank until needed. The queen bank can hold 100s of queens, queens can be ‘banked’ for up to a month so we can decide when we use them.

Queen Cages, each one contains one queen

The drought continues and we have had to move a few loads to more suitable locations. The lack of water is really starting to cause an issue with the trees flowering, they are no longer producing much nectar and so honey production is very limited. On some of our sites we’ve even had to start providing water, It’s really amazing just how much water 120 hives can consume in a day.

Bees land on floating mats to stop them from drowning

The good thing this week is that the smoke haze has moved from a lot of our area. Unfortunately for the people of New South Wales the fires are still just as bad, just luckily for us they are no longer as close. The haze lifting has revealed some amazing views from Dorrigo, one of the areas we have a few loads of bees.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog,

Matthew Ingram
Holt Hall Apiary

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Sun, Bees and Bush Fires!

Well after what feels like 5 minutes since I was last writing a blog post here I am again, the 1st December, two months in and time is showing no sign of slowing down, I’m expecting the next few months to go just as quick and I must admit to looking forward to the start of the UK beekeeping season!

It’s been incredibly hot over the past month which I know many of you in the UK would love at the moment however wearing a full bee suit it certainly isn’t ideal and some days I find myself missing British weather (Although maybe not the rain)

One of the things that has come from the unprecedented heat early in the season here is bush fires, I’m sure many of you will have seen the bush fires on the news. Luckily we haven’t lost any hives and have lost very few sites, so compared to a lot of beekeepers in our area we have gotten off very lightly. We did have a few close calls which required us moving around 50 tons of honey to another location and moving over 400 hives in one evening! A few very busy days but all seems to be calming down now and under control.

Due to the lack of water there has been a lack of forage for bees and so we have been travelling a lot more over the past month, we currently have sites up to about 3 hours away with most at least 2 hours away. On one of our busier weeks we travelled over 1,200 miles checking hives and harvesting honey! In a usual day extracting honey we will be able to extract around 3 tons, some days as much as 5 tons!

Over the next few weeks we are starting to rear queens for our own use through the season, some will also be sold. We expect to need around 2000 queens and the first 200 cells have now been grafted. Hopefully next time I will be able to share many more pictures about queen rearing here.

Back At Home

Things have been busy back at home, a big thank you to my Mum who many of you will have seen braving the weather at our usual markets and a few extra ones for Christmas. Remember we will be at Buzzards Valley Artisan Market on the 8th December and Market Bosworth Farmers Market on the 22nd December. Please come along and support not only us but also the other fantastic traders at both markets, a great place to find special gifts and food for Christmas!

I’m very excited to announce that we are trialing a subscription service for our honey as so many of our customers are reordering regularly. You simply select the type of honey that you would like and how often you’d like to receive it and its that simple, you’ll be automatically billed and your honey will arrive by whatever postage option you select! Find out more – HERE

On to our bees, they are all doing well and winter feeding is finished, there is a small amount of insulation over some of our weaker wooden hives to give them a bit more warmth although the weather is looking quite mild over the next few weeks.

Thank you for reading!

Matthew Ingram

Holt Hall Apiary

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My First Australian Blog!

Well what a first month! I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone since I arrived here to start work on a bee farm with around 1,800 hives! For the past three weeks there has been just 4 of us working here so it’s been very busy and a massive learning curve to a different style of beekeeping to the UK.

The first major difference to the UK is obviously the weather, it’s around 30 degrees here most days although this is very much only spring time here. The bees do not face the same cold wet winter as they would do in the UK but that poses challenges in itself, the queen continues to lay all year so the hives go through far more food even when there is little or no nectar around.

Around 80% of the honey produced in Australia comes from tree nectar, the problem here is that unlike the UK when everything flowers yearly the trees here which are mainly different varieties of Eucalyptus some which can take up to 5 years to come into flower again. This means the flow of honey is quite unpredictable and when a good spot is found lots of commercial beekeepers move into that area.

I’m just writing this after a busy 3 days around 300km south of where we are based, we have around 900 hives there at the moment because the Iron Bark Tree is just coming into flower, having tried that honey for the first time yesterday it’s already one of my favourites! Almost every few miles you see commercial beekeepers sites (you can tell they are commercial because they are generally in large groups of up to 120 hives) Yesterday alone between 5 people we managed to put supers on 740 hives, and removed around 300 supers this morning.

