Posts Tagged ‘hobby’

Products of the hive – cleaning and using bees wax


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Having previously written about both honey and the use of bee venom I thought it would be good to mention another product of the hive and share a bit of what I do with the wax that I accumulate from the hives. Having kept bees for several years I have ended up with quite a lot of wax from old brood frames and honey supers, cell cappings removed during the honey extraction and all those scrapings and bits of brace comb that the bees seem to build whenever they spot a little bit of space accidentally left in the hive by the careless beekeeper. The colour of the wax varies from near white cappings on the fresh honey combs to dark brown, heavily ‘propolised’, wax in the brood frames that are just a few years old.

Using the uncapping fork

clean wax cappings being removed from cells during honey extraction

Comb is quite bulky to store and often contains other bits and pieces from the hives so I initially melt this down to reduce the size and start the cleaning process. I use a large pan with about 2″ of water from the garden rain butt, bring it to the boil then reduce to a simmer and add my wax lumps. Bees wax has a relatively low melting point of around 62 – 64 degrees centigrade so this doesn’t take long and as it reduces the bulk, I can often get a large bucket of comb melted down in a single saucepan. I then leave this outside to cool over a couple of days, the wax ‘shrinks’ away from the sides of the pan so it is easy to remove and all the non-wax components sink to the base giving a layer of ‘crud’ which can easily be removed with a large knife and disposed of. This then leaves me with a round ‘cake’ of wax that I can store somewhere dry until I am ready to use it.

These wax cakes are then broken up using a large wooden mallet and melted down a second time in fresh rain water, I then pass the wax through a muslin cloth. To make this easier I cut a square of cloth to fit over a plastic plant pot that I have removed the base from, I attach the cloth with an elastic band to make a filter that is easy to use when I also have a large pan of hot wax to juggle. The wax is poured through this filter into containers that act as ‘moulds’ and again allowed to cool slowly. I now have wax that I consider to be clean enough for use in candle making.

A wax 'cake' that has been filtered through a muslin cloth filter

A clean wax ‘cake’ that has been filtered through a muslin cloth filter

In the past I have made tapered candles through ‘dipping’ wicks repeatedly into hot vats of wax but although great fun this is a very slow process,  traditionally families would have got together to share a meal with all the generations helping out with this task. For the purpose of this blog though I am looking at using a candle mould to make some small candles.

Wax is best heated using a double boiler, you can buy all sorts of devices for this purpose but to be honest if you are only using small amounts a recycled tin can in a pan of boiling water works very well. I use needle nose pliers to flatten the ‘lip’ and create a pouring spout to control the wax and reduce wastage (and cleaning up afterwards).

I have also seen YouTube videos where wax is melted in a microwave in a pyrex jug and guess this works very well if you have an old microwave and jug that you don’t mind using.

Melting wax in a 'double boiler' using a recycled can and pan of hot water

Melting wax in a ‘double boiler’ using a recycled can and pan of hot water

The silicon mould that I am using was purchased from Thornes beekeeping suppliers, although you can buy moulds from other bee suppliers, online from specialist candle making websites and very cheaply on eBay from China. You initially need to cut a partial slit down each side of the mould to ease the removal of the candle when made, then fix elastic bands around the mould to hold it back together again, feed the wick through the base (I use a skewer for this) then attach something to hold the wick in place – a hairpin is perfect for this.

Mould prepared for candle making

Mould prepared for candle making with wick fed from the base

Once the wax in the double boiler has melted it is simply a case of carefully filling the mould to the top and leaving it to set, for these small bee light candles it only took around 15 – 20 minutes to set enough for removal but obviously larger candles will take significantly longer.

Pouring the molten wax into the mould (slight spillage as poured left handed whilst using the camera)

Pouring the molten wax into the mould (slight spillage as poured left handed whilst using the camera)

Once the candle has had time to set and been carefully removed from the mould you simply cut the wick and re-attach the hairpin ready for the next candle to be made.

