Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cider - Honey press first trial

Pressed 50 litres of apple juice on this home made press. Next year I hope to use it in exactly the same way for honey. I know the flow rate will be much less but it should work in the same fashion.

In this video, the very first trial, I used only 4 'cheeses' later I used 6 and the flow rate was much more.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lifting Strop & Minimum IPM

I finally got around to making up my warré lifting strop, a 4 arm string strop which attaches to the bottom warré box where I have screwed 4 eye bolts in each corner. I used a SS boating shackle for the the lifting eye to attach to my hand winch and just tied on 4 one meter lengths of polypropylene string with 'S' hooks tied to the ends. This is the last part of the system I have devised so hopefully next Spring when I will be putting new boxes underneath I will have everything to hand. Seems like a long time to wait until then but hey ho we will have the Spanish season in between! 

At last we are having some good dry and even sunny weather, I was worried I may have to feed my bees in the kenyan again what with the last few weeks of rain. It is amazing how quickly a colony can deplete itself of stores at this time of year with lots of mouths to feed and active bees! As we are forecast good weather now for awhile, I will hold off the feeding because there is plenty of forage still. Clover, heather, golden rod & the last of the fireweed.

Beekeeping in two countries with two different season means I am actively beekeeping all year round! Doing so has quickly focused my mind on my thoughts concerning varroa and other bee problems. The main conclusion I have come to is that left to themselves, in a good enough environment, the less I do the better off the bees will be. Last year I was all for small cell, open mesh floors, drone culling and sugar dusting as a natural integrated pest management system. I have now decided to adopt the 'Live and let Die' policy. Basically for two reasons:-

First I have always felt that beekeepers interfere too much in the lives of the bees and that anything we do in the end is counter productive. The Live and let Die thing really struck a chord with me and I think that perhaps bees have it within themselves to overcome any and all problems they may face if they are just left to get on with it. Look at surviving feral colonies for example. I know that is not very scientific and perhaps people may think that this is a case of hope rather than reality but I do believe it. There are now many reports of bees being kept untreated for several years in various parts of the world. I know I am going to have losses and I am prepared for them but with swarms and splits these can be easily made up for.

The second reason is more mundane and is because of my chosen lifestyle of spending half my time in different parts of Europe. Leaving bees for 6 months at a time in both Spain and Sweden necessitates a different approach. I have to leave a full set of top bars allowing the bees to expand and contract their brood nest as they require without me constricting them with divider boards. My 35mm top bars throughout the hive will be used both for brood and honey storage so allowing them sufficient space means they can move honey stores accordingly.

Will it all work out in the long run? I hope so and so far I am having some success, keeping bees without treatments, not opening the hives but a few times in the year, yet getting some honey and wax. As long as I have bees without buying in new stock and get some kind of return, I think I can call it a success!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rendering old comb in kitchen steamer

I used the old kitchen steamer today to render down this lot of old comb. Not much but it was just to try it out. It worked really well. I put the tray in the bottom compartment, fitted the second compartment over it and laid some netting in the second tray. I squeezed together lumps of the comb and filled the container, folded over the net, put the lid on and switched on. 10 minutes later I had a couple of ounces of rendered beeswax which I poured into a tray to set. The net I used was too coarse and it let through some bits of detritus so I will render this wax again with the next batch through a finer mesh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Visit to the Straw Museum

I visited a Straw museum yesterday. They had some old skeps, some with their hackles. The hackles were made out of birch bark made into a cone. Each skep was quite small with wooden floor and a central hole at the top about 2 inches diameter with a wooden plug closing the hole.

Steam wax melter

My wife said to me the other day that the steam cooker that we cook our fish and veggies in had developed a fault, it still worked but the timer which clicked it off had become useless. I am sure with a mind to the fact that I usually spill wax on the cooker when I am melting it in a double boiler (tin can in a pan), she suggested I may be able to use it for melting beeswax. Anyway she bought a super duper new steamer and today I trialed the old one to melt a couple of ounces of beeswax. It worked a treat! Within a few minutes the wax blocks were completely melted. I took the opportunity to wax glue some old comb into the top of an ali-baba basket to use as a swarm catching skep/bait hive. I stuck the small piece of comb in and then poured the rest of the molten wax directly into the lid to give it that beeswax smell.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Natural Beekeeping means to me

Whichever type of hive you keep bees in, there are some essential elements of natural beekeeping that are common to all. Established beekeepers may already be following most of this but new beekeepers or those converting to natural beekeeping may have to adjust step by step as and when they can.

The five main elements are -

1 Minimum Interference.

2 Only increase from untreated survivors.

3 Do not use synthetic chemicals in the hive.

4 Feed sugar only when absolutely necessary.

5 Do not use foundation.

1 Minimum Interference.
Every time you open your hive it causes stress to the bees. The queen can go off laying for several hours and the whole balance of the hive may be upset. Nest scent (and heat) is lost, and the pheromones that control everything that goes on within the hive have to be re-established.

2 Only increase from untreated survivors - once you have your required number of stocks, don't buy queens, as you may add potential genetic weaknesses. Unless some bees are established that will survive untreated, you cannot fully develop natural sustainable bee-keeping. By only increasing from survivor stocks, this mimics what happens in nature.(Survival of the fittest) Allowing for dead outs because they will happen, baiting feral survivors and splitting of surviving colonies is the way forward.

3 Do not use synthetic chemical varroa treatments in the hive, to which mites are likely to develop immunity and which prolong the bee/mite co-adaption process. At first, bees may not survive without doing something (bio technical IPM), but the less you do, the better in the long run. This may have to be a gradual process.

4 Avoid feeding sugar unless there is a danger of starvation. By allowing bees to keep enough of their own stores for them to survive the periods of dearth (winter in northern climes and summer in hot countries), their health is not compromised, as they would by feeding refined sugar. This view is supported by a number of studies.

5. Avoid using foundation, as it prevents bees from building as they choose. Typically, bees build cells of between about 4.7 and 5.7 mm diameter. Cells can vary in size through the season and between different strains of bee. Allowing bees to build their own comb puts them in charge of how, where and when it is built - and they know what they are doing better than we do.

For more information see here and here.