Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bees ready for the winter

Bees - beekeeping diary

The two kilos of sugar in the form of sticky syrup that I fed to the bees last week has disappeared and I'll be filling the trough again in a few moments.

Right now, though, I am having a last look through the frames to make sure everything is in order as this will probably be my last visit to the hive this autumn.

The plants have moved on from flowers to berries and the honey flow has all but dried up, even in the warm southern gardens of leafy Hampstead.

There are a few bees flying, gathering what they can from late-flowering exotica, but the allotment path is freer of buzzing and arm-waving than it has been since June when I moved the first colony in.

Everything is in order, with a huge number of bees placidly pacing from frame to frame.

It's dusk now so details are difficult to see, but there is movement and the frames are heavy with winter stores so I am optimistic about the colony's chances of surviving the cold months to come.

I bought myself a Dartington Long Deep hive on the internet, a beautiful thing designed by Robin Dartington, columnist at Kitchen Garden magazine, with lone hobbyist beekeepers in mind, and installed it at the edge of some allotments in Hampstead along with a spare colony from Buzzworks, a community bee garden in Hitchin that teaches schoolchildren about beekeeping, honey and the honeybee's place in ecology.

The allotment holders have been very happy to share their space with a box or two of bees in exchange for pollination duties and the bees, in turn, have had plenty to do.

The idyllic setting didn't stop the first colony from producing as many queens as they could and swarming away at the first opportunity, unfortunately, so I'm now left with a colony I bought later on from Thornes, the beekeeping supplies mail-order service.

They've been busy, calm, industrious and reasonably productive, but as they were put in place so late I can't blame them for failing to produce a surplus of honey.

The frames in the hive are full of white-capped honey cells, ready to sustain the bees through the winter. As the temperature cools they will form into a ball with the queen at the centre tensing and relaxing their wing muscles, shivering to generate heat.

To keep the queen alive and the honey liquid the centre of the ball will be maintained at a steady temperature in the low thirties in Celsius, 92 degrees Fahrenheit, whether it's sunny or snowing outside.

As the months go on all of their 15 kilos of honey stores will be converted into this shivering motion and heat generation.

The bees at the outside of the ball will slowly die off and the cluster will get smaller and smaller.

As long as they make it to spring and the queen can go on her mating flight with a few workers on hand and some drones nearby to mate with, the whole cycle will begin again and I can call myself a beekeeper next summer too.

Ian Douglas


Alexandra said...

ce one

Alexandra said...

I meant nice one :)

Ian Douglas said...


I'm glad you liked my post but do you think you could link rather than reproducing please? I work for a commercial organisation that depends on traffic.


Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas said...

Antony said...

To Ian Douglas

Sorry for the delay, yes of course I will do so and hope that more awareness can be achieved

ian.douglas said...