We’re all Newbs at Something

Walrus with bees
Walrus with bees

The term “newb” is typically used by gamers to describe somebody new to the game, or gaming, and is somewhat derogatory. However, we all have to start somewhere. Even the most gloriously proficient expert at something was once a humble newb. With bees, we usually start off knowing very little. After years with bees, we can still be surprised by what they get up to. A beekeepers experience is not just about time in years; it’s also about how many hives you manage. Somebody who has 200 hives for five years will have a lot more experience of bees than somebody who keeps two or three hives for a lifetime. This is the premise of my forthcoming book. I think we can learn a great deal from the folks who keep hundreds or thousands of colonies. Compared to them most of us are indeed newbs.

Bees in Gardens

The year before last I created my first beekeeper. Barbara had asked to see my bees and help out at the apiary. As it turned out one of my nucs was under attack from wasps, so I gave it to her. The queen was a good one (of course!) and the following year she had a large colony in her garden. I am not a fan of honeybees in small gardens because there are so many things that can go wrong. In her case, the volume of bee traffic led to stings for her family and their dog. Sadly she has become allergic to stings, and I’m collecting the bees this weekend.

Beekeeping is an addictive pastime. It’s quite costly to get kitted out at the start, so to be forced to give up through an allergy is upsetting. I believe the family dog will rejoice at the news; it regularly gets stung owing to its habit of chasing bees as they go in and out of the hive.

Last year I gave bees to a couple who have a large garden which backs on to fields and woodland. They have read some books and are fascinated by their industrious pollinator friends although it’s generally me who does the actual beekeeping! They were not impressed with my functional polystyrene Langstroth boxes. This year I have moved them to a pretty white wooden Langstroth hive with a gabled roof. These people, who have become friends, kindly recommended me to another chap who wants bees, and on it goes. He was at my apiary this week and is now keener than ever to get started with bees of his own…

Raising Queen Bees

Which brings me to queen rearing; a pursuit at which I am still a newb. Once I have raised queens this year, I will be able to furnish my new bee-wanter with a nucleus colony or two to get him started. Last year was my first proper go at grafting larvae from a selected queen into a cell builder. I had read the books, seen the videos and discussed it at length with many wise and wonderful beekeepers. I ended up creating nine beautiful new queens to head my colonies, although this Spring I found that two of them were drone layers. There is something profoundly satisfying about inspecting my bees knowing that I raised the queen. Michael Palmer told me that once he made his queens rather than buying them in, he noticed an improvement in his stock almost immediately. I have found this to be true for me.

I have already done my first grafts of this year. They sit inside my cell builder colony, hopefully being fed and kept warm and safe by the many nurse bees within. Last year I grafted using a very thin sable paintbrush. This time I tried a Chinese grafting tool with a bamboo reed as recommended by Jolanta at Denrosa Apiaries. Most beekeepers that raise queens seem to settle on this device, but ultimately each person has to find what they like best. Once I had destroyed a few larvae my technique improved. I am satisfied that I was sufficiently careful with the delicate tiny larvae as I transferred them from their comb to my cell cups. I hope the bees in the cell builder colony accept them.

An old Brother Adam Mating Hive
An old Brother Adam Mating Hive

At the Mercy of the Elements

The virgin queens will be going into new Kieler mating nucs. I also have my homemade two by two frame nucs to try out. They need full sized frames which means I will have to break up a hive. The plus side of these is that I can remove the divider to make them into five frame nucs for over-wintering. I’m going to see if I can raise thirty or so queens this year. If I am successful, I will be able to sell or give away ten of them. I shall be willing the weather to be kind in May and June so that my queens can mate. Ideally, the temperature should be 20 Celsius; that’s not asking too much, is it? Oh, and no rain or wind just for a while so that they can fly off to do that birds and bees thing.

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