We take so much for granted these days and it is cheap and easy to buy a packet of paraffin wax tea lights but these will not have had the journey from bees to hive, then cleaned and moulded into shape. There is no real value to selling them as a product as the price would never reflect the time or effort of the beekeeper in producing individual  candles but there is a certain pride with putting them out as homemade when friends come round for dinner.

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There are of course many other uses for bees wax, from cosmetics through to cleaning products, so I would be interested to hear from other beekeepers as to how you use your wax.

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

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June and the swarming season has arrived!


It’s been a while since I have written anything on my bee blog – partly as I have been busy with life and partly as there has not been much to report as each colony inspection has gone smoothly (apart from the occassional sting), the bees have been very active, working hard to bring in a huge amount of pollen and nectar and the colonies have grown fast with strong queens and the hives have stayed healthy.

A check on one colony about three weeks ago revealed far more ‘play cups’ than there were present in either of the other two colonies (the early indicator of a queen cell). This colony was also collected as a swam itself last year so would have had an older queen, previoulsy driven from a hive, and it looks like the colony had decided to eject her once again and start over with a new virgin queen.

Play cell - an early indicator of swarming behaviour

The checks carried out every ten days or so by beekeepers between April and August are partly to spot these signs of swarming and queen replacement and allow enough time to try to carry out some form of preventative action to avoid losing half your bees and therefore half your work force (and the honey that they will make) as well as being a responsible beekeeper and not allowing the hive to randomly throw swarms that then become a nusiance to other people.

I checked to make sure that the old queen was still present in the hive then removed some of the play cells – this would not prevent a swarm but at least buy me back a little bit more time before they were ready to go. At the next visit, carried out 9 days later, I took along a spare hive with frames of wax made up. This would be useful for swarm control if I needed it but if the hive wasn’t quite ready to swarm I could leave it set up at the apiary as a ‘bait hive’ and then if a swarm were to happen and I wasn’t around there is still a fair chance that the scout bees, searching for a new home, would simply come across the empty hive, realise it was dry and safe, about the right size and move the colony in without my assistance.

An audience with the queen

As it was, a quick check on the colony revealed 6 new queen cells, one of which was completed and capped – that is to say the larva stage had already been fed royal jelly and then sealed in to start her transformation into a new queen.

I removed the capped queen cell as I did not know how long it has been capped for and therefore have no idea when the new queen would arrive. This left 5 queens almost ready to be capped in the hive, only one of whom would eventually rule.

Queen Cells on a brood frame

Queen cells on a brood frame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some beekeepers would now try and split the colony into more than two hives at this stage if they were wanting to expand their apiary rapidly, but time only really allows for me to deal with three colonies at the moment so I decided to split the ‘ready to swarm’ colony into two.

An ‘artificial swarm’ works on some very simple principles of bee behaviour that 50 million years of evolution has taught them, namely that their ‘homes’ do not move (these would normally be in  a hollow tree or similar in nature) and that if the ‘flying’ or ‘foraging’ bees suddenly find themselves in an new home with no honey, brood or worker bees then they have swarmed – even if they didn’t actually leave the hive themselves.

An artificial swarm involves firstly finding the old queen in the hive, a difficult task on a damp day when nearly all 60,000 bees are at home, but luckily I had found and remarked this queen with a white dot on her back during my previous visit and so it wasn’t long before she was found and safely removed in a ‘queen clip’, a device that looks and works like a hair clip but has slots to allow the worker bees to escape but traps the slightly larger queen.

Introducing the old queen to a new hive

Once the old queen is safely held a new, empty hive is set up in exactly the same location that the old hive had been stood with a queen excluder underneath the brood box – this is a sheet of metal or plastic, again with slots large enough to allow the worker bees free passage but to small for the queen to fit through – this prevents the queen from swarming straight away again. Sheets of wax foundation are added and also a frame of honey to prevent the swarmed colony from starving is included in the new house  deal. Bees from the original colony are added to the hive and then the old queen is re-introduced to her split colony before closing up the hive.

