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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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SWARMS! Not as scary as you might think!

This week has been a busy one for us here at Holt Hall Apiary, the warm weather over the past few weeks as well as the oil seed rape being in flower has really helped push our bees on. This boost has led to very early swarms of bees which I’ll talk about a few that we have collected since our last post.

Why Bees Swarm

So firstly you should understand why bees swarm, when a hive becomes too crowded and there is limited space for the queen to lay the bees choose to swarm. To swarm they start to rear a new queen (which is a topic in itself!) the queen is put on a diet by the workers so that she is light enough to fly and around half of the bees leave with the queen to make a new hive elsewhere. Leaving behind the cells that will hatch out to become a new queen to carry on the old hive.

As a beekeeper I want to try and stop this happening as not only do I lose half of the workforce of a hive I lose a lot of the honey they have produced as they fill up before leaving the hive as building wax takes lots of energy! There are countless ways to intervene with swarming but I choose the most straight forward, when I see the bees are trying to create a new queen I take the old queen and some of the workers and put them in a new hive of their own. Basically they have swarmed but without me losing anything, later on I can always combine them back together should I need to.

When You See Swarms

When the bees leave the hive they stop a short distance away and cluster around the queen to protect her,If you’ve seen pictures of swarms this is what you’ve seen and what is happening in the picture below. Even though seeing that many bees in one cluster can look intimidating bees in a swarm are actually at their most docile, this is because they no longer have a hive and young to protect.

While the bees are clustering they are actually looking for a new home and scout bees are checking out any potential locations before a consensus between the bees is made and the swarm leaves. This can take up to 4 days and sometimes a swarm cannot find a suitable location and so builds the hive where they have stopped in the open, these swarms rarely survive as they are hard to defend and keep warm.

Collecting Swarms

When the bees are still in cluster it is possible for a beekeeper to come and collect and re-home the bees. This week I have collected 3 swarms and the way you do it differs depending on where the swarm has stopped. I was lucky as two of them stopped in a place where I could put a hive directly underneath and and shake the bees in.

Once the queen is in the hive, especially if it is one that has been used before and therefore smells of a beehive the bees do something amazing, on mass they suddenly start walking into the new hive! As one of the swarms was on an area with lots of long tufts of grass I put down a white sheet which makes it easier for the bees to walk in.

Hopefully you will find seeing a few pictures of swarms interesting and to me I think swarming and the collective decisions they make during that time are some of the most fascinating examples of bees intelligence!

In the next blog post I will talk about queen bees, how we rear more queens and how we even get some sent by post!

Thank you for reading our blog and supporting our business. – If you do see a swarm in your garden or elsewhere please do get in touch and we will collect them as quickly as possible, please email us with a contact phone number and a location and we will get back to you right away – Info@holthallapiary.co.uk

Matthew Ingram


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A Quick Update About The Bees!

Hi all, this is just going to be a quick update about how our bees are getting on and what we’ve been up to. I’ll cover quite a few topics and then hopefully in the coming few weeks I’ll write about each one in a little more depth.

How Are The Bees Doing?

Besides the cold spell in the last week the bees have been doing very well and very far ahead of where they were last year! The Oil Seed Rape (OSR) is almost in full flower and once the temperature gets high enough for them to make use of it they will get very busy indeed! Last week on a sunny day I went to check on the bees and parked between the bees and the field of OSR it was like sitting in the middle of a motorway with a constant stream of bees hurriedly flying between the flowers and the hives, possibly the busiest I’ve ever seen them!

As the hives are ahead of schedule and there is now males (Drones) in the hives (as you will know from our post: Back To Basics:The Bees drones don’t live through the winter). This means we have been able to start queen rearing, that is the selective breeding of queen bees to make up new colonies. This can be quite a complicated job so possibly in the next post I will show you all lots of pictures and explain the process.

So, Have I Been As Busy As The Bees!?

The last few weeks have been busy for us, we are busy renovating an old barn into a brand new extracting facility. There’s lots of new bits of equipment and tools which I will do a post on and showing the transformation between what it looked like before we started to how it will be when it is finished sometime over the next two weeks!

Farmers Markets are also becoming a big focus and we now do 3 different ones a month. On the first Thursday of the month we do Lichfield Farmers Market, unfortunately this month (our first month there) was a bit of a wash out but we’re feeling positive and will be back next month! Today (second Sunday of the month) we are at Buzzards Valley Artisan Market so make sure you pop down and get some Easter presents we take all our products with us, you can see the range – here. Our newest market and we haven’t been to this one yet is Market Bosworth Farmers Market on the 4th Sunday of every month!

