Thursday, November 19, 2020

Second year as a professional beekeeper, Where did that go!?

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly" Robert F Kenedy.

 We're already preparing for next year in a year that I haven't written a post since march!! Shall I give the usual bloggers excuses? "oh, I was so busy," well ain't that the truth.

My colleague who's my mentor and also my close friend said " say goodbye to your family in Mid March and you may get to see them again in September! how right he is!

I love my job more than ever and it's grown so much this year, grown in so many ways. Personally, I feel I've overcome so many hurdles mental and physical.

The Beekeeping year started off pretty badly for me. Reality came crashing in, after my amazing trip to Hawaii over Christmas and the new year, coming back to the realisation of huge winter losses. 

So why did I have so many losses?

How could this have happened?? The losses were indeed huge! around 40 to 45%,  totally mind-blowing how someone could lose so much stock so quickly.

So why and how did that happen? in the video I give my reasons why I think this happened.

Huge winter Losses!

Believe it or not, this was one of the reasons and I never saw it! doh!!!

The previous spring of 2019 was amazing, Mimosa and Gorse pollen pouring into the hives in the third week of February will surely now be my "be aware" marker for future years. We had a great spring crop last spring (2019) and it was this that was the start of my winter losses to come. 

Mimosa and Gorse Pollen by the bucketload!

As I say in my latest video, "winter losses are mostly lost in late autumn before." This was the case for last year. Lots of strong spring swarming and poor mating afterwards. Many hives were a long time getting mated or were poorly mated. Add to this scenario my unexpected workload coupled with the inexperience to know I should have concentrated more on getting those colonies queenright quicker.

However, the spring quickly turned in to the summer and I did have a good summer honey crop.

I am grateful for the harvest I had but this would be the lesson learned, never sit back just because the honey is in the barrel there was a huge amount of work to be done. All colonies to inspect, treat against Varroa, asses and feed, get them winterised fully insulated and winterised.

This is also where I fell down.  My Varroa treatments were  in on time but the Varroa were not completely 

treated and some colonies still had large populations of those bloodsucking pests!

The weather really does matter in the autumn

The weather then turned right at the end of a long summer dearth with no appreciable rain from 18 degrees to around 10 degrees max and rain, lots of rain.

Bees need pollen to make winter bees, lots of pollen and the usual autumn Ivy in most years suffices admirably, but not in the autumn of 2019, the rain kept the bees in most of the autumn while I was unaware, sunning myself on the first of my two trips out to Hawaii!

So to summarize, lots of the previous swarming, many colonies not looked after properly, poor or little nutrition coming in through the door (going unnoticed) winter bees being raised too late with too higher varroa infection rate: a veritable recipe for disaster. 

I have no regrets, it was what it was! Entering the spring was hard. Both my colleague and I had lots of losses, was there anything we could say we did recoup!


Beeswax is at a premium every year and we had lots of frames to melt down. Remember these are brood frames, that had no brood diseases,(they died of varroa and no bees) we could melt as many down as we wanted!

Before the melt and after

Some of our spoils of all the toils!

Our main beekeeping supplier offers a service where they take your wax and either buy it, exchange it or melt it down for you and give your wax back as beautiful foundation!

We still pay a little for the pressing but to have your own wax, mostly from your own cappings and melted down frames

Here is the wax, they did a beautiful and quality job!

Covid 19 Lockdown was upon us, so we had plenty of time to wax up frames.  It was a big worry that we wouldn't be able to collect our wax but after a few calls, we had the authority to go and collect the material we needed, wax included. Now we had the wax to fill all the frames we needed!

Frames, Frames Frames.

Here I am at the start of the rewaxing work, I was able to bring a load of frames home to work in the relative quiet of the veranda, beavering away, getting things prepared for the forthcoming season

Well that's all for now  I will show you my journey continuing in the next chapter! Spring bees, small spring harvest and how I  start rebuilding my apiaries.
Wishing you all well😊

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Beekeeping in Hawaii! whilst the others pause!!

January: a month of calm in Northern climes!

In the month of reflection and regeneration, we're all looking forward to great times ahead.

I love the forced pause in beekeeping activities that beekeeping away from the equator gives you. Whether you are North or South of the line, were plunged into the annual cycle of the changing seasons.
If you lucky enough to live around the equatorial regions of the world,  you can harvest honey all year round, depending on local flowers, but there is never a break.  I've recently experienced this first hand in my incredible trips to Hawaii!

Some of the spectacular views from the North coast of Big Island.

Hawaii is just such an amazing place. Did you know that when you on Hawaii you are actually on the tallest mountain in the world!
I first visited in in October 2018 and was completely blown away by its beauty and diversity!

The bees are so Prolific and so gentle!!

A wonderful example of the prolificness of Honey bees and nectar flow on Big island! Any violated bee space left is built in to very quickly if you are not on your toes. It can take as little as one week to be built out!!
This is the back of an AZ Hive, any space is quickly filled. The honey and combs are gorgeous!!

Honey bees proliferate because there are flowers all year round. There is a pause in the intensity of the nectar flows between November and January but after that, the Macadamia nut trees start to flower, and it all goes crazy.

