Posts Tagged ‘liquid gold’

August arrives but still no joy for the bees….

What a wet year this has been …. July was again dominated by low pressure fronts bringing in cloud and wet conditions for the first three weeks then it was unseasonably hot but this only lasted for a few days before the unsettled weather returned. The bees have been unable to fly on many days and even though many plants have been late to flower this year the bees just seem to be playing catch up all the time.

By the beginning of August last year I had three full honey supers on two of my hives and two on the other, full of delicious golden honey ready to extract but then the bees took advantage of the exceptionally warm and dry spring, this year I have about 1 1/2 supers to extract and even that has not been fully capped yet and it is still ‘loose’ so is unlikely to be reduced enough yet to prevent it fermenting in the jar – I have decided to leave it on for a bit longer to see if the current warm weather and late flowering brings a late crop or if the bees decides to take the honey down for winter stores, then that is also fine.

Hive inspection

Hive inspection before removing this years honey

I started this beekeeping year with 3 strong colonies, I have lost queens, added new queens, lost swarms only to catch and rehouse them – at one point there were 5 hives on the go but now I am back down to four with one being queen-less and with so few bees (about 3 frames) that I am letting them go rather than merging them this late in the year and risk damage to a laying queen preparing for winter so I will enter winter once again with three very strong colonies and all with healthy fertile 2012 queens.

Fanning bee

Bee fanning at the hive entrance to help regulate the temperature for brood rearing and honey reduction

Having started this blog entry at the beginning of August I have waited until slightly better weather in mid-August before I decided to extract the honey. I attended the apiary on Saturday morning (the hottest day of the year so far) to shake the bees out of the honey supers as best as I could and place the clearer boards with bee escapes in over an eke (‘spacer’ box) above the hive. The idea of adding an empty eke or super under the clearer boards is that it allows a bit more space and prevents congestion as the bees leave the honey super through the bee escapes, which in turn do not allow them to return.

Uncapped honey

Uncapped ‘ripe honey’ being worked in the hive



The theory is that in 24 hours your honey supers are clear of bees and ready for you to carry off unnoticed… of course the reality each year is that the the supers still have bees in them that need brushing and shaking off . I do this frame by frame, placing the clear frames of honey in a super over an upturned roof with a towel over the top to keep the bees out. This year there was an added complication of lots and lots of wasps in the apiary, as soon as I lifted the honey super off wasps were carrying the dead bees from the crown board off to feed their young, guess that’s nature and it saves them going to waste but angry wasps flying around your head is very off putting even to a beekeeper!

Frame of capped honey

Frame of honey before extraction


The honey frames are removed to a wasp and bee free space and uncapped, literally cut open, to allow the honey to flow out and then placed into a centrifugal extractor when they are spun at high speed to allow the honey to fly out, hit the sides and drain to the base of the drum.



Once the frames are all emptied into the base of the extractor the honey is run through a coarse, then finer filter, to remove any larger pieces of pollen and wax, these won’t effect the quality of the honey, indeed they add much to it’s aromatics, texture and beneficial qualities that have been removed from highly processed supermarket honey to give it a longer shelf life as runny honey.

Uncapping fork

Using the uncapping fork
to ‘open’ the honey cells


As soon as the honey has been removed it is time to feed the bees with a heavy sugar syrup to make sure that the removal of the honey has not depleted their food stores so much that they would not survive the winter.

I always leave my bees in a ‘brood and a half’, over the winter months, effectively I leave an additional super on as this allows them to have a greater level stores in the hive to try and prevent them from starving and also gives the space for the queen to lay up a large brood early next year when they are fed a weaker syrup to give them a boost in the spring.

The bees also start their treatment to combat the Varroa Destructor, a parasitic mite that are present in virtually every UK hive these days.

Coarse honey sieve

Sieving the honey for coarse bits of pollen and wax

Once the honey has been filtered it is allowed to sit in a settling tank for at least 24 hours so that any air bubbles introduced into the honey during the rapid spinning at extraction escape, again this is purely for aesthetics – it wont affect the quality of the honey but people seem to think it looks much nicer without them. Finally the honey is run off into freshly sterilised jars and the labels are attached ready for sale, or in the case of a lower crop like this year, ready for eating and making more mead!

There are many European rules and regulations relating to the labelling of foods, including honey, and these can be found at the ‘Foods Standards Agency’ website by clicking here, but if you don’t have time to read all 23 pages there is a quick summary at the bees-online webpage here.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

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


N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Spa Valley Honey

Spa Valley Honey


First honey crop of 2011

Honey for sale

With the hives filling very rapidly this year and the bees getting ready to swarm it seemed logical to give the bees back some space and take off the first honey crop of the year. Each of my three main hives had two supers full of ‘capped’ frames with the honey ready to extract.