Thank You For Reading!

Thank you for reading this very quick update on what we are up to, we will be writing a couple more in depth beekeeping posts over the next few weeks so keep an eye out for this and as usual if you do want to get an email when we post then please sign up below.

Thank you

Matthew Ingram


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Hives on the move! The start of the season

I’m writing this post on Saturday evening ready for it to be posted tomorrow morning… nothing like the last minute! It’s been a very busy week here with getting our new honey extraction room up and running (I will write a post about that in the coming weeks) and moving some of the bees to a new site. This post will be about how and why we move our bees and the benefits of it!

Getting the new site sorted!

So on Tuesday morning last week I went and met up with the farmer who’s land I’m having the hives on. We found a suitable spot that gets lots of sun but is quite sheltered from a wood just behind them, most importantly though the site is surrounded by Oil Seed Rape (OSR), a lot of it! The OSR is the reason for moving the bees, it’s great to get smaller colonies well established and the bigger ones produce a lot of honey from it! I’m expecting to extract about 300kg of honey just off the Oil Seed Rape over the next two months!

Unfortunately when I set the site up I forgot to take any pictures but you can all imagine a line of wooden pallets next to a field! To get the site sorted I lay down 6 pallets although one is currently not being used, I leveled them up as bees will build comb straight to the ground so if the hive isn’t flat it can cause a few problems when I go to check on them!

Loading up the bees!

I was up early last Friday getting the hives ready to move, the hives are all strapped down ( I certainly don’t want a hive opening up when I go over any bumps!) The entrances are stuffed with foam which stops the bees from being able to come out of the hive so I don’t lose any on the commute! The reason for doing the move early in the morning is that the bees aren’t really active yet, also it means that if you were moving them during the summer it would be nice and cool for the bees.

In total we loaded up 20 hives and a few extra pallets, they were all very well strapped down and secured for the short trip. The bees have to move over 3 miles, if you move it under 3 miles or over 3 feet the bees will fly back to where their hive used to be, anything out side of that range is fine as the bees know they’ve moved because they are in unfamiliar territory and go about reorienting to the new hive location!

Me with a pickup and trailer full of bees!

Time for the unloading!

I got to the new site with no problems at all, I unloaded them all on to their pallets (4 per pallet) with the entrances facing slightly different ways so the bees don’t get confused as to which one is their home! By now it was about 9am and the sun was on the hives so I removed the foam in the entrance and the bees were soon out and busy! The OSR on a field just behind where I was stood taking this picture is now coming out well and I’ve added two supers to each hive to keep up when the flow really gets going! (If you don’t know what super are check out our blog post on hive parts – here)

The row of hives ready to start work!

Thank you for reading this blog post about moving our bees. The Oil Seed Rape coming out really does represent the season starting and having checked the hives this week I know some of them have half filled a super already, a good sign for the season to come especially if the weather stays like this! My next post will be just more of a general update on how the hives are doing and I will hopefully be able to share some good pictures from inside the hive!

Thank you again for reading

Matthew Ingram


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Has The Warm Weather Affected Our Bees?

So this weeks post will only be short but I think it’s an important question to answer as it’s one that I’ve been asked quite a few times recently. It’s not just none beekeepers asking this question as well many beekeepers are asking themselves this same question, I know I certainly was!

So firstly to dispel a little beekeeping myth, I often get asked ‘has the warm weather woken your bees up?’. Well technically no, because honey bees don’t sleep! Unlike other species of bees, honey bees don’t hibernate at all. The reason honey bees produce honey to store food that won’t go off for them to eat throughout the winter.

Although bees don’t sleep or hibernate they are much less active during the winter, the cold weather means they can’t fly and to preserve food and allow the hive to be kept cooler the queen ceases or reduces egg laying so there are no young bees in the hive. The warm weather we had during February allowed the bees to go out foraging for pollen on the snowdrops and crocus much earlier than usual which is a good thing as pollen is needed to feed young bees. The sudden warm temperature also prompted the queen to start laying at a much faster rate.

So why could this be a problem? Well active bees and brood rearing uses up lots of energy and in turn food. The main concern is that the bees could run out of food before the spring flowers come out. To get around this we’ve added extra feed to some of the most active hives, the food, which is basically a bakers fondant (Pure sugar). The fondant is put inside a plastic bag to stop it from drying out and going hard. We cut a small hole in the underside of the bag and the bees crawl up through a whole in the roof of the hive to get to the fondant.

