Where does the time go, eh? Five months since my previous blog-post; such a lot has happened. Time to reflect, while pondering a forwards plan. Two years since deciding to return to beekeeping (after a lapse of nearly two decades) and little more than a year since I began with my first single hive of bees, I feel I can now call myself a ‘real’ beekeeper, having ticked off a number of fundamentals on the apiarist’s learning curve:
Did a Beekeeping course (not once but twice, sixteen years apart); check. Acquired my first honeybee colony and a whole load of equipment (a mix of new and pre-used); yup. Negotiated an out-apiary (being unable to keep them at home in my small town garden) and there sited this first colony, very soon accompanied by a second, duly sited alongside; yes and yes. Negotiated a second out-apiary, and here sited a third colony. Overwintered all three, thus going into spring with three strong colonies across two very different apiary sites; check.
So far so good … and then:
Lost the first colony (alive and well in February; suddenly dead in March) most probably due to my own error. Consoled myself with the remaining two colonies, planning ahead for all that lovely honey to come … only to have both of these teeter towards failure in May/June, as Colony No2 turned out to be overly swarmy and Colony No3 fell victim to the site-owner’s penchant for weedkiller; double whammy. Fortunately, I had by this point (back in April/May) got all adventurous, putting into action all that I’d read about raising new colonies as ‘splits’ (one each from my two then-still prolific surviving colonies). Result: two offshoot colonies, both going strong. Thus I was able to save the two failing colonies; taking a frame of eggs from one of these ‘splits’, I combined the two failing hives together, adding in that frame of eggs, from which I hoped the bees would raise themselves a new queen. Result: two weak queenless colonies transformed into one, complete with new, healthy and productive queen, all (by July) doing well in their new shared home at my original Sennen site. Here, they have gone from strength to strength, so much so that I have recently split this now-prolific combined colony, rehousing half into the vacant hive (previous home of deceased Colony No1). Fingers crossed they will raise their own new queen, and I’ll go into winter with two strong colonies again on that original site, at Sennen. Meanwhile, a new opportunity presented; a quiet corner of a field at Crows-an-Wra (a tiny hamlet about three miles inland from Sennen; a convenient and manageable distance from my original site). Here I am siting the two April/May offshoot-split colonies; one in the long-empty ‘spaceship’ Eat Natural hive, and the other in a more standard ‘National’. Meaning four strong and healthy colonies (two on each site) going into winter; hopefully they will both survive, to have a head-start come next spring. Joining me on the learning curve, my granddaughter continues to enjoy visits to the bees; donning her miniature beesuit (the smallest size available) and gloves, she is confident and knowledgeable, and always happy to end a hand.
Alongside all of this I’ve been processing wax and making candles (watch this space for future details on where and how to buy), and experimenting with sowing and growing pollinator-friendly flowers, on both apiary sites and also in my garden at home. The one thing that hasn’t properly happened (yet!) is honey harvest. What with bee losses and so much change: repeating steps, backtracking, troubleshooting and restarts, taking the bees’ precious food (which they work so hard to produce) is way down on my ‘must do’ list. It is a long-shot but I’m hoping I may still get to take off some honey this season. Not impossible (still a few weeks to go yet, before the autumn wind-down) but unlikely; bottom line being that, whatever honey my bees do manage to make and store, they need it more than me. There is always next year, and in the meantime I can satisfy myself with knowing that I’ve learned a lot in this first year, and will continue to do so …