The Chronicles of Bee’d the Obscure V

The Diary of a Novice Beekeeper.

Having successfully achieved my goal of harvesting honey I now had to work out what to do to help my bees survive the winter. Trying to think ahead I had two major tasks to conclude. First, combine the hives and second to feed and treat for the winter. This is how it went warts and all.

I need to digress here for a moment. Despite using the combined eyes of the Queen Bee, my son in law David, and diverse grandchildren we had never set eyes upon the mythical Clarissa. If she existed she was not clipped and it was only the evidence of brood which told me she was there. The problem with that diagnosis is my eyesight did not really allow me to say with any certitude that there really were eggs in the comb. On the other hand the blessed and reliable Mable was going great guns, my reasons for wanting to combine were twofold. First, I did not believe either colony was strong enough to last through the winter on its own and second, I needed to return the borrowed hive back to the apiary, you will appreciate that my innate meanness meant no more buying hives, at least for the time being.

Over a period of a week I moved the two hives closer together in the prescribed manner. On the appointed day and with the help of the QB I opened Clarissa’s hive and carefully placed a sheet of the Daily Telegraph over the brood chamber then I lifted Mable’s box and put it on top. I confess my head was reeling with all the instructions about which way round to put them and I freely also confess that I funked the task of finding Mable and doing her in. I had decided in my abject cowardice and not altogether convinced of Clarissa’s existence to let things be decided by fate or nature or, well, anybody but me. I know, I know, but that is what I did. After a few days bits of chewed newspaper were being thrown out of the hive so they were obviously combining, happily or not. To cut a short story shorter there were no major dramas except to say that there was a larger than normal incidence of dead bees around the combined hives for a few days possible coincidence or possibly the result of internecine warfare amongst the Mable and Clarissa tribes. They settled back to ‘normal’ and I went back to trying to spot a queen.

A phone call from a high official of the County Association “Congratulations Bee’d you have passed the Basic” “Me?” Well, you could have knocked me down with a bee wing. Since my performance at the assessment could only be described as meagre I can only assume that the lady tester was totally smitten with my devilish charm and wit, and therefore forgave me my ineptitude. I thanked His Beeness and cock-a-hoop went off to phone the world who, I must say reacted with sublime indifference. Still, I am now a, well, basic beekeeper at least!

Time to feed the bees with sugar and treat them with Apiguard, I followed exactly the regime laid down by the Apiary and was happy to find a very low incidence of Varroa, which is good news going into the winter. Not so good news however, were the results of feeding.

Despite following the rules and feeding them at night, being careful to avoid any spillage the days were marked by furious bouts of robbing. I could tell they were all robbers because they had striped jerseys and face masks although I didn’t see any bags marked ‘swag’. The only solution was to move the hives to somewhere else. So, calling on my buddy and son in law David I arranged to take the hives over to his garden which is about eighteen miles away on top of the Cotswold escarpment. I duly taped up the entrances and strapped the boxes and once it got dark the QB and I carefully lifted the hives and put them in the back of the car.

By the time I got to Dave’s it was as black as the hobs of hell but with my trusty torch and the headlights on we soon had the hives installed in their temporary home. With a careless flourish I whipped off the tape from the first hive and was attacked by an extremely unhappy regiment of bees, I don’t think I have ever moved so fast in my life. Believe me, there is nothing more frightening than an attacker that you can’t see and three stings later I decided to put my suit on to finish the job. It was no good asking Dave to help, he was doubled up in laughter in the dark somewhere having taken the precaution of borrowing the QB’s suit.

I left the hives at Dave’s for a couple of weeks but, strangely, he reported the same massive activity at each of the hives that I had experienced here, so perhaps it wasn’t robbing but simply the excited activity of feeding bees? I don’t know and here lies the problem with lack of experience. Good training is vital but so is experience and I lack it (in spades). I decided to bring the hives back and complete the feeding and Varroa treatment at home. I took an especially exaggerated care to ensure no stings when I opened them by wearing a borrowed suit of medieval armour from the British Museum, it was a bit tight and got a bit rusty but it was very handy for jousting.

So, feeding went on and following on from experience at the apiary I found it easier to judge the hefting trick. Both hives now heavy and treated I could contemplate the winter. Not so the bees. We had an amazing warm and settled period of weather resulting in frenetic activity from the girls and, I assume, a big increase in stores from Ivy pollen and I don’t know what else.

It seems funny to consider the year over in October but the bees obviously feel it is. By November they are making only sporadic forays into the countryside on warm and still days, otherwise staying at home and stuffing themselves with warming pollen soups and honey puddings. Still at least it gives me something else to worry about.

Will the stores suffice? Is the Varroa under control? Have I protected sufficiently against woodpeckers, mice, wax moth, badgers and acts of God? I am tempted to ‘open up and have a look’ but so far I have resisted, perhaps if we get a really, really warm day I might but then again…

So, final tasks for the year:

  • Prepare bee candy – check
  • Strap hives against rogue elephants – check
  • Protect supers against wax moth – check
  • Install mouse guards – Ah, not check

Casual and careless to the last. I thought, it’s dark, they will be asleep, I will just pop on the mouse guards with a couple of drawing pins. So down to the shed I go, collect said guards and make my way in the dark to the hives. As I placed the first pin into the hive a bee shot out and promptly stung me on the finger. Ouch! I dropped the mouse guard and so bent down to pick it up, just knocking the corner of the hive. Out shot another bee and gave me a dose of beejuice on the other hand. No suit. No gloves. No boots.

Oh well…

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