Monday, March 5, 2018

Winter marches on!

Spring prep well under way.

Well as usual its a fair while since i posted. Winter has been very long, wet and damp and only the last week its been really cold. I cant remember a winter when we've had so much continuous rain, wind and just damp., either drizzle or fog and just downright miserable. Sunshine has been just about unheard of!

However the last 10 days have been considerably different. Wall to wall sunshine but the wind flow from the East has taken over and temperatures last were below freezing for most of the week. A pleasant change but it was going out of the frying pan, in to the fire. If you worked outside, it was almost unworkable. Bitter winds from the east really made things difficult.

Ive just completed another video, reflecting the very positive feedback from the video i did called the cell builder explained. This one has the same title but its questions and answers to the comments on my you tube video.

I wa also very privileged and humbled to be asked by the Jersey beekeepers Association to come and talk about my queen rearing methods.
It was an extremely cold and windy night where i presented to about 40 beekeepers from the JBKA. they were a fantastic bunch, keen to find out how they could raise good queens.

They did a film about my presentation. The sound quality is a little poor but you will get the idea. It was a bit nerve wracking at the beginning because this was my first presentation to a group of people, fortunately they were very forgiving! 

I think they were happy with the presentation. I received some good feedback and some good questions. Also some nice gifts, which i was pretty chuffed with.
 I drink a lot of tea and coffee,  so perfect  gift and a great experience for me to have to present. keeps you on your toes and furthers your development.

Winter prep coming along well, but as usual ts always difficult to find time to fit everything in. the next 100 hives are all but finished painting. However being away for a week and the cold weather hasn't helped. I will soon be assembling the hives together, putting on handles, that bases, frame covers etc. Lots and lots to do.

They get to cure and dry out well before the bees go in around mid to late April.

So next thing will hopefully be a first very brief inspection for feed levels etc in mid march if the weather permits. This is critical to hopefully detect and disease that went unnoticed before the winter, If there was some disease, i want to find it before the bees really start to fly, so they dont rob out a diseased colony and potentially spread any nasties. I am confident i am clean, but checking all as soon as you can is a sure way to prevent spread if there was anything sinister going on.

Ive been feeding candy to a few of my colonies and i am using a thick insulated EKE that means i can keep the same roof top on the bees but also keep an easy eye on whats happening with the candy levels. This also means i can replace the candy with a circular rapid feeder when the bees start to fly regularly in about 3 weeks and i switch to liquid feed.


I am currently doing another last video before  the pressures of the season start. It will be a run down of my production cycle and how it  fits in with the main nectar groups. 

Wishing you all "alive" hives when you get to do your first inspections.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When you think its the end of the season!!

Just when you thought its the end of the season!!

Beekeeping never ever really finishes, its a transition from one phase to the next as each season progresses.

Just when you think things are starting to get less busy your reminded that these are animals and they need care and careful management right up until they really are not flying.
I started treating all my bees with vaporised Oxalic Acid a little later this year than planned, but also discovered  that the growth of my Apiary numbers and individual colonies add further dimensions to their subsequent management. 
To be honest Vaporised Oxyalic Acid (VOA) is still my choice weapon against Varrao Mites but the logistics of treating some now 160 production colonies and some 120 Nuc for next years  sales and replacements wherever needed are something else i failed to estimate the work in time and logistics.

However i did make a good time saving by investing in a better and very efficient Vaporiser called a "Sublimox"

To be brief, this machine relies on dropping a measured amount of  Oxyalic Acid crystals on to an already very hot vaporiser plate or dish. The existing machine i used ( A Varrox) and still have, relies on you starting from cold, putting it in to position, then turning it on, waiting for it to heat up, then removing after about 3 minutes, cooling and repeating the process for the next colony.

You will see from the video below just how quick the new machine is. It dosent cool down between each treatment and also it extremely quick. time saving devices is something i am looking to use! i must be as  efficient in my overall management.