Bakers fondant in the insulation on top of the hive.

So when can we stop worrying? Well when the Oil Seed Rape comes out and the temperature is warm enough for the bees to fly they will produce lots of honey, up to 10kg a week in the right conditions! This week I’m going to set up the apiary site next to the oil seed rape and hopefully get all the hives moved next weekend so they are ready for the crop to start flowering.

Thank you for reading this short post, hopefully you’ll have more of an idea about the impact this mild winter has had on our bees and what we are trying to do to keep them as healthy as possible.

Don’t forget Mothering Sunday is on the 31st March, we have loads of great gifts from things for the home and garden as well as our hugely popular beekeeping experiences. Remember if you live within 5 miles of us and spend more than £10 you get free delivery and even if you don’t we have really competitive postage prices! Take a look at all our products here – Shop

Matthew Ingram


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Back to Basics: The Bees!

So in this post I’m going to cover probably the most important aspect of beekeeping… the bees! Now bees are very complex so I’m not going to go into full detail because otherwise you would be sat here reading this for an extremely long time! My plan is to cover a bit about the roles within a hive and try and give you some informative, fascinating and downright extraordinary facts about bees.

Her Majesty, The Queen

The queen marked with red to show she was born in 2018, queens born in 2019 will be marked green

So I’m going to start this section off by expelling a beekeeping myth. The queen has no more control over the hive than the workers, she can’t tell them what to do and in many cases it’s the workers telling the queen what to do!

The queen is the only bee in a ‘normal’ hive capable of laying eggs and reproducing. The reason I say normal hive is because if a hive is without a queen for too long for any reason the workers can attempt to lay eggs, it doesn’t work but its a last ditch attempt to save the colony. The queen lays around 2000 eggs per day during the summer months, to give that some perspective the queen is laying her own body weight in eggs, every single day!

To make sure the queen is able to lay at that rate the workers look after her, feeding, grooming and even guiding the queen around the hive to areas on comb they need her to lay in. Amazingly the queen can choose to lay an egg that becomes a male (drone) which is unfertilised or a female (worker) which is fertilised depending on the needs of the colony.

When the queen runs out of space to lay eggs it signals the on set of swarming, this is where the workers start to produce a second queen so that the hive can split in two. When this happens the old queen stops laying and the workers restrict food and keep her moving to lose weight, she loses 1/3rd of her weight which allows her to fly with the assistance of the workers to their new hive!

Did you know that in the first few days of hatching a worker bee larvae can be changed into a queen bee by feeding it large amounts of royal jelly a natural substance made by the bees, amazingly just the change in food during the first few days of its life means that unlike a worker who’s lifespan is about 6 weeks a queen can live up to 7 years!!

Drones

A good overview of the different castes on honey bee (Apis Melifera)

Drones are male bees, they’re bigger than workers but despite that don’t actually have a stinger which is part of the female bees reproductive system. Films like ‘Bee Movie’ show all of the males working as worker bees, in reality the males are solely there for reproduction after which they die. The drones are looked after by the workers and fly out to drone congregation areas… scientists still don’t really understand how they pick these spots but all the drones from hives in the area somehow know where to go.

Bees are notoriously hard working and as the saying goes there’s no such thing as a free meal. In late September when the bees know the winter is coming the drones are kicked out of the hive because it gets too cold for them to go out on mating flights and they eat food without providing anything in return, bees really are very efficient! In the spring when the weather starts to warm up the bees start to rear drones which then reproduce with queens from other hives.

Time For The Real Work To Begin, Workers

Worker bees with larvae (white) and bright pollen probably from Snowdrops or Crocus

So there’s an awful lot I could write about workers as they make up over 95% of hive population but I’ll try and keep it short and sweet. So, as you will know from the section on drones and the queen, workers are all female but unlike the queen can’t lay fertile eggs that become other workers.

The role of a worker changes throughout its life depending on it’s age and the needs of a colony. Below you can see what jobs they do throughout their usual 6 week lives, notice there is some overlap and that is just them responding to needs of the hive.