The scale here is truly enormous, I’m very happy with my extracting setup at home but this really shows me what is possible, we are able to extract around 3 – 4 tonnes of honey in 1 day here using a full extracting line which uncaps the frames and they slide into a 60 frame extractor! Last year on this bee farm they harvested around 200 tonnes which is just a mind blowing amount of honey.

One of the things I was most interested to learn about while in Australia was bee pests and diseases. One of the first and most common pests here is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) It’s a small beetle who’s larvae will eat through almost every part of a beehive, to smaller weaker hives they are deadly and will kill a hive however stronger colonies can defend themselves. This is particularly interesting as it’s expected that the SHB will eventually make its way to the UK through the importation of bees from abroad.

One of the other interesting things for me as a beekeeper is getting hands on experience with European Foul Brood (EFB) and American Foul Brood (AFB) both are notifiable in the UK, meaning that if we find either in our hives we have to let DEFRA know and the hives are destroyed. Here both types can be treated with antibiotics although they often aren’t as you can’t extract the honey from those hives for at least 3 months. EFB is seen here as being a minor issue, one that to my amazement the bees can and do actually recover from naturally in some cases. AFB is certainly seen as more serious with infected hives moved into isolated apiaries and amazingly they also remain strong for a long time and I was surprised at how slow the infection takes to spread between hives. This obviously doesn’t change my reaction to either disease at home and I urge all beekeepers to report any suspected cases to the National Bee Unit, however it’s very interesting to see how differently it’s dealt with here.

A quick word on my bees back home. The bees are finally coming up to winter weight now, slightly behind last year but that was to be expected with me leaving part way through winter feeding. A massive thank you for my family who have been doing a great job of feeding the bees with very little beekeeping experience and with only a little guidance from myself and fellow bee farmer Nigel Collier who has very kindly agreed to stop in every couple of weeks to check on the bees.

Thank you for reading this quite wordy post, there is so much to talk about here and I will be sure to keep you all updated in a month!

Matthew Ingram

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September: The end of the beekeeping season!

Well it doesn’t seem five minutes since I was last sat down to write last months blog. We’ve been busy at lots of shows and markets again this month as well as getting all our bees ready for winter! I’ve also learned this month that there are quite a lot of readers that are either already beekeepers or looking at becoming beekeepers so I will try and make sure my blog goes into enough depth for the beekeepers but explain everything the best I can for new or non-beekeepers.

The Bees

So all of the surplus honey is now off our bees, I’m really quite happy with the amount of honey we have harvested even though we split our hives so much. Splitting a hive is basically taking some of the bees from one hive and putting it in a new one with a new queen, the idea being that you can get more hives this way, the downside is that each time you split a hive you reduce the amount of honey they will be able to produce.

Mite treatments have finished now as well, We use Mite Away Quick Strips as it means we can very quickly kill off the Varroa Mite and if managed correctly does very little damage to the bees.

One of the biggest jobs of this month has been moving all of our bees to one overwintering site. There are lots of advantages to moving to large wintering sites for bees. The main benefit is that they are easier to look after as a group and easier to compare, we also don’t need to be driving around so much and the bees don’t need a certain area of forage as there is limited food around. The only problem is that in March we will be busy again moving the bees back out onto the Oil Seed Rape to start the season off again!

We are nearly finished with feeding our bees for winter. For convenience I have decided to go from a sugar syrup I mix from granulated sugar, water and a small amount of thymol to stop it going moldy to Invertbee. Invertbee is a ready made syrup that the bees take down and store as honey without needing to process it. The main advantage to this is that as the bees can use this syrup without processing it we can leave it on the hives even when it’s cold without worrying about condensation. As we have purchased in bulk and will have more than we need this winter if there are any beekeepers that would like any please get in touch for a price.

Invertbee winter feed for bees

Other News From Us

I have in the past been asked to do various talks to local clubs, associations and schools and so I have launched a new page on this website about what services we can offer. If you are a member of any groups that would be interested in talks about bees please do get in touch, It can be very basic ideal for people with just a general interest in bees up to quite specific and advanced talks for beekeeping groups. You can see that page – HERE

We’ve had a great uptake on our honey room for hire scheme with lots of honey harvested from people all around the midlands, We have now stopped for the winter but it will restart in May and I’m expecting great demand so make sure you book in early!

