Monday, 2 May 2016

2016 Beverley Beekeepers' Annual Auction

30th of April is Reunification Day in Vietnam, closer to home this year it was also the Beverley Beekeepers Association Annual Auction. Previously the auction has taken place on the last Sunday in April, this year it was on the last Saturday. As per usual it was in Woodmansey Village Hall, last time I was there it was for a couple of friends' wedding reception -there was more alcohol and less bee stuff that time.

In a major departure from my usual Saturday routine I got up bright and early. Normally I don't see Saturday mornings, glancing out of the window I was met by a warm sunny day and and the sight of a suspiciously well fed pigeon picking grass seeds from my very recently reseeded lawn. After a feeding the cats, checking Facebook, checking Instagram and getting a coffee I decided this year I'd try flogging a couple of nucs. I've got three National Nucs from previous bee purchases and as I use Commercial brood boxes they're very little use to me. One's on top of an outbuilding as a bait hive but the only things attracted to it seems to be spiders the size of your hand, I decided to leave it up there for now. The other two Nucs I scorched and scraped. I found that the ply of one was delaminating so it probably wasn't really sellable so decided to leave it. Finally armed with my chequebook and the one good, spider free, Nuc I set of for Woodmansey. I didn't need anything in particular this year but was hoping to pick up a travel screen as I now have bees in two locations.

When I rolled up there was a row of brand new National Hives outside the Hall and in the field behind the bee colonies were lined up behind a rope. Inside the hall there was 8 rows of wares ranging from bee hives to boilers.

Three of the many National Hives on offer
Feeders, a Wax Melter, Hives, Petunias, you name it it was probably there.
My Nuc was the last item submitted for selling. If I'd been serious about selling some kit rather than just clearing a little shed space I'd've arrived sooner to get my items placed earlier in the auction schedule when there's more people bidding. .

First thing I looked at was the little selection of beekeeping books. One that was pointed out to me was a nondescript looking book with a handwritten replacement cover. Turns out it  was a 1952 first edition of The Pollen Loads of the Honeybee by Dorothy Hodges.
A colour plate from The Pollen Loads of the Honeybee

Pollen chart
The book had some amazing illustrations and colour plates, at the back a chart of pollen colours which rather than having been printed into the book was made up of small rectangles of each colour glued onto the page. It didn't meet it's reserve so it's original owner still has it, and I think it may actually be part of the Beverley Beekeepers' Association Library. If you have £100 burning a hole in your pocket there's some later reprints of the book on Amazon at the moment.

Unlike previous years all the hives were National, previously there's been WBC, Smith and Commercial hives and components when I've been  but this year it looks like people have settled on a standard. I'd've liked to have seen some Commercial size Nucs myself, think I'll be making my own this summer. Last year if I remember rightly it was almost all National except for one Commercial Brood Box. Something I did notice was more Polystyrene than previously. Looking on the forums it looks like most still prefer to use wood but there's some suggestion Polystyrene may be better for over wintering due to it's insulating properties -although nobody seems to be mentioning that poly hives tend to have thicker sides than their wood counterparts.

Unused, painted, complete Poly Hive

Poly Nucs with built in feeders
Three display hives all sold, perfect for anyone who wants a bee colony in their living room. Boxes of Apiguard dated 2018 were going for £16 a pop, saving buyers about a fiver and postage costs. There always seems to be a honey creamer at these auctions, this time it sold for £9 -looked like a Thorn one.

A couple of the Display Hives that were on offer

The majority of kit for sale this year was new rather than used

Random bits
There's usually a few boxes of random used bits, whilst there were some this year there were also quite a few lots of mixed brand new kit like a pair of gauntlets and two hive tools packaged together. There was a range of extractors, some powered some manual and a cage to convert an existing extractor for radial to tangenital. One buyer picked up a plastic 4 frame Extractor for £40.