Mite management is probably the most important issue i have to deal with during the beekeeping year. I am lucky in the fact that many beekeepers around me all treat regularly in different ways and i dont have mites jumping ship from the dead or dying colonies from non treating beekeepers.
I respect their decision not to treat however i dont welcome extra mites. Its a big issue among the beekeeping community and sparks regular heated debate.

With the final treatments (of 3 x treatments over 15 days) finished for this year. I am now having a count up. Moving nucs to new apiaries for next year and doing final autumn prep checks before it really is time to start the winter beekeeping duties.

Any colonies that are not up to sufficient weight are noted and i will give the candy before the end off January. There is not many but never the less they will need the extra feed.

Apiaries  are all in line for a good cutting back and clearance where necessary  but the volume of work ahead is enormous.

Theres is lots of new hives to paint up and assemble, as well as still lots of feeders and queen excluders to clean up! After that there is lots of spring prep. on Honey supers etc etc etc. the list is enormous. I am going to be very busy. Like all things you get out of beekeeping only what you put in. Organisation is key!!

 One of my apiaries full of overwintering nucleus colonies, all in polystyrene boxes this year.

Asian hornet pictures, a sequence of three pics, just to highlight the issue of summer detection. Very difficult indeed, a classic example.

 Taken in my local Village. this nest although dormant now will be there for all to see over the winter! we cant complain here though, all communes have grouped together to form the "Dinan Aglomation" and there was some 5,000 traps put out over the spring. we hardly had any presence of asian hornets this year. A terrific result! spring trapping does work.

The close up of the nest. not a huge one, but queens almost certainly would have dispersed to found next years colonies.

Winter planning commences! A bientôt .

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A very big Hello to you all!!
Hi all, posting on my mobile mobile,  whilst away in the U.K. for a few days so excuse typing errors!!
 A little time to reflect and mentally catch up on things!!(and rest)

So we’re end of October and I have not posted since March , well no excuses! Other than it’s been pretty crazy!

In Summary is perhaps easier:

So, didn’t sell any Nucs this spring(for those of you who don't now Nucs are Nucleus Colonies usually made the previous summer, then overwintered on 5 to 6 frames for use the following soring summer.)
All (about 80) were used up in various ways.
To requeen colonies lost over winter, ( about 8% losses ) and obviously the rest went in to new hives to expand my stock, which has always been my main aim this year.
With out good stocks you can’t get honey ! You can’t make splits  and so on, you have to
Investvand sacrifice in order to get up your numbers. You can’t make bees, honey and colonies from fresh air !!

Spring was good but not a good spring for honey. Cold nights in April meant a slow start to the nectar flow. In addition To this, nectar in hives more than 4 weeks started to crystallise even earlier due to cold nights and lack of bees to heat thé whole box. Classic signs of this were the edges of the frames crystallising first ! Although crystallisation is pretty common in spring, cold nights accelerated this problem!

So the solution was early selected harvesting and extraction before any
more crystalised. Crystallised honey in’the supers” is still better than having your Bees hanging  from “the trees” due to no room in the colony, however it’s a lot of work!
As well as cold night, spring was also pretty dry and heavy spring showers  didn’t  materialise until nearly the end of the spring flow, which only complicated issues, in the fact that more very wet nectar arrved n the supers at a time when we were nearly ready to harvest, but half of many super frames were dripping with uncured nectar. If that got in to the rest of the honey , then this may have just have pushed up the moisture contents to above 17 percent and initiated rapid fermentation, so we had to
Be really careful!!

However I did have a spring harvest, not great but some valuable income!

Spring Splits
So after the honey was harvested  I made as many spring splits as I could. It was mid May by this time and with finally better night time temperatures I was able to make up a load of early queens.
Cell building is an Interesting process.
The trick of it all is timing and strong cell builders! Strong Cdll builders means strong queens, in large cells, fed to the max during their growth period!! I am
Not a specialist breeder, but anyone can
Make some good queen cells, as
Long as you have the good starting materials!
Here’s the link to my cell builder video.