Australia

So as of course you all read this as soon as you got the notification email (as you’ve all already subscribed.. and those that haven’t will do!) I will be just coming into land at Hong Kong airport before my second flight to Sydney. From Sydney I will be flying north to a place called Coffs Harbor nearly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. I then have a 1 hour car journey to a town called Kempsey where I will be meeting the rest of the beekeeping team I’m working with.

I will be away working on a bee farm with 1,600 hives from the start of October until mid March when I will fly home to start the beekeeping season off in the UK. So this means that until my April blog the next 6 months of blogs will be about beekeeping in Australia and my experiences (although don’t worry this isn’t turning into a travel blog) I hope to be able to show you all some of the differences between beekeeping in the UK and elsewhere.

If any of you have any questions about my experiences in Australia or in the UK feel free to email me at info@holthallapiary.co.uk and I will reply to you as fast as I can.

Thank you for reading our blog and the next one will be published at the start of November!

Matthew Ingram


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September… already!

Well I seem to have been saying it a lot recently but where has the time gone! It feels like only a week ago I was writing about the season starting all the way back in March. Unlike back then rather than talking of all the flowers, honey and good weather ahead I’m thinking more about getting my bees through the bleak days of winter and ready to start off well next year!

August has been another busy month, we have managed to extract all of our summer honey (bar the 2 hives that we use for beekeeping experiences, they will be harvested on the 16th September after our last experience on the 15th. The honey this year has been lovely and clear and we’ve been lucky as the damp days have helped boost flowers and promote nectar production. You can see a few videos and pictures of our extraction kit working below.

Our article in the Bee craft magazine which I mentioned last month came out and has sparked lots of interest in our services. Our most recent beekeepers to take up our extracting service were Sean and Suzanne, (who I know read this blog) and by the amount of honey I harvested for them I assume they had a good season too!

Our experiences have gone better than we could have imagined this time last year, with so much interest and enthusiasm from all participants. We will certainly be running them again next year with the new dates coming out early in the new year!

So enough about what I’ve been up to what about the bees?!

Well August is really the start of our winter preparations, as I said we have been busy taking off any surplus honey so the bees are in one single brood box (Don’t know hive parts, check out our post – Here) This is just my personal preference and many other beekeepers do it differently.

So once the honey is off I start treating my bees for Varroa Mite, many of you will have heard of Varroa Mite before. What many people don’t know is that every hive in the UK will have them at some level, this is one of the main reasons that there are no or very few wild hives left. Most beekeepers, like me decide to treat Varroa mite to kill them which gives our bees much better chances through the winter.

We use a treatment that is called Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) it’s a strong treatment based on formic acid. It kills the mite without killing the bees. Unlike most other Varroa treatments that take 4 weeks MAQS takes just 7 days and can be done with honey supers on the hive. The quick treatment time gives us much more flexibility at the end of the season.

Once our treatments are done and the honey is off the hive we start feeding the bees. In the next few weeks we will bring all our hives back to one spot, that means they are easier to look after. We want all of our full hives to weigh around 25kg at the end of September. During the winter if our bees need more food they will have fondant added to them.

So that’s about it for the bees, the next few weeks are crucial in the development of winter bees and will determine how successful the bees are during the winter. Hopefully around 80-90% of our hives will make it through the winter.

Other Exciting News!

This winter rather than staying at home and getting ready for next season I will be flying out to Australia. Being on the southern hemisphere means their beekeeping season is opposite to ours, I will be flying out at the start of October through to March next year and will be back ready to start our own season off again.

I’m very lucky that I’ve got a beekeeping friend who is going to be helping check and look after my hives through the winter and my Mum and Sister are going to be busy helping at Markets and making deliveries for me!

The bee farm I’m going to work at has around 1,600 hives and is about 5 hours from Sydney near the coast. I’ll be joining a team of 4 other beekeepers and will be working very long hours so unfortunately I’m not expecting to be able to do much travelling around besides with work while I’m there! I know quite a few beekeepers read this so if you have any specific questions about beekeeping here or in Australia I’ll find out the answers and let you know!

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering if I’ll carry on blogging while I’m away and the answer is yes! I hope to carry on writing a blog once a month and hopefully it’ll have lots of pictures too.