Days OldJob In The Hive
1-3 Housekeeping – These bees clean the wax cells ready for the queen to lay in.
3-16 Rubbish Disposal – These bees remove rubbish including bees and larvae that have died in the hive.
4-12 Nurse Bees – They check on  and feed the larvae, on average a single larvae is checked 1,300 times per day.
7-12 Attending to the Queen – Feeding and cleaning the queen.
12-18 Fanning the hive, controlling the temperature and humidity of the hive
12-35 Building the hive – Bees from 12 days old can start producing wax.
18-21 Guarding the hive – Standing a the hive entrance stopping intruder bees, wasps or other predators.
22 -42 Collecting resources – Collecting honey, water and propolis (tree resin) for the hive

Workers hatched in late September onward are ‘winter bees’ their bodies are actually subtly different from the workers hatched in the summer. The winter bees have slightly higher fat bodies in their abdomen that allows them to reserve more energy. This small difference means the workers born just before winter live for several month until the next spring, that’s necessary because during the winter it gets too cold for brood to be reared in the hive.

This Week’s Update

So the weather this week has been unseasonably good, it’s given me a chance to go around my hives and have a little look inside, I’m pleased to report that all of them are looking healthy and growing fast! This could be good or bad news depending on the weather to come, but we will keep a close eye on them and make sure everything goes alright no matter what the weather!

I hope you have found this post interesting and now know a little more about life inside a hive, as I said this is a very quick look at honey bees. If you want to learn even more about bees and get hands on why not take a look at our beekeeping experiences.

Thank you for reading our blog and supporting our business. If you have any questions about this or beekeeping in general ‘id love to know, leave a comment below and I will look at doing a post answering some of your questions.

Matthew Ingram


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Back to basics: The seasons of beekeeping

Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby, or for some of us lucky enough even a job, but for those that haven’t had any beekeeping experience it can seem like a mystical and confusing world. I noticed during my first few posts that I just dove right with the beekeeping but perhaps didn’t go over the basics first. This fairly long post (Sorry I got carried away!) is going to go over the year of a beekeeper, so you can understand a little more about how bees and beekeepers work together throughout the year.

April – The start of our beekeeping year

It may seem odd starting a year off in April but for a beekeeper that’s when things really start to get interesting. April is a time when the bees become more active and the longer spring days have prompted the queen to increase the amount of eggs she lays. Did you know, at the height of summer the queen can lay 1,500 eggs per day! As well as the growing bee population, spring flowers are starting to come out and the bees start producing the first honey of the year.

A small section of comb with laid in by the queen

May – The joy of Oilseed Rape

May, the temperatures are warming up now and the bees are out flying every day. Oilseed Rape, the yellow flower seen all over the countryside is in full flower and it provides a massive boost and first crop for our bees. We move our bees as close to the Rape Seed as possible to cut down on how far they have to fly, the bees do the rest of the work! It’s not uncommon for a hive to produce upwards of 20kgs of honey in just a few weeks!

Oilseed Rape honey is deliciously sweet and fairly mild tasting, but it has one quality that can stop even the best beekeeper in their tracks. We all know honey granulates over time, it’s fair to say we have all found that jar of honey at the back of the cupboard we had forgotten about, now rock solid. Well Oil Seed Rape honey does this in a matter of weeks or even days if it isn’t extracted from the comb quick enough.

To get around this we produce soft set honey, a smooth creamy texture created by grinding down the sugar crystals until they’re no longer bitty and unpleasant to eat. It’s one of our most popular types of honey and you can find it here – Creamed Honey

The sea of yellow Oilseed Rape

June – Mind the gap!

The June gap – sounds funny I know but it can be a really serious time for bees and their keepers . Towards the end of May the spring flowers, like the Oil Seed Rape and many of our native flowering trees have gone over and no longer produce pollen or nectar. The problem is many of our summer flowers aren’t yet ready which means our bees can go hungry.

The hive is nearing it’s peak capacity over summer, around 60,000 bees but the food sources become scarce and as many beekeepers extract spring honey in May/June we need to be extra attentive making sure our hives have enough food or supplement in their food.

Thirsty work! A worker collecting water

July – Summer is finally here.. hopefully!

This is the month the bees really expand, the queen is laying roughly 2,000 eggs per day and the workers are busy collecting pollen and nectar from an abundance of flowers.

The hive, reaching maximum capacity can also cause the bees to swarm, which is a natural way of a hive reproducing. In a swarm the old queen leaves with about one third of the workers to make a new hive, while the old hive produces a new queen to take over. As a beekeeper we want to avoid swarms as much as possible, not only can they be a nuisance to members of the public they also greatly reduce the workforce of the hive, and the stores of honey the colony has amassed throughout the year.