Capped honey in a frame

The bees cap the honey comb once the water content of the honey has been reduced to less than 19% and there is no risk of it being able to ferment. Due to the size of the colonies I only remove one super from each hive at a time to retain the bees space inside the hive, rather than taking two in one go and condensing the bees down into a smaller space during the very hot weather which may then encorage them to swarm earlier than normal.

Clearer board on a hive

I attended the apiary on the Friday evening and placed clearer boards with porter bee escapes in the hive under the honey super containing the frames to be extracted. The bee escapes are really bee turnstiles, as in they let the bees out of the honey super to be removed but not back in again. You have to be careful that you leave no bee space into the super to be removed as once the bees are out it is very easy for robbing to take place and all your honey crop can disappear in a day!

Returning on a very warm Sunday morning I wasn’t sure how well the clearing would have worked as last year it wasn’t that successful but this year it seemed to have worked far better, maybe this was due to the hives being taller with more hive space beneath and the clearer boards being in place for longer or maybe it was just due to the unseasonal heat. The full supers were swiftly removed and the few lingering bees guarding the frames of honey were gently encouraged to return to the hive. There is little more off putting then a few bees flying around your head whilst you try to extract the stolen honey!

Using the uncapping fork

With bees and honey separated it was time to spin out the honey. The wax capping that seal the honey in the comb are removed using an ‘uncapping fork’ and the frames are then placed in a centrifugal device that allows you to gently spin out the honey, then reverse the frames and repeat this process until the combs are virtually empty.

There will always be traces of honey left in the comb and a little ‘set’ honey and this will be fed back to the bees who will clean it from the ‘wet comb’ and take the honey back down deeper into the hive. Once the frames are cleaned and dry they will be removed and stored until required again.

Once the honey has been removed from the comb it is allowed to pass through a coarse filter and then a very fine filter to remove some of the wax particles, pollen and anything else that may have made its way into the honey. This seems to be the longest part of the extraction process with the honey slowly dripping through the filters.

Fine filtering

Following the extraction and filtering it is allowed to settle for at least 24 hours, this is allow any air bubbles introduced whilst spinning it out of the frames to rise to the surface. There is nothing wrong with these appearing in the honey but cosmetically it it better to lose them. The honey is then literally passed through quality control (tasted for sweetness!) and ‘poured off’ through the honey tap into the sterilised jars and labelled up ready for sale.

Quality control

The cappings contain a fair amount of honey and these are separated from the wax in warm water – this will now form the sugary syrup that will be the base for making this year’s honey mead – and probably form the subject of my next blog entry!

Labelling jars

Ten things you can do to help bees!

 1.    Plant bee friendly flowers and plants in your garden

Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based farming practices, pristine green (but flower-barren) sprawling suburban lawns and from the destruction of native landscapes. Just planting flowers in your garden, yard, or in a planter will help provide bees with forage. Avoid chemically treating your flowers as chemicals can leach into pollen and negatively affect the bees systems. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together, bees like volume of forage (a sq. yard is a good estimate).

Lavender in the gardenFeeding bee

Here are a few examples of good plant varieties: Spring – lilacs, penstemon, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria. Summer – Mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passion flower vine, honeysuckle. Fall – Fuchsia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax. great list

2.   Weeds can be a good thing.

Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is not just a good thing—it’s a great thing! A haven for honeybees (and other native pollinators too). Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for native North American bees. If some of these are “weeds” you chose to get rid of (say you want to pull out that blackberry bush that’s taking over), let it bloom first for the bees and then before it goes to seed, pull it out or trim it back!

3.   Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.

Yes, they make your lawn look pristine and pretty, but they’re actually doing the opposite to the life in your biosphere. The chemicals and pest treatments you put on your lawn and garden can cause damage to the honeybees systems. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom as they will get into the pollen and nectar and be taken back to the bee hive where they also get into the honey—which in turn means they can get into us. Pesticides, specifically neo-nicotinoid varieties have been one of the major culprits in Colony Collapse Disorder.

4.   Buy local, raw honey.

The honey you buy directly sends a message to beekeepers about how they should keep their bees. For this reason, and for your own personal health, strive to buy local, raw honey that is from hives that are not treated by chemicals. It can be hard to find out what is truly “local” and truly “raw”–and even harder yet to find out what is untreated. Here’s a few guidelines: If you find it in the grocery store and it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China. If it’s coming from the grocery store, but it doesn’t say the words “pure” or “raw” and you can’t read in the description that it’s untreated by chemicals, don’t buy it. If it’s untreated, the label will say, as this is an important selling point. We recommend a simple solution for most people. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. There are beekeepers at nearly every farmer’s market selling their honey and other products. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, then make a new friend and support them!

Honey for saleLocal 'raw' or 'pure' honey for sale

5.   Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of fresh water outside your home.

