A Tale of Two Apiaries

Yeah, that’s right, I’m a big shot with two apiaries. None of that amateurish one apiary nonsense. My second apiary, which is in an orchard at Red House Farm in Dunham Massey, is only just getting going. It currently has just three colonies on it; two good sized hives and a nucleus hive (nuc). The nuc is three stories high though, and a lovely shade of purple.

Hives at Apiary Two
Hives at Apiary Two

Each of the nuc boxes is half of the size of a brood box, taking five brood frames rather than the standard ten. I use Langstroth hives, which are the most widely used across the world, but not here in the UK. Most people here use a smaller hive called a National. I prefer the dimensions of the Langstroth to anything else I have seen, and I like the “top bee space” which they provide. I’m sure that the bees don’t care what the frame dimensions are; they just want enough space to go about their business and shelter from the elements.

Bee space is an interesting thing which non-beekeepers will not know about. If there is a gap anywhere in a hive larger than about 8mm, then bees will build comb there until the gap is closed to approximately 8mm wide. They like things organised so that they have this particular crawl space in their homes. Small gaps may be sealed up with a red/brown sticky substance called propolis, which bees make from tree sap. They use it to stick boxes and frames together, which is why we need a hive tool (to prise things apart).

Apiary One
Apiary One

My main apiary is near High Legh in the corner of a field on some friends’ land. I am looking forward to September, which is when I take delivery of a new Land Rover Discovery Sport because then I can drive across fields just like a proper beekeeper. It should cut down considerably on the distance I have to carry boxes and other heavy things, like frames laden with honey. Honey is all well and good, but it is seriously heavy. I’m going to be taking some off my hives next weekend and need the welcome help of Eldest Child to carry it to the car.

At my main apiary, I have a bee shed, which is where I store lots of equipment. It’s also where mice like to live, and they love eating any drawn wax comb that they can get their claws on. So I have to lock spare combs away in plastic containers. And of course, every year wax moths get into the said containers and ruin some combs. There are three banes of beekeepers in my experience; mice, wax moth, and wasps. Oh, and there are varroa mites, of course, which are more like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All of these things are manageable; it is part of beekeeping learning how to deal with them.

There is a shed on my second apiary, but it is an old chicken coup. The floor is still covered with old dried chicken poo, which no longer smells of anything, so it may become bee shed number two if the farmers let me. It is extremely helpful having a shed at an apiary. Who doesn’t like sheds?

Bee foraging on Bramble
Bee foraging on Bramble

I had a wander around today to try to figure out where the nectar that is currently piling into my hives was coming from and discovered that it was bramble (Blackberry). I’m hoping that there are lime trees (Linden) somewhere about as they are in flower now too. The hives at Red House Farm currently seem much busier than at High Legh. I noticed that the farmer has planted pumpkins, which are a profitable crop due to Halloween, so I suppose some of my bees will be making pumpkin honey later in the year if such a thing exists. I don’t believe that honey bees are especially good pollinators of pumpkin, but presumably, they’ll have a go. They have already done a grand job of pollinating the nearby apple trees, and I reckon pretty well every apple blossom flower has turned into an apple.

My plans to rear queens have been somewhat thwarted so far. I have some big colonies which are making lots of honey, and I don’t want to steal brood frames from them to make cell builders. Most of my nucs died out over Winter, and the ones that survived went into full sized hives, so I’m struggling to get a cell builder going because I need frames of sealed brood. I think I’ll end up trying a small cell builder in a nuc. I only want to make one batch of queens.

Finally, I am pleased to report that my illustrious daughter queens, of the legendary J7 queen in Blairgowrie, have settled into their new homes and are happily strutting their stuff in Cheshire. Let’s hope they build up strong colonies ready to get through Winter and make lots of honey next year.




Currently writing a book called "Interviews with Beekeepers"

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