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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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Back To Basics Beekeeping – The Bee Hive

It came to my attention while writing my last post that there are many technical terms used it beekeeping that many of you won’t actually know. This quick post will go through the parts of a beehive as well as a few pictures showing how I make certain parts of the hives. Hopefully you’ll learn something new about the fascinating world of beekeeping!

The Hive Itself

All modern beehives are essentially a stack of hollow boxes with removable frames in them that the bees live on. Our beehives are called British Nationals or Standard British Nationals, which is the most common type in the UK. The height of each box differs depending on its use, although with everything in beekeeping each beekeeper does things slightly differently, so everything that follows in this post is just my opinion.

Parts Of A Hive

  • The floor and entrance block – The floor is raised to keep the bees and the hive away from the damp, it’s also made of a fine wire mesh, that allows debris and the Varroa mite fall through but because it’s fine the bees and pests can’t get through. The entrance block is simply a way for us to protect weaker colonies at certain times, we reduce the entrance size so it is easier to defend from pests like wasps.
  • The brood box – This is where the queen is, or at least should be. This deep box has plenty of room for the queen to lay her eggs as well as storage space for pollen and a little honey.
  • The queen excluder – Well if you read the above and wondered how I knew the queen would be in the brood box then this is how. This perforated sheet has holes big enough for the workers to get through but small enough that the much larger queen can’t.
  • Supers – The supers are where the nectar is stored and turned into honey, the queen can’t lay here so when we extract we don’t have to worry about contamination. While the diagram only shows one super we add them on top as needed. Some strong hives can have up to 7 or 8 supers!
  • Crown Board – This board is simply a way to reduce the space between the hive and the raised roof. Without it the bees would stick the roof down with rouge comb!
  • The roof – A pretty simple one, simply there to keep the hive dry and over the summer give it some shade.

Building Hives

As I said we build all of our own hives more or less from scratch. We use Pine and Plywood to build our hives as it works well and is very economical. All of the wood comes from our local sawmill who do a lot of the cutting for us so it means we can make our hives much quicker!

It is quite a simple process, the pine lengths have a small rebate cut into them and then we simply screw them to the plywood ends and attach the sides… you don’t have to be a master of DIY! So long as its solid and will hold up to the Great British weather it’s ready to go! To make sure they are going to last we coat all of the boxes in a bee friendly outdoor paint too.

Frames… explained

So I’ve mentioned making frames quite a few times over the past few posts without explaining what they are. It’s much easier to show you, please see a few pictures of them below. Basically the bees don’t just have free rein inside the hive, it would end up in a mess of wax that we just couldn’t check so we prompt the bees to build their comb on wooden frames that we can lift out and check.

The size of the frame depends on the size of the box and how many frames you want in each box. I personally have 12 frames in a brood box and 11 in a super, it’s just what works for me, no scientific reason at all. We buy the frames in Ikea style, flat pack! They’re easy to assemble with the help of a nail gun but the amount of frames we need to build makes it a big job!

Hopefully you’ve learnt something new!

One of the things that is really important to me and is helping to guide Holt Hall Apiary is teaching the general public about beekeeping. Although most of you will probably never become beekeepers I personally think that having an understanding of one of the most important pollinators in the world is always a good thing!

If you’ve not seen our previous posts you can find them here – The Beginning of our beekeeping story | Getting our bees through winter.

Thank you for reading and supporting our business.

Matthew Ingram


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Getting Our Bees Through Winter

Winter is without doubt the toughest time of year for bees and of course beekeepers. It’s a time of year where beekeepers have to have faith that we prepared our bees well enough to make it through until spring. Contrary to popular belief honey bees don’t actually go dormant or hibernate, they are still active in the hive keeping it warm by clustering together, however most don’t fly if its less than 10 degrees outside!

The British Beekeepers Association’s winter survey found that in 2017 British beekeepers lost an average of 14% of their hives, with some losing a far greater number. If you are interested in their finding take a look here – Winter Survey.

So How Do We Actually Prepare Our Bees?

  • I start with, in my opinion, the most obvious way to get the bees ready. We check that the hives are in good condition, sounds simple and it is that simple. I’m looking for issues with the floors, are they sat in a damp spot or look like they are starting to bow slightly. The key thing is to check the roof, there’s an old wives tale that says its not the cold that kills bees, it’s the damp. If there’s a roof not looking too good or a rip in the covering I change it right away. If I can stop the inside of the hive from getting damp I know my bees will be better off for it!
  • Moving Day! During the summer our beehives are set out in small groups, called apiaries. We don’t want to over populate one area with bees reducing the amount of forage available to each hive and the pollinators naturally found in that area. During the winter however the bees aren’t out foraging so we move them all back together which makes them easier to look after. If you haven’t already seen the picture below I feel there’s two things I need to say: Firstly, although it looks unstable it was well strapped down and all the bees survived the journey! Secondly, if you haven’t already guessed I’m the sort of person who will struggle carrying everything in one go to avoid a second trip… turns out I’m the same with the bees!
  • Food, Glorious Food! So most of us know that bees make honey to get them through the winter, but do you know how much they need? Well it all depends on what the weather is going to be like and how strong the colony was going into winter. As a rough rule of thumb they need around 20kg of stores (Honey and Pollen) to make it through. Now some hives produce way more than 20kg of honey. Our two best hives this year produced around 50kg of surplus honey! However some of our young hives didn’t produce enough honey and so we had to substitute them with sugar syrup. I’m sure you’ve all seen, feeding sugar syrup to a bee can help them get better and fly. We do the same thing but on a much bigger scale, each of our underweight hives get at least one 5 litre bucket of syrup, the fastest hive this year emptied theirs in just under 48 hours, busy bees!
An example of feeding hives – Blue Line Honey
  • So there’s only one more job to do before we say goodbye to our bees for winter and that’s getting them pest proofed! I’m sure when you saw the picture at the top you thought I’d gone mad trying to keep my bees in with chicken wire, well I’m not that crazy… The wire is actually used to stop an unusual pest of the honey bee, the Woodpecker! To a woodpecker a one inch, thick piece wood between you and the high energy goodness of honey is nothing. The wire stops the woodpecker being able to get close enough to the sides to do any damage. The other main pest that we get is mice, its warm in the hive and it has plenty of food, the problem is mice make a mess of the frames and can do a lot of damage to a beehive. We use mouse guards to stop them, now I’m not talking something like out of the Nutcracker ballet but a perforated metal plate that goes over the entrance to stop the mice getting in but letting the bees come and go.