You may not have known this one—but it’s easy and it’s true! If you have a lot of bees starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will appreciate it!

6.   Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.

What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means eating seasonally as well, and buying local from a farmer that you know means you know if that food is coming from a monoculture or not. This is much easier in the summer when you can get your fresh produce from a local farmer’s market. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Keep in mind, USDA Organic Certification can be expensive and you may find many great farmers and beekeepers with excellent food and honey that isn’t USDA certified simply because they don’t produce a high quantity or opt for the expense of certification. Don’t let this get in the way of supporting them and if you’re worried about their products—have a conversation with them. (Ed. Note – A huge challenge for beekeepers is to keep their bees in an area where there is no chemical spray within 3 miles, as this is really what is required to guarantee truly organic honey. All the more reason for us all to avoid the use of harsh chemicals.)

Why not try Forest Garden Foods on the Kent and Sussex borders

Forest Garden Foods logo

7.   Learn how to be a beekeeper with sustainable practices.

Look up a local bee association that offers classes with natural approaches in your community and link up.

Checking the bee colonyChecking on the bee colonies build-up

8.   Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you.

Honeybees are vegetarians. They want to forage pollen and nectar from flowers up to three miles from their hive and bring that food back to provide food for themselves and the beehive. Contrary to what the media might have us believe, they are not out to sting us. Here are a few tips to avoid getting stung. 1. Stay still and calm if a bee is around you or lands on you. Many bees will land on you and sniff you out. They can smell the pheromones that come with fear and anger it can be a trigger for them to sting you. 2. Don’t stand in front of a hive opening, or a pathway to a concentration of flowers. Bees are busy running back and forth from the hive, and if you don’t get in their way, they won’t be in yours. 3. Learn to differentiate between honeybees and wasps. Honeybees die after they sting humans (but not after they sting other bees!), wasps do not. Wasps are carnivores, so they like your lunch-meats and soda. Honeybees are vegetarians.

9.   Share solutions with others in your community.

There are so many fun ways to help and be a voice for the bees. Share about the importance of bees at local community meetings, at conferences, in schools and universities, and on on-line message boards and forums.

Kent Beepers Association

10.                        Let your local politicians know what you think.

Change has to happen from the top-down as well as from the bottom-up.

Information taken from the ‘Queen of the Sun’ webpages – go and watch the film when it is showing near you and keep supporting the bees!

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.


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.

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!

Honey extraction and the honey crop 2010

Having had a few weeks off  ‘bee duty’ during the first few weeks of August I returned home from my holiday ready to see if any honey was left in the supers and decide how much to take off and how much to leave for the bees. The rough rule of thumb is that the bees will need 40lb of honey left in the hive in order that the colony to survives through the winter.

Following the inspection I was happy to see that the wet weather in August hadn’t led the bees to eat all their honey supplies and I would be able to extract some honey this year, even if mainly only from one of the three hives. I placed a clearer board with the porter bee escapes attached under two full supers, leaving a third super underneath the clearer board to give the bees space to escape into without causing over crowding in the brood chamber.

I returned 24 hours later hoping that the supers would be clear of bees but unfortunately there were still plenty of bees hanging around the honey – possibly because the bad weather hadn’t enticed them out or to move around the hive that much. I had an empty super with me so I removed the first honey super and carried it about 8 metres way from the other hives and brushed each frame clear of bees with a soft bee brush, placing the now clear frame in the empty super and covering it over with a towel to prevent the recently ejected bees from returning to their honey. This went surpisingly smoothly, again possibly due to the wet and windy weather the bees very quickly flew back to their hives. I was able to remove 18 full frames from one hive and 3 from another, the swarm collected earllier in the year have plenty of honey below the queen excluder but nothing above so they will not supply me with any honey this year.

This is a relatively low yeild, with the average UK hive supplying about 50lbs of honey per year but the bees have drawn out all new comb in the hives this year, around 90 frames in total, and this in itself uses up a huge amount of honey in energy and wax production.

The honey extractors are the single most expensive piece of any beekeepers equipment, and as yet I do not own one, I am however lucky enough to have friend who does so I took the supers of honey, still warm from the hive, for uncapping and extraction at her house.

The extraction process is quite straight forward, the wax cappings that seal the honey into the comb are removed using an uncapping fork or uncapping knife and then the frames are placed in a centrifrugal device, either in a radial or tangial pattern, and the honey is literally spun out, hitting the sides of the extractor and then draining down into a honey holding area near the base.

The honey is then run through a coarse strainer, followed by a fine strainer before being held in a settling or ripening, tank for 24 hours to allow any air bubbles that were introduced during the spinning cycle to escape. The extracted honey is then run off into jars, bottles or buckets.

The 21 frames extracted this year yeilded about 41lbs of honey so not bad for a first crop!