Early mating was good this year! Plenty of nice drones around. So good results were achieved! In total I produced about 60 nucs. They went out in End of June to new apiary sites and I also sold 10 to generate some much needed turn over.

The Next Stage: Prep for the Summer Flow:

This consists mainly of checking each stock 2 or 3 times over the next 3 to 5 weeks before the start of the chestnut and bramble. Emergency re queening of colonies that either swarmed already and hadn't re queened on their own and replacing the odd few poorly performing queens. 

Feeding most colonies was really a necessity. When we make spring splits you potentially weaken a colony. Subsequently you need to help that colony as usually we may have taken about a quarter or its bees and two of its brood frames. So for us here in Brittany after the second week of May, its vital that we get that colony up and running in time for the summer flow only a few weeks away.

After the spring flow subsides, the swarming stops too ( for a while). Supers are put back on colonies immediately after harvesting if they haven't been used for splits. Or if their still really strong.  Its very important you manage your colony populations well. Too much space too early, can result in slow build up due to cold in the hive. Too little space and your bees are hanging from the trees before you know it, then its also likely you will loose most of your summer crop too.
Heres a little video of how I do my summer splits. In the summer splits, I replace the 3 frames removed, with 2 partitions and one foundation. this is our overwintering configuration, 7 frames n the brood nest and one for ivy flow expansion of honey (if it materialises) and also early spring foundation, before the bees
Spring splits is usually two frames from the brood nest replaced with two frames of foundation.

Obviously for all these splits you need queens.  Managing the production of Nucs twice a year, with two honey crops and post harvest Mite Treatments is a complete Juggling act! but I got there in the end. It was a big learning curve for me this year.

The summer Flow

Well it wasn't good this year but and its a big But....  still had a honey crop and I still made lots of Nucs. It was Incredibly hard work trying to Juggle me existing job to maintain income for my family as well as give my bees the maximum time needed to look after the now 160 hives and ever growing nucs to overwinter.
The Flow came and went  In  about 10 days, usually it lasts a month. We had sinking hot weather and no existing ground water . Plenty of pollen so colonies had made lots of young bees, so summer splits were good with plenty of brood and bees to use! another year for the record books.

Admitting your mistakes and learning from them is a very Big part of beekeeping. I like many have made serious mistakes and this year. I learnt that you must feed more in the summer dearth. Some of my spring nucs were so light from a  late summer of no nectar at all. I did loose two colonies. School boy error and no excuses.  If your colonies are strong and well fed. or at least to a point where they haven't lower numbers because of lack of food. Then their always ready to make use of a flow, whenever it materialises No matter how big or small it is!!

So going in to this winter, I purchased another 100 hives and all the equipment to put them together, but next spring I will sell 60 of the 120 nucs I have produced late summer (subject to them overwintering  well). This will create much needed income to fund more syrop I will need for next year.

Ivy flow was excellent in the end the first two weeks of October we had good temperatures and the ivy dripped nectar. Hives stinking of the stuff Thank goodness!!  Any colonies that hadn't made good weight usually means their were not queen right at the critical time. ts candy for them now, but the vast majority did well. heavy hives going in to the winter, free of charge. a real Bonus that we didn't have last year!!

Ive included a few photos below . ( will upload these shortly)

Most are also on Instagram as "Plenty_Of_Honey"

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Winter Beekeeping, Summer video.

So things are progressing well.
The new 100 hives are being painted up and we've nearly finished making the roofs. Just tons of work but all completely necessary
I had a brief pause to  reflect on last years queen rearing and have put together a little video to summarise the queen rearing process. A nice reminder of how lovely and enjoyable it is to be able to raise your own queens, successfully.

Treatment with Vaporised Oxalic Acid this week, tin all hives! Much easier to control when you have little or no brood for mites to live under.

Manufacturing new roofs. 