The original hive is set up a few feet away from its original location and now left alone for enough time for the new queens to hatch, the first of which will either kill her unborn sisters or flee the hive with a small number of foraging bees and allow the second born queen to reign. Any ‘flying’ bees left in this hive will leave the hive the morning following the split to forage for food but then return to the newly set-up empty hive as it is now in the original location, so after 24 hours or so you have split the old queen and all the flying bees from all the younger workers, brood, eggs and honey and unborn queens and its time to sit back and wait.

Artificially swarmed bees

As this has all occured during the first half of June there is not much forage for the ‘swarmed’ colony and there is a very real risk that they will simply starve in the hive so I have fed them 4kg of sugar as syrup to help them pull through to the start of the summer nectar flow in July and also to stimulate the bees wax glands so that they draw out the new comb rapidly and the old queen can start laying the next generation of workers straight away.

As a beekeeper there is always the temptation to take a ‘peek’ in the hive and see if everything is going to plan or the bees are slowly starving to death but by following the artificial swarm technique you give the ‘swarmed’ bees the best chance of survival and you really have to leave them alone to do their own thing.

Expansion and a happy apiary

Something of interest as a beekeeper is that you hear of other local swarms, and my wife even found one whilst walking the dog on Tunbridge Wells common this week,  it seems that bees really do all have one unique body clock in an area and seem to know exactly when to swarm at the same time, almost as one body. Well worth noting down for next years swarm control!

Without the preventative measure of the artificial swarm it is almost certain that my bees would have gone at the same time and unless you are there to witness it and catch and re-hive the swarm you stand to lose approximately  20,000 bees each time. Luckily on this occassion it looks like I stopped it in time and subsequent visits to the ‘swarmed’ hive to feed syrup have indicated a very full and lively hive (and another sting on the elbow and swollen arm!) and I am really looking forward to seeing how the colony expands during the sumer before the long autumn amd winter period spent in the hive.

Spring 2011 and the first proper apiary check of the year


Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far, and whilst the thermometer was hitting 18 degrees in the sun, the bees were very busy flying. Unlike my earlier apiary visits this year they are now collecting huge amounts of pollen to feed to the brood – a good sign that the hives are healthy and that the queens have survived the winter and the colonies are building up strength again.

It really lifts your spirits to arrive at the hives and see the amount of activity around them. This to me really signifies more than anything that spring has arrived and the bees are flying in heavily loaded with sulphur-yellow pollen from the nearby Willow trees.

First inspection of the year 2011

I have been down to check on the bees on a few occasions over the long winter months and have hefted the hives to test for the weight of supplies left, my in-experience unfortunately gets the better of me here and I decided to feed candy to the bees despite there being sufficient honey left in the hives. A colony can starve with lots of honey stores untouched simply because they tend to travel up in the hive looking for food rather than going sideways to find the full frames.  A cake of candy placed over the centre of the hive on the clearer board takes care of that and the bees had polished off all that I have fed them in the last few weeks. This early feeding has allowed the queens to start laying earlier and build up the worker numbers prior to the start of the spring nectar flow.

Bee candy

There is always the temptation to peek inside the hive whilst checking the state of the candy in late February and early March but the queen will have started laying eggs in late December or early January and there is a very real risk of chilling the brood and killing the new workers that are being prepared so that they can replace the bees that have over- wintered with the queen and are ready to fly in time with the start of the spring nectar flow in order to bring in much needed supplies after the winter.

The last full hive check was back in late September and the bees have been hiding away over the winter months, clustered around the queen and using minimal energy to survive. The hive temperature was bought back up to around 34 degrees in the brood area when the queen started laying eggs and the stores would have started to diminish as the young were fed. The last few weeks leading up to spring are the highest risk period for the death of a colony through starvation.

A great piece of advice that I was given was that every apiary visit should have a set purpose. You can tell a lot about the condition and health of the colony through observation without opening a hive, but if you are going to intrude into the colony you need to have a good reason.