Thank you for reading

Matthew Ingram

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July – A busy Month!

Hi everyone, firstly I need to apologies for missing the blog post two weeks ago. It’s been a very busy month and next month looks like it will be the same, because of that I’ve decided that until October I will post once a month before going back to twice a month in November! So this post is just a quick one on what I’ve been up to this month and what we’ve got coming up.

Our beekeeping experiences have really taken off this month we’ve got between 2 and 4 booked every week from the start of July to the end of August so if you have a voucher and you’ve not yet booked in, take a look at the dates that we still have available – here. I’m glad to say we have had lots of great positive feedback about the experience and everyone has gone away with an even greater fascination about bees than they had before!

In early July we attended Whitacre and Shustoke Show, It was a really nice day and we were very lucky with the weather! We took along a glass observation hive for people to see which was a big hit, especially with children. We were so busy I even had to get my sister to come and help on the stand! One of the things that really stood out for me was how many people mistook our bees for wasps!!!

Despite the rain we had a lovely day celebrating one of our stockists, The Cheese Gin and Ale Barn, 5th birthday by attending a market at Curborough Country Side Centre filled with great produce from lots of their other local suppliers! To any looking for somewhere nice to go for a couple of hours shopping I highly recommend popping over to Curborough.

The bees have also been busy this month with us having a really good flow (flow just means that the plants are producing nectar) and we’ve seen the hives grow substantially. We’ve also been busy making new hives up and we are at the time of writing this at 76 hives. Swarming has certainly reduced as I’ve not been called to collect one for at least 3 weeks now.

One of the highlights of this month for me was welcoming Stephen from Bee Craft magazine to our honey room to write an article on our new honey extraction services. After a few snags with getting his frames to fit into the extractor we were underway. We had a great talk about beekeeping, extracted lots of honey and had plenty of pictures taken (Not sure I liked that bit as much!). (Photo credit below: Bee Craft Magazine)

August is set to be another busy month for us with honey to be harvested towards the end of the month and a few shows and events as well. On the 11th August we will be at Fillongley Show with our honey, gifts and insect houses as well as our glass observation hive so you can come and see our bees working! On the 25th August we will be attending an event at Kingsbury Water Park with our observation hive, the event is all about educating people about bugs with a focus on bees! It’s a free event but would be great especially with children with lots going on including bug hunts around the waterpark!

Thank you for reading this quick update, as ever thank you for your support
Matthew Ingram
Holt Hall Apiary

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Harvesting Our Honey

Wow, what a difference a week makes! We’ve gone from constant rain to beautiful sunshine and hot weather and the bees loving it! This week we have been able to make up another 7 hives (This is a topic for a future post) so we are that bit closer to our goal of 100 hives for the year! Anyway this post is about how the honey gets from our bees to you!

Getting Honey Off The Hive

To get the supers (Not sure what these are check out our post about parts of the bee hive – here) off the hive without many bees in them we use something called a clearing board. Essentially this is a flat board with a hole in the centre, this hole has a mesh cone covering it so that the bees can get through it to go down to the rest of the hive but they can’t get back in. Essentially a one way valve for bees!

This removes about 95% of the bees the rest of them fly to the window in the first extracting room so when we take them through into the second room where they get extracted there are no bees (although one does occasionally hitch a ride through the PVC curtain!)

Capped honey that’s been cleared of bees

Getting Honey Out Of The Comb

The honey is in the beeswax comb covered over with a thin layer of wax that the bees make so that the honey doesn’t absorb water and spoil. Our first job is to cut or scrape the capping wax off the frames. There can be a lot of honey left in this wax so at the end of the process we squeeze it through a small press, similar to a fruit press to get every last drop of honey out! Even the wax doesn’t go to waste as we make candles and other products from it!

Cappings being removed

Once the frames have been uncapped we place them in a centrifuge, ours holds 20 frames and uses an electric motor to spin them up to 200 RMP although we rarely get it going that fast because it can break the delicate beeswax structure.

The frames spinning on by!

The honey spins out against the sides and runs out through a valve at the bottom through a fine strainer, the strainer doesn’t remove any of the goodness or pollen from our honey it simply stops you getting a jar full of bits of wax and while some people like having wax in there honey lots of people don’t. If you do want completely unfiltered honey then let us know at info@holthallapiary.co.uk and we can get you a jar next time we harvest!