Extractors, powered or manual
Some bright spark seems to have started painting old smokers, should make them a little harder to lose in long grass for those with outapiaries. There were also a lot of new smokers and a few smoker bellows. I bid on a couple of bellows but didn't win, eventually I bagged a red painted mini smoker for 50p. Just the thing when you only need to open one hive, that it looks like a rocket from a fifties sci-fi comic is just a bonus.

Smokers of all ages, some painted.
I picked up the little red one.

There were a few boilers dotted about the place. Not something you'd initially associate with beekeeping but useful things. I picked one up a few years ago intending to use it to clean frames but now use it for making gallons of syrup, other things people use them for include wax extraction and mead making. I think the Burco went for £8.

Tea or coffee, by the gallon.
The strangest thing at the auction was probably a Servis Extraspin 503. This is a device for drying clothes by spinning them at high speeds. I did wonder what it was doing there but there was helpful note attached advising that it makes a very good heather honey extractor. It looked new to my untrained eye and there was a lot of competition for it and eventually it sold for £54.

Great for drying clothing or extracting Heather Honey

Moving outside there were, I think, 19 colonies in total. Mostly they were in full size brood boxes with a only a few in 5 or 6 frame Nucs, towards the end there were some 12 frame double poly nucs. The bee prices were unpredictable as ever. A 5 frame Nuc with a 2015 Queen went for £130 another for £110. At this point it was getting a little nippy so I popped back inside to get my hoody, when I came back there a populated National brood box being auctioned and the bidding was at £90. I hadn't really planned to buy any bees on the day and hadn't actually heard the details of the colony but as it seemed to be going so cheaply I thought I'd put in a couple of bids. I got them for £110 which is less than any of the three Nucs I've bought previously. Later turned out what I'd got for my money was 10 frames of bees and 6 frames of brood with a 2015 Queen. Bargain.

Bees for sale, about 5 workers for a penny.

In previous years people have stood up to the rope but this time the bees were a little feisty so most folk were stood back, except one chap seemed happy to let a bee sit on his forehead till it lost interest. I think allthe bees sold with the double Nucs fetching £160 apiece. Shortly after the bee auction it started raining heavily, which is possibly why the bees were a little unhappy.

Back inside about 20 boxes of jars and lids were quickly auctioned off. I picked up a big sack of 65mm jar lids on the off chance they'd fit some jars I have -they didn't so they'll probably go on eBay at some point. Noteable bargains, other than the bees, were a guy from Goole who got a honey warming cabinet made from a converted fridge for £1 and someone else bagging 50 DN4 frames for £25. I got my Travel Screen for £1. There were a few plants for sale but they didn't generate much interest, a few trays of Petunia's failed to sell and I got 12 pots of Chives for £2. I unsuccessfully bid on some Snelgrove type boards but lost out, think there was two lots of two. I'll have to make some more this summer.

£5 went a long way
There were a few bags of bee accessories and I picked up the last one for a fiver. It contained two rapid feeders, a hive tool, two porter escapes, a queen clip, queen cage and blue queen marking pen. I'll probably not use the porter escapes (does anyone?) but the pen will be used for a couple of unmarked Queens from last year and the rest I've already got a use for.

One Handed Queen Catcher
For £3 I got a "One Handed Queen Catcher". This is a clever  device from Korean company Yasaeng Beeking Supplies. Who hasn't heard of them, right? Anyway in case the name didn't give it away, it's a device for catching a Queen bee and marking her. Usually you use a Queen clip to catch her, then transfer her to a marking cage, the transfer is a little risky and can lead to a Queen flapping away. TBH all queen catchers are one handed really so perhaps something got lost in translation, anyway having the two devices combined should make things easier and reduce lost Queens -yes I've had one fly off during transfer from clip to cage..

Other gubbins I picked up were some small over trousers -they were thrown in with the smoker I bought, an icing sugar dusting screen, a Thornes English Feeder and a stainless steel uncapping tray which had previously belonged to Preston Honey going by the sign thrown in with it.