The first visit of the year is to check the overall health of the colony, to see if the queen is present either through spotting her or through the presence of eggs, pupa and sealed brood, to establish how much brood is present (how many frames does it cover), is there any evidence of brood disease, are there sufficient supplies to sustain the colony (both honey and pollen) and is there still enough space in the hive (a colony can build up size surprisingly early in the year and a crowded colony will have a tendency to swarm early).

Changing the hive floors

The visit also involves a little bit of house work, replacing the hive floor with a clean one or cleaning the floors that are there is you don’t have a spare. This is done by moving the hive boxes and removing the solid floor, scrapping off the mite, pollen, wax and bits off dead insect and then running a blowtorch (or heat-gun) over the floor just enough to gently scorch the wood. This makes sure that any parasites (or eggs) that are in the hive wood are destroyed.

Spring inspection of hive

Opening the hives one at a time is a great joy, the familiar smells of wax and honey and the sounds of the hives changing as the bees communicate never fails to  impress. I used a little smoke to pacify the bees, although this may not be that necessary at this time of year whilst the colonies are still small it gives you a feeling of confidence knowing your smoker is lit and to hand if the bees decide to get a little too amorous! The bees have been busy sealing up the boxes with propolis over the winter months and the hive tool (a large flat bladed chisel) is given a little extra leverage to part them for the first time in the year. The bees are all going about their set tasks and take little notice of the beekeeper as he carries out his quick inspection of each frame.

I have been lucky this year, although I fed the bees syrup and treated for varroa mite back in early September you never know if the colonies will pull through, and this year all three have. The queens have been busy, and although I didn’t have the hives open long enough to spot them, there were about 5 frames covered in eggs, pupa and sealed brood present in each hive and still plenty of last year’s honey and this year’s pollen stored. There was no visible evidence of brood disease so I got on with the task of changing floors. I currently use solid floors with varroa mesh inserts above on two of my hives, the other has the more expensive purpose built varroa floor from Thornes, and so I only had to change two floors. It amazes me how much pollen seems to be lost through the mesh, with large streaks of bright yellow pollen formed in line with the arrangement of frames above, radiating out from the hive entrance.

Willow pollen on hive floor Pollen on hive floor Hive floors cleaned with a blow torch

With the checks and house work complete the hives are sealed back up. With the colonies still low in numbers I have left the entrance reducer blocks in as this makes the hive easier to defend but soon these will be removed to allow more movement of bees in and out of the hive and better ventilation as the worker numbers increase. I also left the woodpecker protection in place, this doesn’t seem to bother the bees at all but would still discourage a hungry green woodpecker from turning my hives into matchsticks (which they do with great efficiency!).

Entrance blocks left in Woodpecker protection

The next hive checks will be mid-April as there is little risk of the colony being large enough to consider swarming before then, and following that the checks will be carried out on a 7-10 day frequency to try and prevent, or more probably deal with, potential swarming as it arises until late July.

A beekeeping library


Whilst it is quiet on the actual bee keeping front over winter it is the perfect time to catch up on some background reading, take onboard new knowledge that can applied to your bee keeping practise throughout the following year and increase your enjoyment and understanding of the actual bees themselves and not just the practice of trying to maximise a honey crop.

Bee library

Bee library

Since I started with the bee keeping about three years ago I seem to have gathered quite a few books on the subject, some bought by me and others given as presents. My first book on the subjest was ‘Bees at the bottom of the garden’ which seemed to be a popular choice for including in the bee keeping starter packs that the equipment suppliers provide. This was great introductory book but soon led onto more slightly  indepth books on the subject.

With the risk of being called ‘nerdy’ I thought I would briefly add a few web reviews the books I have here:


Bees at the bottom of my garden

Beekeeping is a hobby any interested amateur could explore - that is the message of this work which aims to take the mystique out of keeping bees. Alan Campion uses his own experiences to describe in plain terms how to go about setting up a hive, and what to expect from your bees.