Then the 2 coats of paint!!

 Painting, does it ever end!

 New roofs after the paint are covered with lightweight metal sheets`

Hive roofs all ready!

 Hive assemble line, of sorts!

 There assembled hives, going in storage for a couple of months before they will be needed. Storage space is of a premium.

A little feeding of Candy or balkers fondant, put on top of a lightening hive is a good insurance against starvation. In Nucleus colonies, the queens are young and strong, with population sometimes large. this time of year is the most critical, when bees start brood rearing, against their stores. Sometimes their storers just run out and the colony collapses. Fondant will usually be the best insurance as its too cold for a liquid feed!

a poly eke  candy placed over the hole cut in to the plastic.

Nearly finished wth hive preparation, then were moving on to some Mini-Plus frame production.
Spring is nearly around the corner!! we've had a good cold spell and temperatures down to Minus 7, so the bees are good and in good shape!!  Pollen starting to come in! a very good sign!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

More time after a very exciting summer!

Hello all.
Well, where did the summer go? Its been a tremendous year for my beekeeping. I had two honey crops, made lots of nucleus colonies, opened up 3 new apiaries and have another 100 hives arriving very shortly. I am overwintering 70 Production colonies and have over 80 colonies in Nucs and also 20 colonies that are small mating nucs, which are basically queens with support staff, to be used in early spring to make up some more early nucs.

I had a great trip away in the summer  to a beekeeping family based on Exmoor in Somerset,  which was fantastic, then a trip up to stay for a a couple of days in a beekeeping business based around the Arden Forest in the midland.
All were excellent and I learnt a huge amount from very knowledgeable people. I cant thank them enough for their hospitality and will write up my visit in a separate post. Far too much to gloss over, lots to share.

The year started with a difficult spring, where i learnt an awful lot about the problems with early starvation of overwintering colonies. I lost five in early April. The big mistake I made was going by the weight of the nuc box ( small overwintering colonie), which sadly the wood had become wet  and absorbed moisture, over the extremely wet, damp and mide that last winter was.
Basically some good colonies starved because I had not assessed their stores correctly, they were on empty combs with no foo. If i had quickly jabbed in my hive tool and it came up clean, i would have seen it time to feed.  This is how you learn quickly. After chatting to many experienced beekeepers about this problem , they all have experienced this at some time or another. however i still had enough colonies to fill most of my hives and cover any additional winter losses from existing colonies.

50 Roofs, made from pine  painted up and rain proofed with Aluminium sheet. 

 Putting together hives bought in Kit form

Some of the finished Hives, ready to go out.

This spring I opened up 3 new apiaries and quickly transfered overwintered nucs to the 50 new hives that i had bought in Kit form from a beekeeping supplier. My collegue helped me assemble them over the latter months. He's got plenty of experience in making roofs!!

So once all the equipment was in place the bees were transferred in early spring.  The weather wasn't brilliant, but thankfully we had a good 2 week window where lots of bees grew well, expanded in to their new homes  (from 5 frames to 10) I was able to take a  honey crop from my existing colonies and also  a handful of my new ones that had grown at an exceptional rate.

All colonies at the end of the nectar flow 9 (mid may) were used to make an additional nuc from, aka another colonie. This was great and it gave me a few more colonies to fill any last remaining hives.

I made them up strong with plenty of bees because the colonies were very populous. I gave them virgin queens, so they were mated very quickly.
We had to feed a little after taking spring honey and creating a new colonie, but in spring in Bretagne, there is always pollen so bees still grew even if the nectar had subsided before the start of the summer flow. Feed is necessary if you take  from your bees, you have to give something back.

 Cell Building
This year i had great success with raising good quality queens with my 3 cell builders. I raised some ok queens at the beginning of the year but as the year went on, the size of queens got bigger as well as better mating  achieved with some good weather in July and August. I found the size of queens was directly in proportyion to the quality and amount of pollen and resources given to queen less colonies. you have two give them lots of pollen and stores during the first 5 days in the cell builder, thats the key, all in the Jelly!!

