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.