Keeping bees and making honey

This is a comprehensive and attractive lifestyle guide to beekeeping - from finding your bees to getting them home, housing them, collecting honey and using their produce.It includes a detailed look at the history of bees and beekeeping, and an extensive introduction to help you to fully understand your bees and keep them happy.Whether you have a tiny balcony or acres of land; live in the middle of a city or in the countryside surrounded by flowers, this book caters for every situation, discussing the different types of hive available for every eventuality.It features a detailed section on gardening for bees, as well as comprehensive advice on how to safely collect your honey and wax, with recipes and ideas on how to use them."Bees" fuses contemporary lifestyle design and an authoritative text, to appeal not only to those who already have bees, but to those who are thinking of having them or even just like the idea of having them - it will 'sell the dream'.

 

Guide To Bees And Honey

Intended for both new and experienced beekeepers, this invaluable and highly illustrated volume provides answers to virtually every beekeeping question - from avoiding swarms to setting a hive up for winter."Guide to Bees and Honey" also presents expert advice for readers who plan to maintain a few hives for personal, recreational use, as well as those who want to expand an existing colony into a commercial venture.Also included in this volume is a section on the Varroa mite - a particularly nasty parasite that has proved fatal to many British hives. It explains what it does, how it spreads, and effective ways to treat and prevent infestation.


Hive Management

Offers concise, up-to-date information on beekeeping tasks, including how to prevent, capture, and control swarms, when and how to harvest honey, and dealing successfully with queens.


Honey Farming

This is one of the great beekeeping books of all time. Manley draws on his commercial esperience to explain all aspects of beekeeping. This is a book which is a joy to read, you read it, then reread it. As your experience improves you will understand more & more of the value of Manleys words. STRONLY RECOMMENDED



Bees And Honey - From Flower To Jar

Bees make honey; we all know that. But what happens between the bee buzzing around our garden, and the sticky knife in the jar, is a mystery to most of us. Based on careful observation and years of experience, Michael Weiler here reveals the secret life of bees. He looks at all aspects of a bee's life and work and vividly describes their remarkable world. Did you know that it takes approximately 12,000 bee-hours to make one jar of honey? (At GBP5.30 per hour, that would mean one jar should cost around GBP63,600.) This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the intricacies of nature and our world.


Honey - natures golden healer

There is growing evidence to show that honey is hugely beneficial to our health, from its antibacterial properties to helping relieve hay fever to even inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Drawing on her background in the biological sciences, Gloria Havenhand reveals how we can harvest the beehive for anything from reviving tonics to beauty treats. Not only does she demonstrate how honey is essential for healthy living, but tackles other under-appreciated and lesser-known bee products such as propolis, a sticky resin, which can help skin conditions such as psoriasis; pollen used to relieve hay fever and boost the immune system and royal jelly and beeswax uesd in cosmetics to rejuvenate the skin. With increasing numbers of people interested in ditching drugs for natural alternatives to combat health problems from allergies to acne, this book is a timely look at how the beehive can help us look and feel better.


The Honey Bee - Inside Out

This book is designed to present detailed information about the anatomy and physiology of the honey bee in a clear and concise format. Each of the eight chapters covers an aspect of bee biology and all are copiously illustrated. The author has drawn most of the diagrams from her own dissections, giving a realistic, rather than idealistic impression of the parts involved. Also included, are an appendix giving the background to scientific terminology, a wide-ranging glossary including phonetic spellings and suggestions for further reading. This is a book that will inform anybody who is interested in this fascinating insect. It is based on the examination modules set by the British Beekeepers' Association, but this text will prove interesting for anyone wanting to know more about our honey bees.

BeeCraft

On top of the books membership to the British Beekeepers Association also includes a monthly magazine called BeeCraft. The local branch of the BBKA also have a book library with some of the rarer books as well as newer titles. http://www.bee-craft.com/

Preparing for winter – Treating Varroa mite and feeding the bees


After the excitement of taking the honey off the hives, straining, settling and jarring it all up, it almost seems like the beekeeping year is over but in reality there is still alot of work to do before October if you are going to keep your colony strong, mite free and with half a chance of surviving the winter.

