Honey Bee Report November 2016

During the past year I graduated to keeping my bees with almost no outside help. My two former mentors feel I am now able to carry out my beekeeping without their presence. This makes me a little nervous but whilst running the FF apiary up to now, I have made friends with many long established beekeepers should I need advice. I read a lot and regularly attend beekeeping courses and meetings, and thus my experience and beekeeping knowledge continues to grow.
The two FF hives have had a reasonably good year. One hive has a strong queen who has consistently worked hard and has expanded the numbers of bees well. The queen in the other hive was the original queen given to me by my first mentor three years ago. During the season the bees decided to replace her themselves, probably because they realised she was aging. As a queen gets older she gives off less of the pheromones that influence the behaviour and health of the rest of the bees. If a beekeeper feels the queen is failing, perhaps by not laying a lot of brood, he might replace a queen perhaps every other year. Or if a queen is particularly strong she may be kept for up to five years, although this is rare nowadays. Sadly the new queen that our bees made turned out to be of a poor quality. Nevertheless both hives have been healthy. A small crop of honey was gathered but as always I left much of it on the hives for the bees to use as winter stores.

I am grateful to the Friends of FF, and particularly to John, who have all helped during the year to maintain access to the apiary by cutting back the encroaching undergrowth. Our working party was great fun.

The FF Picnic Day this year was great fun too. The bee stand was very popular and I was grateful for the help of two fellow members of my beekeeping club – The Harrow Beekeepers. Adults and children alike enjoyed making beeswax candles and chatting bees with me. I have discovered that EVERYONE has a story about bees.

I am very grateful to Hertsmere Council for their acknowledgement that the apiary needed expanding. This autumn they funded and built a superb new and very secure site which is almost complete. In preparation for the building work I moved the hives to an alternative site with the help of my beekeeping club. This was an exciting adventure, the latter stage of which had to be carried out in pitch black darkness! During the afternoon straps were placed under the hives which disturbed the bees. When it got dark and the bees had settled and returned to their hives, the straps were fastened to lock the hive parts together. The entrances were blocked and the hives were carried in the fading light to a trailer using a hive carrier – this is a bit like a sedan chair! They were then fastened tightly to the trailer so that no unwanted movement could open the hives en route. After a very careful drive to the new site in Harefield, we arrived in complete darkness. Using torches and the beams of car headlights, the hives were unloaded and set up in their new positions. We packed up all our equipment and prepared to leave. We even started up our cars. The last job we did was to remove the entrance blocks – and then we all scarpered double quick.

The bees settled in to their new venue quickly and within a day or two they were foraging as though nothing had happened. Since then, the poor quality queen I mentioned before has sadly had to be dispatched, and since it was too late in the season for a new queen to be raised, her bees were combined with those in the other hive making a large colony to go into winter.

Thus the bees in the combined FF hive are strong in numbers. They have good stores and have been prepared for winter with the use of a mouse guard and a wire cage to protect them from woodpeckers. They will receive their winter medication around Christmas and, fingers crossed, they should make it through the winter. In spring, depending on the weather, the bees will be returned to FF. I am looking forward to raising new queens and new honeybee colonies in our new apiary.

Honey Bee Report May 2016

The recent mild winter put a great strain on honey bee colonies as the freezing wintry weather conditions we expected did not happen. At this time the honey bee queen will usually cease or at least radically cut down her egg laying, giving her a break as well as allowing the rest of the colony to cut down on their responsibility to look after her eggs and brood.

Instead many queens across the UK continued to lay throughout winter making extra work for the colony and also providing more than the usual opportunity for the evil varroa mites, to live on and breed inside the new brood cells.

The following late spring with its harsh and damp conditions further depleted the reserves of the already exhausted winter bees. It is widely accepted that this year a high percentage of colonies will have been lost nationwide – over 50% in many cases.

But the Good News is – our Fishers Field colonies have coped with these multiple stresses and have at least made it through to now. We are on track for 2016

To help them keep healthy, I recently performed a drastic exercise called a Shook Swarm on both hives. In order to make a hygienic start to the new season, the adult bees are kept but all the original beekeeping equipment is replaced with freshly cleaned equipment. This included getting rid of all the waxed frames and comb since they accumulate pathogens during the year. Sadly all the new brood on the frames – which as I explained earlier is a favourite place for those varroa bugs to hide and breed – had to be destroyed too. And there were lots of eggs and new brood. It broke my heart to put them on the bonfire.