I also picked up a copy of Maurice Marterlinck's The Life of the Bee translated by Alfred Sutro and published by George Allen & Unwin. It was originally penned in 1901, I'm not sure what year this copy was published but the last date listed was 1912 and a previous owner, one W.D. Holmes, wrote their name in it in 1941. Beekeeping has changed a lot since 1901, the Varroa Mite wasn't here, neither was American Foul Brood, Tracheal Mite hadn't raised it's head, our bees were black, farming practices and land management was totally different too but I think it should be an interesting read.

The blackened travel screen in the middle was just what I was looking for
As well as buying the Travel Screen I'd been hoping for it turned out the colony I bought also had an identical one included with the hive so one to keep at home and one for the outapiary too, once I've given them a good clean and sterilised them. I drove the bees straight to the out apiary, according to Google maps the guy they were bought from lives 2 miles as the bee flies from my apiary. I don't want them flying back to him so I've left them with some grass blocking the hive entrance. My plan was to remove it in three days time but by Monday evening they'ed done it themselves anyway and foragers were returning to the right place.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Beverley Beekeepers' Annual Auction is Approaching

Almost time for the Beverley Beekeepers' Association Annual Auction. It's on Saturday 30th April, 2016 at Woodmansey Village Hall, parking is onsite. I plan to get there on time this year. There was a lot of competition for colonies in 5 frame nucs which were in short supply last year. With that and my recent Winter losses in mind I'm interested to see if that prompts more people to bring Nucs to this years event.

Bees and pretty much everything bee related, also tea and coffee.

Friday, 22 April 2016

A Warm Winter and a Cold Spring

The season is off to a slow start. With the blurry transition from Winter to Spring we're getting a few days of tshirt weather and a few nearly freezing nights. Actually the National Bee Unit recently sent out an advisory email warning of high varroa levels and low food stores but mine seem to have plenty of food left. Varroa levels are high this year because of the mild Winter. Beekeepers tend to treat the bees for varroa in Winter when there's no brood for the mites to hide in the comb with leaving the mites vulnerable but as last Winter was warm (as Winter goes) many hives had brood so the Varroa weren't exposed to the treatment -that or it simply wasn't cold enough for long enough for beekeepers to use Oxalic acid. Food stores are low in some colonies because spring was so cold and bees haven't been able to forage. Warm winter, cold spring. Bad combination.

Firing up the smoker
I treated the bees for mites with Oxalic acid in February this year, it's likely there may have been some brood in the hives so I may need to do a different varroa treatment at some point. This week when we had a warm day I decided to give the bees a quick inspection. Apart from the colony that died out two other colonies had shrunk considerably so I moved them into nucleus hives so they have less space to try and keep warm. This has left me with a lot of spare frames of stored syrup which I'm not entirely sure what to do with. I suspect they'll probably be fine to keep for a long time in case I need to feed a colony up though -although it'd be bad practice to move them between apiaries.

Isolation Starvation

This is a photo of the colony that died. The very last remains of the cluster are over on the right of the comb where they died, over on the left of the frame you can see capped food stores which would've kept them alive if they'ed been able to reach. In the middle you can also see some capped brood they'ed been raising before it got too cold. They also had whole frames of food stores left in the hive towards the ends. For now I've blocked the entrance to the hive and left it sat in place. With the entrance open the other colonies would rob it out. The previous two Winters I've put candy boards on the hives but this year decided not to as a bit of an experiment -I don't think many beekeepers in the UK use Candy boards really. Think I'll probably make them a regular part of my Winter routine.

A developing Drone the workers have removed

On the stronger hives I swapped out the floors for clean ones to remove the last of dead bees left in the hives. One colony has a lot of brood already and had started raising Drones. Examining their hive floor there was the usual dead workers, bits of pollen what looks like wax scales and a large pale drone larva that had been pulled from the comb part way through its metamorphosis. I have no idea why the workers had decided to cull him but as they'ed only pulled one I decided not to lose any sleep over it. Drones come from haploid eggs meaning they only have half the chromosomes of a female bee. This means recessive genes are expressed whereas with a diploid egg there may be a dominant gene so mutations amongst male bees are more common than female. My guess is some sort of genetic mutation in this drone caused the females to cull him. Over the years I've seen a couple of red eyed drones before and once a white eyed drone, if there's a lot of mutation though it may mean changing the queen.