This colourful picture always reminds me of summer!

August – Too dry?

While most years are fine and the bees continue well with the queen only laying slightly less than the peak of July, 2018 was slightly different. The long hot dry spell caused many flowers to stop producing nectar which in turn had a strain on the bees. With such a large population and limited access to forage bees in some areas started consuming more honey than they could produce.

Despite the dry spell, the summer of 2018 was record breaking for many beekeepers, as the hot but damp start to the year gave our bees the an abundance of flowers producing nectar and pollen.

Grass around two of our hives dried up, it got much drier than this too!

September – The Start Of Winter…Already!

September is the first month in which we as beekeepers start to really think about preparing for winter, the main honey flow (plants in flower) is over and the bees population has started to reduce. Our first job is to remove the supers of honey (Not sure what a super is? Check out our post on parts of the beehive – Here) This is our main crop of honey and may be as much as 50kg per hive!

Varroa, so if you have been reading our blog i’m sure you will have heard me mention Varroa Mites, they are a small parasitic mite that live on bees and can cause the spread of disease and eventually the colony death. In September we treat our bees with a sort of medicine that kills the exposed mites without harming the bees, by doing this we know that our bees are as healthy as possible ready winter.

Varroa Mites seen on the bee to the right.
Photo Credit: beeaware.org.au

October – Time For Food

While when we take the honey crop we do leave plenty for the bees over the winter some of the bigger hives go through their stores very quickly, while the weather is still relatively mild feed our bees with a concentrated sugar solution which bulks the hive up for the rest of the winter.

We also add mouse guards, a perforated metal sheet that stops mice from entering the hive to seek food and shelter but allows the bees to come and go freely.

Feeders on the top of a hive.
Photo Credit: Blue Line Honey

November – The Clustering Begins

As the night and now days become colder the bees begin to cluster, many people believe honey bees hibernate which isn’t true. In fact honey bees huddle together to keep warm, the lack of brood allows the bees to keep the hive at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the year as it isn’t acting as an incubator.

Thermal Image of bees in cluster! Photo Credit: Honey Bee Suite

December – The Dark Days Of Winter

With the days now as short as they are going to be the queen has almost entirely stopped laying eggs. The bees in cluster are slowly moving over the comb in a circular pattern consuming their stores as they go. There isn’t much a beekeeper can do now besides getting ready for next year!

Our Bees During Winter

January – Time For A Quick Peak!

One of the first jobs of the new year is treating our bees for Varroa mite, again! In January we can use a naturally occurring chemical, Oxilic acid to kill mites. The acid is put into a mild solution and gently trickled over the bees. It doesn’t hurt the bees but the exposed mites are killed. This means our bees should be going into spring as healthy as possible!

The other great thing about this is that it gives you a quick chance to take a look at your bees, but we have to be quick and can’t remove the frames as the bees will have to work hard to get the hive back up to temperature.

Bees in cluster but looking very strong!

February – Are they flying?

The days are now getting longer and spring is in the air (hopefully!) on warm days the hives are busy with activity with bees venturing out for the first time in months, there are some flowers producing pollen, particularly Snowdrops, Hellebores and Crocus.

The queen is now laying much more, they will be flying in about a months time. With greater numbers of bees comes a greater demand for food, there still isn’t much in the way of nectar producing flowers but a hive will go through around 10kg of honey this month.

Bees enjoying the Crocus Pollen

March – Not Out Of The Woods Yet!

Spring is nearly here and depending on the weather we may be starting to check our bees a bit more often. It can be easy to feel like the hard work is done and they’ve made it through winter but in fact March is probably the riskiest time for bees.

The bees have grown in number to get ready for the spring flowers but they haven’t arrived yet. If beekeepers aren’t carefully monitoring the amount of a food a hive has it can be very easy for them to run out and die out before the spring flowers arrive! We check them based on weight and add sugar syrup or bakers fondant is the weather is still cold.

Pollen being collected by this worker bee

Well Done, You Made It Through A Year Of Beekeeping!

Thank you for reading our post, I know this weeks was a bit longer than usual but if you’re really interested in bees then this gives you a good overview of what our bees and us will be up to throughout the year.

Update from our bees: We have had a few sunny days recently and the bees have been taking full advantage of this, all of the hives are alive and by the activity at the entrances all look very strong too! Of course there is still a long way to go before Spring properly arrives!

Again thank you for taking the time to ready our blog!

Matthew Ingram


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