One hive has a clearly marked queen and the shook swarm was easier as I was able to take good care of her during the proceedings. There are already several frames of new brood in that hive. Unfortunately the queen in the other hive had lost her marking and was impossible to find! I carried out the shook swarm for this hive as carefully as I could, crossing my fingers that the unmarked queen would somehow get caught up in the transfer to fresh equipment. I’m happy to report that there is

now brood present in that hive too confirming our publicity-shy queen reached the new hive successfully.

However on inspection recently this hive has become more of a puzzle. Although it looks healthy, brood is present as well as plenty of bees, stores, and space for the queen to lay more eggs – the bees have now decided to build a single large queen cell in the middle of the centre frame. My mentors have advised me that for reasons best known to themselves, this new single queen cell indicates that the bees wish to replace the original queen using a method known as natural supercedure.

I really don’t know what is going to happen next! I’m waiting to see whether the new queen hatches and is healthy. She will still need to get mated for which we need good weather as well as considerable good fortune, and then for a short while we might even have the very rare situation of two queens in a hive. I have to tell you, in the world of beekeeping – this is exciting news!

I would appreciate some help in maintaining access to the apiary cage as the contract gardeners are not tending the area beyond the second gate. Consequently I am wary of carrying my bulky equipment along the path and anxious about catching and tearing my protective mask. I continue to cut back overhanging brambles on every visit but the area needs more work.

Finally, the Committee should be aware that it is very difficult – even dangerous – to carry out beekeeping inside the cramped conditions of the apiary cage for the following reasons:

  • Each hive must be dismantled regularly in order to allow inspections and there is very little room to put down each layer of equipment and still maintain safe movement of the beekeeper in, out and around the apiary cage.
  • It is almost impossible to work with or show/teach another person what is happening inside the apiary.
  • The close proximity of the hives increases the likelihood of disease passing between them and is stressful for the bees.
  • The bees can easily ‘drift’ into the wrong hives and could set up honey ‘robbing’ situations which would be a major problem.
  • There are also several important beekeeping manoeuvres that cannot be performed at all due to lack of space.

I have repeatedly requested the Committee if the apiary can be enlarged to allow for space around each hive, room for supporting nucs and storage of equipment. On each occasion this has kindly been agreed but there is no sign of it actually happening. The present situation is not safe.

Honey Bee Report November 2015

The bee stand at our recent successful Picnic Day was buzzing with children as well as adults throughout the whole event, emphasising the high level of interest that there is in the presence of honeybees at Fishers Field. Many of our guests rolled beeswax candles and learned about the life of honeybees and their management through demonstrations given by myself and several of my beekeeping friends who came to help on the stand.

Our visitors also learned that the past year has not been an easy one for the FF bees. Spring was damp and apart from one relatively short sunny period, it was fairly cold for them too. Nevertheless a little honey was harvested although as I have said many times before, the primary intention of this project is the pollination of Fishers Field and the surrounding areas and not honey collection.

The two original hives have continued to flourish. Both replaced their queen bees late in the year but the colonies are healthy, have good food stores and are well prepared in numbers for winter. I have fed and organically medicated them, and taken protective measures against winter pests such as mice and woodpeckers. I decided not to insulate the hives against the cold as this can cause condensation and mould. Even though honeybees do not hibernate and can survive at pitifully low winter temperatures, hive insulation is a debateable point amongst beekeepers and I may even change my mind if the winter turns really Arctic!

I also decided to close down the new third hive as it did not appear to be thriving. It is not clear why although the crowded conditions in the apiary may have played a part. I look forward to using the extra space planned for the apiary and plan to replace this colony next season.

Security and access are ongoing concerns. The big low wooden gate at the entrance to the apiary compound looks attractive but is easily breached. I am grateful for the additional security further inside. We must continue the efforts of us all to be vigilant in monitoring the site and to report any suspicious situations regarding the bees or FF in general either to me (my telephone number is on the notice board), to our Chairlady Betty or the Police.