Coccinella septempunctata, the larger one is probably the female.
 It's not just the honey bees gearing up for the Spring. I spotted a pair of Seven Spot Ladybirds in deep conversation taking in the sunlight. Fascinating ladybird fact: Some ladybird species mate for up to 9 hours. Who'd've thought it?

Bumble Bee foraging from a Dandelion
Dandelions are in full flower at the moment providing a nectar source for social and solitary bees. Gardeners tend to combat Dandelions but they're a useful early food source for pollinators.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Spring Time and Winter Losses

Quick entry as we're into spring. On the 20th March Google told us it was Vernal Equinox. That's the first day of Spring. Sort of. If you use the Astronomical Calendar 20th of March is the first day of Spring, but if you use the Meteorological Calendar it started on 1st March. The Astronomical Calendar is based upon the angle of the Earth relative to it's orbit of the sun whereas the Meteorological Calendar is based upon the weather -yep there's clues in the names I know. Today whichever calendar you prefer to use we're definitely in Spring.

Toby sat on a hive

Going into Winter I had 6 colonies, unfortunately one didn't make it through. Well actually they did make it through to early March but seem to have died off during March despite having plenty of food. It's been a strange month with the weather being a car crash mish mash of tshirt weather one day and freezing the next. Last week I'd listened to the hives with a stethoscope and noticed no noise from one hive. After waiting for a warm day I had a look inside and was disappointed to find no bees responding to the intrusion. I had a quick look through the frames and found that although there was still plenty of food stores in the hive the bees had perished clustered away from it. I think this had been my smallest colony going into winter and the cold snap in March seems to have thrown them. They'ed even started rearing brood at some point. This is the second colony I've lost to Winter in 5 years. For a beginner beekeeper that's pretty good but it's still quite annoying. It's still too cold to be inspecting colonies but after hefting the hives (lifting the side to check the weight) I decided to give two of them some fondant to gnaw on.

Other bees have been flying too. Yesterday I spotted a large Bumble Bee foraging the flowers. I don't know what type of Bumble Bee she was but given the timing and her size she had to be a Queen -it's too early for Workers and Drones.

Queen Bumble out foraging
Frog activity is usually a good sign things are warming up too. Last week I took a female frog off Toby the Cat and noticed she seemed rather plump, I figured she was probably heavy with eggs and this week the presence of frogspawn in the ponds at home and my out apiary was clear evidence the amorous amphibians had deemed it warm enough to do rude things in public. They don't always get it right though and they've spawned before freezing spells in the past, fingers crossed they got it right this time.

Frogspawn is appearing
Some March days my bees have been flying and I'd already spotted some bringing in pollen which suggests they were raising brood. They've also been seen gathering water from a couple of locations. Today there was a few heading to a neighbours waterlogged trough (a galvanised planter with no drainage hole) and apparently sucking up water from the mud. Probably far safer than using the currently frog infested ponds.

Gathering water from a trough of mud.
This makes me think that perhaps instead of making a regular pond or water feature maybe an artificial boggy area may be a better as a water source for them. Just a hole in the ground, lined with pond liner, backfilled with lose soil and waterlogged. It's an idea I'll possibly revisit later in the year. Speaking of mud..

Ground Beetle Larva
-some sort of Carabidae
I met a Ground Beetle Larva the other day. It's not really bee related but I liked the photo. These things are pretty useful for gardeners as they eat slugs so if you find one best to leave it alone to protect your plants, potatoes or whatever. Not all larvae are predators but you don't need a degree in entomology to figure out which ones are useful, those large jaws are a dead giveaway that this is a predator.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

You can't milk a chicken

One of the problems with the Internet today is disinformation can be spread very quickly especially if it appeals to a lot of people and once accepted by the public consciousness it's very hard to counter with facts and hard evidence no matter how much you present. At the moment 'Cannabis Honey' is causing a big stir on the net. A French chap claims to be making it and his video has gone viral, however whatever he thinks he's doing he's definitely not making honey from cannabis, and in this post I'll tell you why..