Grafting 12 to 24 hr old larvae  in to Nicot cell cups, before placing in to my hopelessly  queenless cell builder.

I picked up a small incubator in July, whilst on my trip in the uk, from Banbury incubators. its a little egg incubator, but works perfectly for queen bees. the results were excellent. It frees up your cell builder earlier, allows queens to hatch before introducing to a colonie is the form of a cell, so less risk of one not hatching, as you know its hatched and you can be sure all virgin queens introduced in to queen less colonies are strong and healthy looking.

Queens incubated for 6 days after being capped over on day 5 in the cell builder.

Once the queens hatch out I feed them a little royal jelly mixed with honey and introduce them to a queen less colonie within 12 jours of emergence. Acceptance is about 95% so this is a great advancement for me.
There really isn't a problem of acceptance of the queen providing your nucleus or mating nuc is in the right state to accept a queen theres more likely hood of something going wrong during mating than anything else.

Mini-Plus Mating Nucs made up and kept inside for 24 hrs, before giving a queen. this helps consolidate and calm down the colonie after breaking down stronger colonies in to smaller mating boxes, to form small colonies for mating during the summer season.

The results of a good , well mated queen and a strong colonie is lots of lovely new larvae, raised with plenty of royal jelly. An excellent site!!!!

This is the main mating yard we use. we surround this small valley with our best stocks and augment the drone population early may by adding extra drone foundation to the brood nest. Drones take typically 40 days from egg to being able and ready to mate so, you have to be well organised and prepared. The more drones, the better the mating and shorter time it will take a queen to be viable.  The weather any time of the short 4 to 5 month season so you need to be as proactive and give the virgin queens the best possible chances of mating in a short window if the weather is bad, or as we say, not ideal!!

Sometimes we do use unhatched cells in mating nucs, here you can clearly see a successful hatching. The wax cap chewed off perfectly, but a tiny tag left that often holds it to the old cell shell.

Emerged, mated and marked queen.

Making up Nucs can be really easy if you do it in conjunction with a bee escape board. Pictured above)  at harvest time, a bee escape is put underneath the supers, , a couple of days later, the supers and honey are removed as all bees are below the escape board. if you lift it up within a few days its a mass of bees,  you simply knock these off in to a nuc, together with a couple of frames from the brood nest containing some brood and instantly you have a small queenless nuc.
We made lots more colonies in late summer, late July and i was late in doing this, as  was away until nearly the end of July, but we were very fortunate with the weather this year it went really hot and settles during the last two weeks of July and Virtually all of August. Mating was excellent and generally within a week after the first 4 days of emergence, so they had a nice period of time to get laying and build up a strong colonie before the season came to a close.

The summer honey harvest was poor and it was declared a bad year my most beekeepers in france and indeed our harvest was poor, however I covered my costs.

 Of course a summer wouldn't be a summer without the Asian hornet. here you can see a typical nest in a fruit tree. this one was destroyed in time, before queens emerged.

I will do some write ups of my trip to the UK and about more specific things over the coming months, but for now, keep well and enjoy your winter preparation. Its going to be a very quick winter for me!!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

So Much going on!!

A long wet, damp winter

Its been a very busy winter. When it been raining, which it has a lot, I have been in the workshop making equipment.

It was completely clear in my mind after last years successes, (and a few failures)  that I was ready to move in to more serious bee work. I feel I have done well with my first year at 25 hives. Had good honey crops, two in one season, Carried out successful queen rearing and subsequent mating and learned how to make up Nucleus colonies.

My Plan

So where to from  now, well, this year I have 36 overwintering nucleus colonies that i won't sell this spring. These are the ones I made last summer from my existing stock, that will occupy the 50 hives I ordered in Kit.  The remaining 14 or so empty hives will hopefully get filled up during the summer, with swarms I intend too make at the end of April/ early May when queen rearing will start.
I will also be putting out my usual swarm traps, which i said i wouldn't  do again this year, but to me its an invaluable source of bees and i love the excitement off it!!