Clearing the undergrowth along the path beyond the wooden gate to the apiary is an important and very necessary job. I regularly have to carry large amounts of clumsy equipment to and from the apiary cage. The brambles appear determined to tear the mesh on my protective mask too. The area around the cage also needs to be cut back on a regular basis to ensure sunlight and ventilation around the hives. I am doing my best to keep these areas clear myself and I sincerely appreciate help given in this respect.

I am pleased to tell you that I passed my first beekeeping examination this summer and although I am continuing my studies, both my former mentors feel I am ready to ‘go it alone’. They and the rest of my local beekeeping club – the famous Harrow Beekeepers – are always supportive, and in my next report I hope to be able to tell you that the FF honey bees have come safely through the winter of 2015-6  



Fishers Field went into winter with three hives – two full size colonies and one nursery hive or ‘nucleus’. They were well prepared for the rigours of the weather and had been medicated appropriately. You will be pleased to know that all three came through well including the little ‘nucleus’ that I moved to a different site owing to the overcrowding.

I have a new beekeeping mentor – an experienced beekeeper and highly enthusiastic ex-teacher from Hemel Hempstead called Diane Randall who has kindly agreed to be my beekeeping guardian angel for the forthcoming season. Diane has defined the Fisher’s Field bees as healthy and prolific – a major compliment to a bee colony although it also means they will need careful monitoring to avoid swarming a la Daily Mail… Did anybody read the article?

I have purchased extra equipment to allow for the growth of the colonies and the apiary has become crowded again. I think it is only a matter of time before I trip and fall headfirst into a hive! I do hope the Committee will act soon on extending the apiary as we have discussed. To reduce congestion I have already donated several queens and queen cells with accompanying bees to other beekeepers to widen their gene pool, to help beginners start a colony or to replace old or failing queens. Fisher’s Field bees have earned a reputation for being prolific and of an easy-going nature, so they are in demand!

I am very grateful to Cieran and those members of the Committee who helped at the recent working party to clear the path and the area around the apiary. It is very necessary to cut back the undergrowth before it encroaches on the apiary itself, and of course it is easier to do so before the bees are too numerous and active. Hopefully this year we will be able to reward everyone on the Committee for their ongoing support with some of our own honey.

I am looking forward to the forthcoming Fisher’s Field Picnic Day. Today I have been renovating an old glass fronted observation hive which I have been loaned and in which I hope to display live bees at the Picnic – if the weather obliges. I believe this is safer and easier to explain than inviting a mass of unprotected visitors into the apiary area.

Wish me luck – my first beekeeping exam will take place shortly. There are beekeeping books, magazines and photocopied articles sitting in almost every corner of my home. Some

nights I even dream about bees!



Working session, May, 2015.

One Saturday a small group of Friends made sure the area around the beehives was
clear enough for the Apiarist to reach the bees. This time of year it all grows over very
fast, and cutting, slashing and strimming is needed. The Apiarist herself attended to the
grass, etc, growing round the bottom of the hive. Others made sure all the blackberries
and general scrub was cut back. Pet dog in attendance!
The bees were not disturbed by the strimmer, used by Ciaran, from C.M.S. They seemed
fairly calm on the whole, though one Friend was unfortunately a casualty. Our bees
have had a good year, and we are hoping to extend the hives. Our Apiarist has a new
Mentor, who seems to have taken our bees under her wing.


Apiary clearing


Well, the winter is hopefully drawing to a close. Have we got over the worst of it now? I have seen crocus flowers in Fishers Field, I think the young hazels are already supplying early pollen for the bees, and there have been some really pleasant sunny periods. 

You will be pleased to learn that all three Fishers Field hives came through the winter. On those occasional sunny days we have been having, many bees have been tempted out of their cosy hives to see what they have been missing, and to use the opportunity to void their personal waste – they are very hygienic insects and would never dream of soiling the inside of the hive. Nevertheless this activity is only evidence that the colonies are alive. It does not show how healthy the bees are, what conditions are like inside the hive, what numbers remain and whether the queens have survived and are laying eggs for the next generation. The bees that can be seen now are the six month old winter bees. They have done little foraging and instead have conserved their strength to help the colony survive together through to the beginning of spring when the new bees can take over foraging duties.