First off honey is made from bee gathered nectar (or honeydew) but cannabis is a wind pollinated plant so the flowers have no nectaries to produce nectar. Trying to get nectar from cannabis would be like trying to milk a chicken.

On Facebook someone pulled the fella up on the lack of nectar and he responded that they're actually making propolis from cannabis resin which he thinks infuses the honey. Bees certainly can make propolis from cannabis plants however as THC and CBD aren't water soluble you could smear it on the comb yourself and you're still not going to infuse any honey with it. And that's ignoring the fact bees don't routinely slather propolis over the honey cells anyway.

Looking on his Facebook profile, page and Instagram account there's a lot of close up pictures and some videos of bees on cannabis plants and on his plants and they're certainly doing something, but bearing in mind he's saying they're gathering propolis it's very strange that none of the bees are actually carrying propolis. It's easy to see if a bee is carrying propolis as they pack it into the long hairs on their back legs making it look like they have motorcycle panniers. On the beekeeping forum a few people have suggested the bees are actually collecting honey that's been put on the plants or maybe being fed syrup with a cannabis extract already in it. Given the plants don't make nectar and the bees aren't actually carrying resin or pollen I'm inclined to go with those theories too.

Things get even more suspicious when you look at his photos of honey comb. Below is a photo of some regular honey comb from my bees in which the bees, inserted in the lower left is a photo of the cannabis honey comb.

Spot the difference

Notice how clean the wax on the regular comb is? No red or brown propolis on there. Also the stored nectar is uniform in the same liquid state, no crystals visible. Looking at the insert you can see a green flecked liquid with the crystals in it adhering to the edges of the cells. This isn't normal, it's also not propolis, probably worth noting cannabis trichomes are clear or amber anyway. To me this looks exactly like sugar syrup containing ground plant matter possibly pollen has been paint brushed directly onto the comb. The way it's gathered on the outer edges certainly gives it a painted on appearance and the broken cell wall in the bottom left and widened cell in the top right would also suggest this comb has been subjected to some rough manhandling. On extraction this stuff will probably come out with the honey giving you a crop of honey adulterated with sugar and added pollen or other plant matter. It's the equivalent of adding frothed milk to your coffee then claiming you've trained a cow to produce lattes.

My hypothesis seems to be supported by a picture of a spoonful of his set honey posted on his Instagram and  Facebook. Ignoring the fact it's full of bubbles (use a honey stirrer..) there are tiny dark particles of something in it which I expect will be pollen or bits of finely ground leaves he's added. His claim that the honey is somehow infused with pot propolis simply doesn't bear scrutiny.

So, to summarise: You can't make cannabis from honey and you can't trust everything on the Internet no matter how upbeat the video, or many likes, shares or reposts it has -but don't just take this post from a blog as fact do some research yourself, the info on botany and bees isn't hard to find and at worst you could always buy a book or two.

Whilst I wouldn't recommend it myself if you really want to make cannabis infused honey a quick Google search will tell you how. It's a simple two step process and requires a jar of liquid honey, not a box of bees.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Vintage Makery Do II - Advertisement!

Following the success of the Vintage Makery Do in November last year Vintage Cafe on Chants Av (or Chanterlands Avenue if you're from out of town) have organised another one. Also at St Ninian's Church, Chants Ave, Hull, on Saturday 7th May, 2016, from 13:00 to 15:00.

As before it's raising money for Hull Animal Welfare and contributions for the homeless. I think it's going to be in a bigger room this time so you can expect to see a few more stalls than last time too. Save the date!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Soft Set Honey

Honey is normally a liquid but it's often sold as Set or Creamed Honey. This is the stuff that doesn't run, sticks to your knife and is easier to spread on your toast. It tastes the same as liquid honey, in fact it's actually the same stuff except it's physical state has been altered by encouraging it to crystallise in a controlled way. Left to it's own devices liquid honey crystallises and needs warming to melt it again. This process is called granulation. At some point in distant days of yore some bright spark who's name history seems to have forgotten discovered that if you seed liquid honey with honey that has already formed small crystals the liquid honey will form crystals the same size. I have no idea how that works, probably some complicated metallurgy stuff going on there, but work it certainly does.

