Monday, March 17, 2014

Life right now: beekeeping

Beekeeping started off as the thing that Chris did. Then I got involved, and somewhere last year it became a massive part of our life together.  I can talk the talk about slow living and being close to nature, but this is walking the walk - and I have the stings to prove it. Maybe they are to remind me that this is reality; I don't just get up and go to work in an office, this is real life and it's happening now. With the coming of spring and some properly warm weather it is also time to acknowledge that this is going to take significant chunks of our free time over the coming months. This weekend we began our first proper inspections to see how the bees had coped through the winter and if there were signs of new life.

This weekend we have checked on 13 out of our 16 hives. As you can see, the bees are pretty comfortable with us, and us with them! It is still slightly stunning to have a bee land on you, but once I remembered they just wanted somewhere to rest for a minute then it was easy to just let them get on with it. If you look closely at this bee you can see she's been out collecting pollen and is carrying it back to the hive in little 'baskets'.

The bees are very comfortable with us!

So, for the first time this year we got out the smoker and had a proper look inside the hives. We were looking for good numbers of bees, new stores of honey, and eggs and larvae which is a sign that there is a queen who has started laying. We've been seeing lots of pollen going into the hives so we were very hopeful. Chris is also trying out his new beekeeping outfit - wearing a whole suit is a bit of a pain, so he's gone for a hat and veil, worn over two layers of long sleeves. Much easier to get on and off, and I am tempted to do the same. (It also means you can wash your layers, which is excellent because they do get very mucky).

Lifting a frame

Pleasingly, all of our hives so far have got eggs and larvae in all stages of development - our queens are up and running. Some of the hives have more bees than others, but that was how they ended last year so it is not a cause for concern. What was most satisfying was that some of the hives we were most worried about - including this little one above, and the two that we rescued from the flooding over the winter - were all in good shape. We've removed the fondant food from most of the hives now, but we'll be looking to put new frames in and encouraging some of the colonies to make new honeycomb so we will have to give them some sugar syrup to help them along.

Bees flying in

Watching the bees flying in and out is still one of the most relaxing things I know. They don't seem to mind me at all and just get on with their business, swooping past to drop onto the landing board and trot in to the hive.
Sharing fondant

As it gets busier it will be harder for me to take photos as we do our inspections, but for now I am enjoying getting to know our girls again and remind myself of all the things we have to do for them. Here's to a wonderful summer.

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