You may remember that everything possible was done to prepare the bees for the rigours of the harsher weather. Since then they have been fed occasionally with fondant which looks and tastes like the white icing on top of a sticky bun! The weather is still far too cold to open the hives for their very important first detailed examination – The Spring Inspection. No doubt I will have more to say about that in my next report.

I am more than grateful for the clearing of the undergrowth the encroaching on the apiary fencing, carried out by the Council contractors in the autumn. There is now much more light and ventilation all around the apiary cage. I have had to move the little nucleus hive out to other premises as the cage itself felt crowded. I look forward to a time when the Committee is able to extend the apiary as we have discussed in order to accommodate further hives.

Best wishes to you all


New Hibernaculum at Fisher’s Field

Building a Hibernaculum
What you will need – spades and forks for digging and lots of material to put in the hibernaculum such as logs, bricks, bits of builders rubble, branches and lots of leaf litter.
A hibernaculum is a place of refuge for all manner of different creatures but more importantly it is intended to be a safe place for reptiles and amphibians to take shelter and hibernate during the cold winter months. It might be surprising to many people, but amphibians actually spend most of their lives not in water, but on land and use ponds and watercourses mainly to breed and as a place for their young to grow and mature.
During the onset of cold weather and freezing temperatures in autumn and winter, amphibians and reptiles seek a safe place to hide away, choosing to go under rocks, boulders, logs and cracks and crevices in the ground. By constructing a hibernaculum, we are recreating these favoured conditions. A hibernaculum is essentially a large, deep hole dug into the ground. It is recommended that the area of the hole be at least 2m2 and 60cm deep.
Once you have excavated the soil, put it to one side, ready to be put back in mixed with all the extra material you have brought along. Start placing your logs, rocks and bricks in the hole and lay on some earth on top. Have logs and branches laid at a variety of different angles i.e. not all neatly arranged. Keep building up layers of soil on wood, rock and rubble until you have used up all the material and capped off your structure. As you are building these layers up, you might also give some thought to how the animals may use and move around the shelter and create entry points into the structure which, once you are finished, will probably be starting to develop a domed top.
Over time, conditions in the hibernaculum will only improve for wildlife as the woody content starts to rot and degrade, leaving spaces and voids for animals to crawl into.
If you have the chance, why not go and see our hibernaculum at Fishers Field? It’s very near to the pond, but you’ll have to look carefully as it blends in well with the land around it and most of the material is buried underground. You will notice that we left some of the pieces of wood and branches partially breaking the surface and these will help to guide the animals in.
You should be quiet too, as there may be some creatures sleeping in their right now………………

Honey Bee Report October 2014

The Fishers Field Hives

The hive

Report to Fisher’s Field AGM 2014

The large number of visitors to the Apiary at the recent very successful Fisher’s Field Open Day will have seen that there are now three hives. The original honey bee colony was started from a local queen bee kindly donated by my mentor. When this colony proved to be successful, queen cells were taken from it to start a second colony, and later a single queen cell was taken from the second hive to start a third. The last one is presently contained in a small nursery hive known as a ‘nuc’. Although the Apiary cage itself is somewhat crowded and access is occasionally difficult due to summer overgrowth, all three hives are now well established.

During the year I have monitored these hives regularly to check for diseases and to anticipate possible swarms, and I have fed them homemade sugar syrup when nectar sources were low. Unlike last year wasps have not been a major problem although there have been social visits from passing rodents. Thankfully the extra security measures taken have prevented further vandalism.

The bees themselves appear to be healthy – if somewhat defensive at present. Their former good nature has changed since at this time of the year they are sensitive to the changeable weather and they are particularly anxious to protect their winter store from intruders – including the beekeeper!

Contrary to what is thought to happen, honey bees do not hibernate in winter. Bumble bees do, honey bees don’t When external temperatures fall to about 15°C honey bees gather to form a rugby ball shaped cluster within the hive. They use much energy constantly vibrating their wing muscles in order to generate heat to keep each other warm. They are able to maintain the temperature in the core of the cluster around the queen and any remaining brood to about 30°C. Bees on the edge of the cluster move back inside it when they become cold, and their places are taken by warmer bees that have been inside. This ongoing movement maintains the cluster temperature and enables the bees to withstand cold winter conditions. Dampness or simply losing contact with their food supplies inside the hive is a greater problem for them than the cold. On occasional dry and sunny winter days the cluster will be looser, and since honey bees are very hygienic insects, some hardy bees will venture outside the hive for short cleansing flights.

