Interviews With Beekeepers

Darth Walrus

Darth Vader
Darth Vader

I have just completed a Star Wars marathon, which involved watching all of the Star Wars movies and stories in the correct chronological order on Disney+. One film per evening, for eleven straight evenings. In order, they are:

The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 133mins)

Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 142 mins)

Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 140 mins)

Solo (Ron Howard, 135 mins)

Rogue One (Gareth Edwards, 133 mins)

A New Hope (George Lucas, 121 mins)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 124 mins)

Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 132 mins)

The Force Awakens (J J Abrams, 135 mins)

The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 152 mins)

The Rise of Skywalker (J J Abrams, 142 mins)

That is 24 hours and 49 mins of Star Wars; over a day of my life. I had watched all of these films previously in the order in which they were released. I could never figure out what the hell was going on. Now all is clear. When watched in the correct order, it mostly makes sense.

Update on My Book

So far Interviews with Beekeepers has been reviewed in the Bee Farmer magazine (Alex Ellis) and the Australian Bee Journal (John Kennedy). John Kennedy kindly said, “I am finding Interviews With Beekeepers almost un-put-downable! I highly recommend this work to beekeepers of all scales, and it would be a great gift if you have an active beekeeper in your family. Just buy it.

Reviews are due to come out in BeeCraft magazine (UK) and the New Zealand Beekeeper (NZ) so hopefully they like it. Probably, Bee Culture (USA) will also print a review. I’m looking forward to being interviewed on the Beekeeping Today podcast with Kim Flottum and Jeff Ott. I have received quite a few emails from beekeepers who have bought the book, and they have been very positive. It’s good to know that my efforts were not wasted!

Raising More Queens

So far this year I have made a few queens, but I haven’t been entirely satisfied with how things have worked out. Specifically, I’m talking about the ratio of successfully mated queens to the number of grafted larvae. In my quest to improve my success rate and also produce queen cells with an abundance of royal jelly, I have modified my approach. I know that I can make a massive cell builder overflowing with young bees, but I cannot spare the resources right now. 

This time my cell builder is a double nucleus hive (4 frames over 4 frames). It is definitely hopelessly queenless. I gave them 20 larvae grafted from one of my best colonies; they are incredibly gentle bees who make lots of honey. I found grafting much more natural than last time, partly because I’ve had more practice and also because the larvae were on a plastic frame. It’s a black plastic frame made by Acorn. These frames make grafting with a Chinese grafting tool very easy.

My plan is to let my queenless cell builder do the whole job rather than use it as just a starter. I will remove the sealed cells in 9 days and pop them into mating nucs or the incubator. Let’s see how that works out. Perhaps for future rounds of cell building, I will put a queen in the bottom box and revert to queenless starter/ queenright finisher. They will need to be given frames of emerging brood every week or two if they stay queenless. 

The Rains Came

Last time I wrote we had epic hot and dry weather. This is not something we are accustomed to in Cheshire, and sure enough, the rains came. They kept on coming. It will be great for the honey flow from the bramble and possibly lime trees, as long as the sun reappears at some point. Come on sun – show your face! I have gone from moaning about the dried out ground to fretting about whether queens will get mated. Just another bee season in the UK.

Speaking of weather, as I often do, I have been disappointed with the accuracy of my chosen weather forecasting app. In fact, I have downloaded a new one, which is supposed to be the most accurate in Europe; we’ll see. It gets annoying for me and my bees when I inspect them in the rain. My bees rarely sting me, but in lousy weather, they launch themselves at my hands and give me a series of head butts. A head butt from a bee is not something to worry about, except for the knowledge that they can quickly escalate to stinging mode if I don’t hurry up and get out of their house.

Swarms 

My bees are either Buckfast bees, purchased from a reputable supplier, or a mixture of these with local drones. In other words, hybrids of all sorts of bee races which have been selected for specific traits. Some are dark, and some are half-dark and half-light. The queens range from black to very light orange/tan, but most tend towards the Dark Side. For me, I’m not a fan of defensive bees (who is?), and I also try to raise queens from stock that is not swarmy. I know swarming is something bees naturally do but I don’t use swarm cells to make queens, and I try to requeen colonies that swarmed. 

Queen emerging from cell
Queen emerging from cell (photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This year I overwintered five colonies of Carniolan type bees from north of the border, and already four have swarmed. I hate that because it means I missed the signs and I was too late. The thing is, my other bees have been easy to manage. The majority have not made queen cells because I gave them space, and those that did were dealt with without losing a swarm. These new bees that I’m not used to were much quicker off the mark. 

Some people are pleased to let bees swarm, particularly as the resulting brood break can help with managing mites. That’s fine as long as they are, in fact, controlling mites. It’s not helpful to any nearby beekeepers to let varroa infested bees swarm, and the bees surely don’t want to be so afflicted whether they swarm or not. As with so much of beekeeping, each person has to find what works for them (and their bees, and their neighbours).

Summer Flow

Very soon, the sun will come out, the summer flow will be on, and bees will forget about swarming and concentrate on building up stores. Then it’s just about adding supers and keeping an eye on mite levels. I think it might be a good summer for honey. Do I always say that? Probably. I’m bound to be right sometimes 🙂

Rupert Hine

I heard about the death of Rupert Hine recently; a man who made a great contribution and was a lovely gentle human being. I was lucky to have spent some time with him and his wife Fay at the odd house party and one particularly splendid curry in Manchester. RIP Roop.

2 replies »

  1. Always good to hear from another loyal fan of the Empire. Gotta love ’em – clear, effective leadership; offer career paths not based on nepotism or genetic inheritance of magic amoebae; their troops actually have a chance of surviving battles; party of Law & Order, the chaps who actually Get Things Done in the galaxy rather than just irresponsibly blowing stuff up and smuggling contraband. And, let’s not forget, the Shiniest Ships!

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