It’s hard to get a good picture of the underside of the strainer I really didn’t want to drop the camera in!

To The Jar!

Our honey sits in a bucket for a minimum of one day to allow any air to rise to the top so you don’t get white bubbles in your jar which doesn’t look too good on a shelf. Some of the honey will remain in buckets longer as storage because between us I don’t really enjoy jarring up honey! I should just say that the length of storage has no impact on the quality of the honey!

Previously to filling we will have washed and sterilised the jars we need to fill.

To jar the honey the buckets are poured gently, trying to incorporate as little air as possible, into a jarring tank that has a clean cut valve to stop the drips once the jar is full. Each jar is placed on a set of scales under the valve and each jar is filled by hand, with all the practice I’ve had I can now fill them to about +/- 1g which is as good as a machine… just a little slower!

The jars are sealed and the anti tamper label is added. We then add the best before sticker to the bottom of the jar and the main label. New for this year we have numbered labels, this means that we can track each jar from the hive to when it was extracted, stored and jarred, its hard to beat that level of traceability, if you’ve got one of our jars and you want to know that information fill in the form HERE and we will get back to you ASAP!

Thank you for reading this quick post, I’d really love to hear from you with ideas for blog posts, new product ideas or any feedback you’ve got! If you would like to help then please fill out the form below

Matthew Ingram


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Rain Rain Go Away!

I’m sat writing this on the driest morning we have had for a week or so now. I feel like I should start by saying I think we needed the rain, everything was so dry which eventually would have impacted the growth and flowering of summer plants which obviously wouldn’t have been good for bees. So part of me is glad we got a good soaking… However I just wish it could have come with a few breaks rather than a week of solid rain.

This post is going to give you a look at how we feed the bees when they need it! This week with the natural lack of June flowering plants and the rain means the bees couldn’t really go out foraging and has meant the hives have burned through food at an alarming rate. Some strong hives with plenty of food at the start of the week had almost entirely eaten what they had.

There’s a few different types of feeder available some are better suited to certain hives and management practices. I’ll go into the ones I use later on, but first the food. In the same way you will have seen articles on the internet telling you to save an exhausted bee with a teaspoon of sugar water that is essentially what we do but on a bigger scale. I just want to note that some articles suggest leaving a bowl or saucer of sugar water out all the time, please don’t do this! Bees don’t need feeding that often and each hive is different, bees will bring sugar water back and process it into honey meaning the beekeepers honey crop is now adulterated and not true honey.

We make our own syrup (sugar water) up during the season but we are considering buying our winter syrup in as there’s a lot to make! Basically speaking we 3/4 fill a plastic Jerry Can with sugar and then add water until the Can is full. Sometimes it can be difficult to get all the sugar to dissolve but by using warm water and shaking it for quite some time most of it does. So far this week we have fed about 25kg of sugar with more to go today.

You can see we haven’t quite finished mixing the sugar in yet!

The most common feeder I use is called a rapid feeder, these are plastic bowls with a central hole that stick up to the top of the trough. Basically the bees crawl up through a hole in the crown board to access the syrup. The plastic cover stops the bees being able to get completely into the syrup and drowning, these are my favorite feeders. The type I am using is 2.5L which is a little small for winter feeding and means you do have to refill them quite a few times.

The second type of feeder we are using at the moment is a miller feeder. These come as standard on this particular type of hive. The bees crawl up inside the feeder like with the rapid feeder but the two wells on either side can be filled up which goes under a small gap into an area where the bees can get access to it.

There are loads of different types of feeder out there but I don’t think for non-beekeepers it’s the most interesting of topics but I do think its really important that people understand the full picture of beekeeping in the UK and issues we can come across. Next week I will as I think I promised two weeks ago write a blog about extracting and jarring honey!

Thank you for reading and supporting this blog

Matthew Ingram

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Our New Honey Harvesting Room

Over the past few months I’ve been busy turning a disused shed on the farm into a food grade honey extraction facility. While it’s only small it should be more than enough for us to process honey for the next few years by adding equipment as we grow. This is just a short post about our new honey room, next time I will talk you all through how we actually extract the honey.