As I wanted to label my honey as Produce of England I figured I'd best get some English seed honey to start the process. Turns out this is actually far easier said than done, late at night anyway, if it was daytime I could've probably just got some from another bee keeper.. anyway I tried 5 supermarkets before I was able to find any English Honey, everything on the shelves in Tesco and Sainsbury's was a blend of "EU and Non EU" Honey. It wasn't till I got to Asda that I found English Set Honey. Well done Asda for selling English Honey. But unfortunately also big black mark to Asda for sticking a Bumble Bee on the label instead of an actual Honey Bee. D'oh.

Actually in 2014 this stuff was withdrawn from sale after some came into contact with South African Honey by accident. Having been mixed with South African honey they couldn't sell it as English that year. Oops. Red faces all round but I'm sure after a little shouting and some awkward foot shuffling they'll've tightened things up after that though.

English Set Honey from Asda -There's a mistake in this photo..
The smoothness of the set honey depends on the size of the crystals it forms, the larger crystals give a grittier feel to it, smaller crystals a smoother texture. I bought a handful of different set honeys to compare and there was quite range in crystal sizes. This English Set Honey was really smooth, which is what I'd expect given the label suggests it's a premium product.

Asda's English Honey meets my English Honey

The first thing to do is add your seed honey to a bucket of liquid honey. Then stir. It's actually not easy stirring a bucket of honey for long, but not to worry technology to the rescue. A modern honey stirrer is like a 3' long blunt corkscrew made from food grade stainless steel that fits into a drill. You need to mix it evenly and avoid dragging air bubbles into the liquid.


The noise of the drill should give some indication of how much work is involved. It must've been really hard work prior to electronic shortcuts. Once mixed it looked a bit like a coffee.

Liquid and seed honey mixed
Once mixed it was decanted into jars and put somewhere cool to crystallise. I opted to use my Honey Warming Cabinet. It's an insulated box after all. Obviously I didn't turn it on and loaded it up in the evening when it was cool then closing the door seemed to do the trick.

Everybody be cool..
I gave it a few weeks to crystallise probably didn't need quite as long as I gave it. With the first batch done I was able to use these to seed more buckets of honey, and rather than go to the shed I left some in the fridge to cool. I'd turned the fridge up to it's warmest setting as if it's too cold it slows crystallisation.

Chilling. A bit.
 I didn't set the whole honey crop as some people prefer their honey in it's natural state. I put it in three sizes of jar, 250g, 365g and 454g. 454g is the traditional Pound of honey.

45 Kilos of Local Honey.
Some readers may be wondering how it was possible for Set Honey to be made in the first place if you already need a couple of jars full to make it. There is another way. You start with some heavily granulated honey and grind it with a mortar and pestle breaking up the large sugar crystals.

Granulated Honey in a Mortar

Same honey after some heavy grinding

It's harder work than you'd imagine and you have to do a very small batch at a time to get it even. I assume commercial outfits like whoever made the Asda English Set Honey will probably have some high tech machinery to do the job or possibly even some clever sciencey temperature controlled set up but if you have the time you can do it yourself. Once you've creamed a two or three jars you can use them to seed a bucket and when that sets use it to seed more buckets. If you store it right you should be able to use some of that next year to seed your next crop.

The original granulated honey and the ground honey

Ready for mixing with liquid honey
This is actually the first way I tried to make set honey, using a heavily granulated jar I'd saved from a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I made a beginner's mistake and tried to do it in July. It was too warm and the bucket didn't crystallise as hoped. In hindsight I would've probably been okay if I'd put the bucket in the fridge.. But not to worry, if your attempt to make a set honey goes wrong all you need to do is warm it up to return it to it's liquid state and you're ready to go again.