So It’s Winter, What Now?

OxalicWell I know you’re thinking the life of a beekeeper must be pretty good, working outside in the summer and sat around doing nothing in the winter. Well unfortunately that’s not quite right. Although we aren’t checking our bees much over winter there’s still plenty for us to get on with! The most important job for me over winter is treating the bees for Varroa Mite. The Mite is parasitic and spreads disease in the hive and can lead to it failing. We kill the mites with a solution of Oxalic acid which is what makes rhubarb leaves poisonous. The solution goes over the bees which doesn’t hurt them but kills the mites.

Image from: beeaware.org.au

The biggest job for me as a beekeeper in a business that is expanding so quickly is building hives and the frames that go in them. Most days during the winter you can find me in the workshop with the radio on! I have 75 hives to make and about 1,800 frames to get ready for Spring. It’s fair to say as a beekeeper you learn pretty quickly that DIY is something you need to be able to do!

Our Update

So it’s now the middle of January and despite a cold spell expected soon spring isn’t far away. I’m hoping the cold spell isn’t another ‘beast from the east’ like last year, if you haven’t seen the barricade that was built to protect the hives last year check out our first post here.

All of our hives are alive and were looking very strong when we treated them for Varroa a few weeks ago. The hive building is well under way too, with about half of the hives built and 1000 frames left to go! I can’t take all of the credit though, my sister has made about 100 frames, even if it was just an excuse for her to avoid doing revision!!

Our first pallet of frames!

Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve learnt a bit about the life of a beekeeper and our bees over the winter months. If you have any questions pop them in a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Matthew Ingram


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The beginning of our beekeeping story!

Welcome to our first ever blog post, my name is Matthew Ingram and I’m the founder of Holt Hall Apiary, my aim is to write a regular blog about our bees, what they’ve been up to and about what I’ve been doing to (hopefully) help them. I might also find the odd honey recipe or share plans to some bee related DIY or perhaps just try and teach you a little about beekeeping and why I love it so much!

If you told me a few years ago I would be beekeeping, and not only as a hobby but that it would actually be my job there’s no way I would have believed you, but here we are today! I’ve been interested in bees ever since I ‘had a go’ at beekeeping at the Royal Agricultural Show about 12 years ago, I found the hard working bees fascinating but after we left the show that day I can’t honestly say I thought about having bees again for at least another 10 years.

Over the 2016/17 winter while I was at home from University I went and looked at some old hives at the back of our farm, they’d been there for as long as I can remember but I’m pretty sure I’ve never known them to have bees in. Anyway despite having walked past them thousands of times in my life I decided to actually have a look in them, there wasn’t a lot there beside some empty frames (of course at the time I didn’t really know what I was looking at) and an impressive collection of very large spiders that had taken residence.  Despite the spiders and the hives state of disrepair they were clearly salvageable and so without really knowing anything about beekeeping I decided to embark on the new challenge!

In April 2017 while still working on placement year from University and having only read a few websites and watched a few videos on YouTube (Not Recommended!) I took the plunge and ordered a nucleus hive or ‘Nuc’ which is essentially a half-sized beehive. In May 2017 I collected it and one other colony from someone local who was selling theirs. My two hives were proudly placed in a small fenced off area at the end of my grandparents garden, they took much delight to seeing me walking past their living room window, most days, to look at my hives. Despite the very steep learning curve, a few stumbles, stings and even a swarm I managed to extract the what was then a tremendous harvest of about 5kg of honey!

The 2017/18 winter was a long and cold and there were stories of beekeepers around the UK losing all of their bees and having to start from scratch in the spring. Despite all the doom and gloom and mainly through luck, and according to my mum the barricade which she got my Dad to put up at 5am one morning during ‘the beast from the east’ while I was away at University! My two beehives made it through winter and came out very strong.

I had by this point decided that beekeeping was definitely for me and some might say prematurely decided not only as a hobby but also eventually as my full time job! I had decided that despite now being the proud owner of a first class degree in accounting that being cooped up in an office wasn’t actually for me after all!

The summer of 2018 was great for us, it saw our colony numbers expand from the original two to 24 and the honey harvest grow about 40x the previous year! I may well have also met some of you reading this at some of the farmers markets that we started attending in the autumn or during some of our hugely popular beekeeping experiences that were run for the first time in 2018, and will be back again due to great demand for 2019!

We are hoping for another good year with hive numbers increasing to 100 by the end of the year and we will hopefully have extracted a whopping 1500kg of our delicious raw honey. We are also looking forward to a few informational talks we have booked in and of course our farmers markets and beekeeping experiences which are always a joy to attend and run!

Thank you for reading and supporting our growing business, I will endeavour to keep you all updated regularly with stories of our bees as we make our way through the 2019 beekeeping season.
Matthew Ingram


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