The shed was previously used as a tank room when the farm used to operate as a diary farm. Unknown to me at the start of the project it’s previous use actually caused an issue for my project because the acid used to clean milk tanks out corrodes concrete and so had left the floor quite uneven. When the farm stopped producing milk the room went into disrepair and has only been used as storage for about 30 years. As you can see time really did take it’s toll!

The first stage was getting water and electric reconnected to the room and stripping out the old piping and wiring. The rotten door and windows were removed before we could start with the stud walling. Insulation is also important as for processing honey you want to be able to warm the room to make the honey runnier and therefore quicker to extract.

Once the stud walls were up they were plastered and sealed, we also sealed the concrete floor to provide a surface that is easier to clean. The lighting and sockets went in and then painting began! My sister came and helped for this bit although she is quite a messy painter!! The plumbing then went in to get our sinks, hot water and our glass dishwasher that will sterilise 30 jars every two minutes so we can keep on top of our jarring, it also means that if you would like to return your jars (without labels on them) then you are welcome to and we will reuse them!

You will see in our pictures we have a PVC curtain separating the rooms, the idea of this is that after we bring the honey supers (don’t know what they are check out our post on beehive parts – here) we leave them a couple of hours to allow the last few bees to fly up to the window. Doing this means virtually no bees get into the extraction room itself and so is a clean environment for food.

We also have quite a bit of equipment that I will go through in my next post but they include a 20 frame honey extractor, a 1m long uncapping tank, 100l settling tank and 25kg jarring tank. Don’t worry if you don’t know what they are like I said I’ll explain them next time!

Thank you for reading this short post, hopefully you’ve found our small project interesting and of course if you have any questions then leave us a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Matthew Ingram

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Her Royal Majesty The Queen!

As I promised last time, and as you will have guessed from the title, this post is about queen bees. While the queen can’t live without workers, without a queen a hive will fail faster. At this time of year and as a small bee farm looking to grow quickly, queens are key. We can split an existing hive many times and introduce a new queen to each split which then itself becomes a mini hive that will build up over the spring and summer.

Where Do The Queens Come From?

Well there are two options for getting extra queens, one is rearing our own queens and I’ll talk about that more in the next paragraph. The other way of getting queens is… by post! The queens we have had this year have come from the Mediterranean, the warmer climate means they are able to rear new queens far earlier in the season than we are able to here in the UK. Although these queens came as part of a larger shipment amazingly you can send queens around the UK by the aptly named Royal Mail, however the postman does give you a funny look as you sign for a package of bees that have been buzzing in his van all morning!

In mid April we had our first batch of queens arrive, they come in well ventilated cages with food for their travels, the queen is accompanied by 5 or 6 workers who will look after her until she is introduced to a hive of her own. Generally I believe it is better to breed your own queens however the extra month these imported queens give us vastly improves the quality of the hives they live in as they have far longer to establish.

Queen Rearing.. A Very Brief Intro!

Queen rearing is in my opinion one of the most fascinating parts of beekeeping, the queens genetics and quality directly affects every aspect of a hives performance and temperament. This will be only a very short introduction into how we do it as it can be complex and for none beekeepers probably quite boring. It is also fair to say that the average ‘hobby’ beekeeper probably doesn’t bother with queen rearing, at least not intentionally!

The method we use is called grafting, that means we take a normal worker larvae that has been hatched within the last 24 hours and transfer it into a plastic (sometimes wax) cell that mimics a queen cell. Under the right circumstances (the hive is very busy but has no queen) the bees produce queen cells from the grafts that can then be harvested and the new queens emerge in their new hives.

To help this process run smoothly, as we only have a limited amount of queen rearing kit that goes in the hive, we bring the capped (8 day old) queen cells inside and place them in a chicken incubator, with a constant ‘hive’ temperature and a high humidity the queens hatch out and can be introduced to their new hives.

Using this method we produce about 5 queens a week which is certainly small scale but is sufficient for our needs. Our first queens hatched out on the 1st May which is quite early due to the unseasonably warm April, I would expect her to be laying eggs within two weeks.

I hope that although this was quite a basic post you’ve all learned something new about the amazing world of beekeeping, I’m always certainly learning new things about it. Thank you for reading – If you are interested in the roles of other bees in the hive check out one of our other posts here

Matthew Ingram


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