The British bee colonies have been under attack from Varroa Destructor for the last few years, this Asiatic mite attacks the very young bees and is considered widely to be responsible in many colonies failing to survive the winter so it must be treated, to remove or at least drastically reduce numbers in the hive, before the bee population number also reduces and the few remaining bees prepare to slow down for the winter. My weapon of choice this year was a Thymol based product called Apilife Var, it is supplied in strips and is cut into squares and placed directly above the brood body within the hive directly across the frames, this then releases a vapour that kills the mites but does not affect the health of the bees, although they may object to the smell a bit! The treatment is repeated four times in each hive on a weekly basis and must be done whilst the ambient temperature is still above 20 degrees. Two of the hives did not seem to object to the treatment, but the other responded differently with the bees ‘hanging ‘ on the outside of the hive around the entrance when the treatment was first administered and on my return a week later I found that the Thymol squares had been chewed into small pieces and ejected from the hive, this however did not seem to prevent the treatment being very effective with a large number of dead mites being collected on the hives bottom board!

Hive treatmentApilife Var - hive treatment for varroa

Apilife Var Varroa Destructer, dead on count board

As well as treating for mite the bees must also be fed sugar syrup in order to replenish the honey that was removed in August. The feeding must commence as soon as the honey is removed and whilst the ambient temperatures are still warm and the bee population is still large enough to deal with the  massive task of taking the syrup from the feeder, moving it down into empty comb and reducing the water content enough in order to stop it fermenting, and to save as a food for the bees that will over winter in the hive.

I only removed honey from one hive this year but have fed all three hives as this will give them a good chance of each having enough reserves to survive the winter, additionally by feeding all three colonies it cuts down the robbing instinct bought on by a sudden abundance of food when the real nectar flow has effectively stopped for the year. As the queen slows down her rate of egg laying, space within the brood chamber is freed up and the bees will now use this to move their winter stores closer to where they will need them once the cold weather sets in. Each hive took about 12kg of sugar mixed into syrup (36 kg in total). The best way to make this up was to use boiling water to dissolve the sugar at home, approximately 600ml water to every kg sugar, and then transport the syrup to the out apiary in a jerry can – this speeded up the feeding process, caused less disturbance and excitement amongst the bees and made sure that the sugar was properly dissolved before pouring into the contact feeders as any loose sugar in the solution rapidly settles and blocks the holes in the feeder gauze leaving the bees hungry and more likely to try and rob the neighbouring hives.

30kg sugar to make into syrupSugar syrup in a contact feeder

Contact feeder on the hiveBees in a rapid feeder

Once the bees have been fed and treated for mite the years work is almost over, the colony must now be checked for overall health and to make sure that the colony is still queen right and will actually survive the winter and into next year. Then the condition of the hive must also be checked and any holes blocked up. These were fine earlier in the year as the bee population was great enough that they were able to guard against robbing at any number of entrances but now the numbers are dropping rapidly and soon the bees only task will be to protect the queen and maintain the temperature within the hive. The hive entrance is reduced and now is also a good time to treat the outside of the hive with any protective paint, a task normally carried out with the bees still inside.

Wear and damage on hive boxes Hive entrance block in place

The bees will soon remain huddled in a cluster around the queen; they enter in almost inactive state where little food is required to sustain them over the winter months until the queen starts to lay eggs again in February. In October there are approximately 50,000 bees in the hive but this number will dip as low as 10,000 by February before the queen starts laying to build the colony up again for next year’s work.

Winter is also the time of year that ‘visitors’ such as mice also find the hive very attractive, afterall it is heated to 36 degrees and has an abundant supply of honey and the bees are too busy huddling to evict any intruders so the answer is too attach a metal mouse guard over the entrance at the beginning of October (after removing the entrance reducing block!). This will help keep the mice out but also allow good air circulation in the hive which in turn will help to reduce condensation and prevent the combs on the outside from going mouldy during the winter months. It is also a good time of year to wrap chicken wire loosely around the hive in areas where green woodpeckers reside as these are known to turn a whole beehive into matchsticks in a very short amount of time, chilling the bees and their brood so killing the colony and destroying your hive!