There are many beekeepers in Big Island as well as the other smaller islands. Some big commercial operations like big island queens, Big Island Bees and the Hawaiian Islands Honey Company, who is one of the main exporters of honey to the mainland USA. Queens are exported all over the world from Hawaii because they can be ready in time for beekeepers elsewhere where their season is not as advanced.
There is also the smaller artisan producers who specialise in specific nectar flows. These you discover at the local shops, where the diversity of flowers is reflected in the overwhelming selection of beautiful jars of honey. I wanted to buy and taste them all.

Some areas on Big island are much drier than others. Hilo generally receives huge amounts of rain on a regular, when it rains boy does it rain! The annual rainfall is around the 120-inch mark, which is quite incredible. The soils are fertile, dark and drain well, indeed they need to! There are numerous valleys where streams quickly become rivers after heavy showers. These are called Gaulches and are spectacular.  The diversity of plants and flowers is quite incredible!

Alicia Wills has a beautiful Apiary at her home in Hilo, on the east coast, which is said to be one of the best places to keep bees. She raises open mated queens and also Instrumentally Inseminated queens that are gently and productive, making delicious honey!

Nice strong nucleus colonies.

Alicia with some of her Apimaye 7 framed Nucleus Boxes. Highly practical for Hawaii!
These boxes are perfect for Raising queens and Nucleus colonies for sale.

The amazing  Slovenian style AZ Hive House.

Alicia has several small apiaries on the Hamakua coastline. The three areas are divided up to suit the different hives she has, making the management more effortless.  There are two distinctive hive types. Already shown is the Apimaye hive above,  (which do also come in the standard 10 frames hive)
The second type of hive is the wonderful Slovenian AZ hive. This hive was the design of Anton Znidersic who came up with the concept of having a hive and configuration, which enables you to be able to remove individual frames for inspection, as well as collect honey from individual frames. removing the need to lift heavy supers.
A single person avoids the backbreaking work and can manage frames individually as if opening pages in a book and taking them out to read.
Typically most AZ hives are situated in a beehouse, with the hives cupboard like in appearance. Very practical.

Where Hawian Style meets Slovenian.  An amazing Beehouse.

 Alicia with the hive open at the rear to inspect the frames. Just look at that lovely brood!! You can see all the hives are perfectly accessible with minimal movement from within the bee house. When a frame of honey is capped and ready for extraction, it can be lifted out, spun directly in the bee house if one wishes, then returned to the colony. Keeping adequate space for the queen to lay and space for honey gathering. Hive configuration is usually 10 or 20 frames, growing to a staggering 30 frames in a well-developed colony.

Heres one of the videos I filmed that gives you an idea of how it all works and some of the fantastic scenery of Hawaii.

I also filmed a video showing how useful the Apimaye hives are.

Being inside the bee house is truly a wonderful experience. When you have bees humming all around you, the energy they emit is quite mesmerising.  What an experience to have seen for me how bees perform under really ideal conditions.

Instrumental Insemination.

Alicia is also a trained Queen bee Inseminator. She spends a lot of her time selecting good colonies through rigorous selection criteria. The most important being high mite resistance.
Varroa mites pose the biggest challenges to all Honey bees in Europe and the USA and finding strains that have hygienic behaviour is of the utmost importance. This is where they can detect a foundress reproducing female adult varroa underneath the capping of the brood and butcher the developing larvae, dragging out the infected larvae with the foundress mite and her young,  removing it from the colony.

One of the prolific queens with an amazing laying pattern!!

It is so important that we find and breed from these highly desirable hygienic traits. It's not just the mites that suck blood from our bees: The biggest issue is when the mites are feeding transmit Viruses. It's these viruses that cause so much mortality of honey bee populations. There are some 10 different viruses that can cause significant problems to bees, rendering them immobile,  wingless or hugely less active and efficient.

Carefully positioning a 4/5 day old queen to receive selective drone semen via the insemination process. This is highly skilled!

 They have a lab in Hawaii big Island and in conjunction with Project Apis, The USDA and beekeeper David Thomas of the Hawaiian Island honey company, have made enormous progress producing bees that are 100% resistant to mites.

The insemination process: approximately 10 micro-litres is instrumentally inseminated in to the queen's oviduct. They use SDI (single drone Insemination) or Multi drone insemination (MDI) depending on the selection criteria.

Arista bee Research is going Global!

Alicia will be shortly heading the exciting launch of Arista USA. This is a massive development and will consist of a board of directors that will work with a team of Apiarists, lab technicians and Inseminators that will start new lines in of super hygienic bees in their new base which will be in Texas.

 This is just excellent news. I will keep you posted with all developments and how you can support the project even where you are!!

Arista Bee Research needs all support possible, we all need to defeat the mite issue!!

In the meantime, I will sign out and wish you all well in your continuing winter work or early spring prep! I will hopefully be visiting Hawaii again soon as well as Texas in the near future.
Remember: Anything can be achieved if you want it to happen!

Until the next time, Aloha!!❤️

Alicia Wills is on Email:
Instagram @heartybees.