As well as catching swarms and taking some frames of bees and brood from my production colonies when i harvest in the spring, I will be brushing some of the bees off the frames and in to a holding box, which which  i will then distribute  in to our Mini-Plus polystyrene mating nucs, then give them a small frame of brood and a queen. These will make great  Mini mating nucleus colonies, as well as being overwintering spare queens after the last round of mating this august. We hope to get four or five queens mated in each hive ( but its a push and very much weather dependant) and I've enough capacity to make up 30 Mini-Plus hives, although being realistic, it will take a while to get my numbers up. Like all things it takes time! Beekeeping is  knowing how to work   your bees to the maximum, so you have good honey crops, with minimal swarming. Also being able to take a little amount of  resources from each hive, but not too much so that the colony won't give you a honey crop.

However, the nucleus colonies should grow enough this spring, so that after the end of spring pause at the middle of May and before the start of the chestnut flow, they should be full of honey in their new ten  framed hives.  Some colonies will be stronger than others over the next 8 weeks ,so i can take frames of bees and brood and give it to others that aren't so strong. This is called balancing up.

So Combined work should fill my hives and mini mating nucs. Give me two honey crops . Give me spare queens for re-queening lots for my stocks and at the end of the season make one final nucleus colonie with all of my stocks that will hopefully give me over 100 spare for next spring, when i hope to have another 100 hives ready, but thats a long way off.


So where are all these new bees and hives going to go, well part of your plan has to include your apiaries. Its all very well producing bees, but to make honey and bees you need good apiaries.
Apiaries need to have shelter from winds, Be in area of your selected foraging for your bees (whatever that may be),  Sun for most of the day, be secure and out of sight and above all, have good vehicular access which is so important at harvest time. Hefting heavy supers that weigh over 20 kilos each if their full, is not fun if your fully kitted up, its stinking hot and you've still got 6 other apiaries to harvest!
Finally they must be in reasonable and economical distance to reach. 3 of my new ones are in a line and are on the route to one of my clients, where i also have apiaries. You have to be realistic as otherwise you end up traveling too much and your fuel  and Vehicle maintenance bill is huge.

Over the winter I have been carefully planning places by using google maps and google earth, paying visits and also meeting landowners. The results have been good and i happy to say i have more than enough sites for my bees and all in the places i wanted.
The best way to show what I've been up to is just to show the pictures.
I will subtitle underneath each one.

If you want to follow me i am on Instagram as" Plenty Of Honey"

 Putting together and painting up with exterior masonry paint, the bodies of the Mini-Plus hives.If you paint them as you put them together, you in effect, glue them together at the same time.

Making up the roofs, cutting the pine, rebating, glueing and screwing, Painting then an aluminium sheet finish for waterproofing.

Just for reference, a Mini-Plushive with frames in situ.

So on to the main hives. heres the 50 lids we made up.

Heres the first off the hives i bought in kit. They came from one of the larger bee companies near me, well 3hrs away. but when you order in bulk the price is better.
We use Nicot plastic bases, that are universal and are long lasting and easy to clean. only 9 euros per base

 Hives ready for painting. Their still very  resinous but overall they will dry out pretty quickly.

Ive also been making up Push in Cages with this No 8 hardware cloth. My very kind friend Zac in Vermont sent me this load of hardware cloth, so i have all the push in cases i will need for a very long time.

An interesting morning up in lower Normandy collecting this years sugar syrup . Delivered by tanker from Belgium to a collective of beekeepers, there was 6 of us.  Again a much better price when you get together.

Finally my thanks to Christian. The man who can!. He's the best mentor I could wish for and  been beekeeping professionally for  a long time.and theres not much he dosent know!!  So much work ahead, so much to look forward too!!!