Finally it is time to put your feet up with a hot cup of tea and some honey on toast in front of the woodburner. The bees will not require much attention now until early April next year, other than the occassional check to make sure that they are not starving and that the entrance is clear in the event of heavy snowfall.

How much should local honey cost?


comb honey

Having spent two weeks down in North Devon and then Cornwall and looking at the prices of local Exmoor honey and the honey from Quince’s Bee Farm at South Moulton  I have been pondering what to charge for my own honey this year?

Obvioulsy I cannot incorporate my set-up costs of buying the hives and bees, the other apiary hardware needed during the beekeeping season, honey strainers, buckets and settling tanks or even the time and petrol costs of visiting the hives every 7 – 10 days between the beginning of April up until early August.

I did feel that it was fair, however, to cover the cost of the jars at 45p each (from Thornes), the sugar needed to make the syrup to feed back to the bees (approx 15k g per hive so £45 for three hives) and the Apilife Var treatment to help to remove the Varroa Destructor parasite from the hive before the bees settle down for the winter. There is also the possibility that the weather is not favourable next year and the bees do not collect enough honey to extract a crop (the last 5 years have been poor in the UK) but they will still require feeding sugar syrup, candy and treating for Varroa mite. Beekeeping is not for profiteering!

The price of imported honey has driven down the consumers expectations of cost but the reality is that the supermarkets are selling over processed, highly filtered honey (and sometimes modified with other additional ingredients) at rock bottom prices but this lacks the texture and flavour of real honey.

There is also much to be said for the use of local honey to help with hay fever with the honey containing nectar from the very plants that cause the allergies to start with as well as having many other beneficial health properties.

Bee populations are also in decline throughout much of the world, having had several bad years with fewer colonies surving the winter, and with additional environmental strains taking its toll the price of honey is invariably increasing. Additionally the poor sugar cane crops abroad have pushed up the price of sugar so another  knock-on effect is the increased cost of feeding the bees gallons of sugar syrup once the honey has been removed.

So what is a fair price? You will never get paid for your labour as a beekeeper, or paid to be the one to brave thousands of angry bees or take the stings in order to extract a honey crop – these are done out of the simple enjoyment of looking into a super society and trying to understand what is going on inside the bees world, and attempting to interpret what you see in order to try and pre-empt their next move, or needs, and prevent them from just leaving town, after all they are not prisonors in the hive.

Honey for saleSpa Valley Honey

The real crime is that the bees just about survive each year, but they are not rewarded for all their effort – millions of flowers are visited and a riduculous number of miles flown to do it – thousands upon thousands of bees were born and died to bring in every jar and yet beekeepers slap each other on the back on the success of their honey crop and forget to mention the real workers!

I guess a jar of honey is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it – every jar has a unique taste – tied to one specific area (you can’t make Kent honey in China!!!!). There is a very limited supply and even this is not predictable as it is so weather dependant, as well as being affected by insect disease, insecticide and pesticide use and various other environmental influences.

My last thought of the day is that it would be very sad if one day I had to try and describe the taste of honey to my grandchildren as the bees were longer here, and honey was no longer a reality, so it is very important to keep supporting the few of us that want to help the bees survive – ultimately it is an investment in your own future!

The beekeepers timetable


This is a really useful beekeeping chart, giving the weeks of the year across the top and bottom and an indication of the brood and adult bee population increasing then declining as the season progresses, the main forage plants (based on Devon, UK) and the jobs that the beekeeper should be carrying out at that particular time, including hive treatments.

I have seen this attempted in many beekeeping books but none seem to have captured it quite as well on a single sheet as G.R. Davies – so many thanks!

A Beekeeping  Timetable

It is also available from the following link as a pdf file that can be saved or printed – have a look and let me know what you think.

A Beekeeping Timetable