Honey made by the Fishers Field bees in the summer was left in the hives as their winter food, and they have been organically medicated against common bee pests such as varroa. As winter approaches and temperatures gradually drop further, I will prepare the hives themselves for winter, for example with mouse guards. Nothing is certain however. As you would expect, winter is a testing time for honey bees. Although they prepare themselves and we have done our best to help them,, the rest is up to… well… whatever you believe in!

Fisher’s Field AGM October 2014


Present: Steve Rook, Ursula Ni Aonghusa, Betty McBean, John Compton, Chris and Terry
Meiers, Julia Meloy, Marion Roberts, Greg Townsend, Francesca Fitch, Ciaran Mullan.
Apologies: Pauline Nicholas, Eddie Sheridan, Valerie Newton.

1. Steve welcomed Friends to meeting.

2. Treasurerʼs report.
Ursula submitted report, we have £463. 91 in our funds, having
received £122 from donations at the picnic.

3. Election of Officers.
All officers wished to stand. Steve -Proposed by Chris, seconded by Ursula.
Ursula – proposed by Terry, seconded byHazel.
Betty – proposed by Marian, seconded by John.

4. Report of Parkʼs Officer.
i. Grounds maintenance.Meadow to be cut and raked off. Discussion of Muntjac deer,
who enjoy this meadow area.
ii. Difficulty for groundsmen to keep area around beehives cut, as bees are active, but
Hazel will give warning of a good time to do this. Discussion of need for Friends to
support Beekeeper in keeping undergrowth under control.
iii. Ciaran and volunteers will undertake tasks in the reserve, also contractors where
necessary. These are: Thin Cherry trees; Coppice mature Hazel stools; Pollard mature
goats willow; Clear bramble. Discussion of inviting interested children to be involved.
(See section on Junior branch.)
iv.The new pond will not be started until work on new development is finished.
v. Green Flag. Application to be submitted by Christmas. Any photos Friends may have
taken would be welcome, to use in application.
vi.Picnic day. Positive feedback from stall holders .
vii.New Development. Francesca has made contact with Foreman and officials of Howarth
homes. The field that will be part of FF has not been touched.Discussion of name of this
development, at moment is ʻFishers Parkʼ. John and Eddie in particular are keeping an
eye on the development, also Ursula. Discussion of our autonomy over this area, and
what rights we have where it is concerned.

5. Website.
This is now up and running, thanks to all concerned.
Discussion and ideas for the net. Friends are encouraged to contribute, such ideas as
what was seen during a walk through FF, what is happening this month, a monthly
calendar of seasons , Ciaranʼs work days, photos, minutes to be put there, childrenʼs
observations, etc.
Feedback would be helpful, also.
Perhaps a notice on the board to encourage those who visit – ʻHave you seen anything
interesting today? Please put it on the website.ʼ
Steve and Betty will try and write up a ʻtime lineʼ, showing important stages in the history of

6. News on bees.
Hazel gave an interesting report on current state of hives. This is on the website as a
separate item, as it is such an important part of FF.

7. Junior branch.
After the picnic, a family contacted the secretary, as the two boys, aged 9and 11, wish to
be Friends. Badges were sent to them with a welcome card. We have one other family
also interested in this way. Discussion of how they can be involved-to be invited to
Ciaranʼs workday, as it is in half term. Also ask them to contribute to the website, ʻwhat
have they noticed in the Reserveʼ, special interests, etc. Other children may be interested.

8. Visits to North Herts.
This day was appreciated, Friends felt it was particularly interesting to see large
Reserves in different situations. It is hoped this might be an annual event – Chorleywood
was mentioned as a possibility for next year.

9.  A.O.B.

i Steve expressed thanks to Francesca and Ciaran for their help during the year.
ii Francesca said Richard Rose would be working with her in the future, and he will come to meet us.

Date of next meeting. Monday, Feb. 23rd., 2015