Yesterday, the weather having been lovely, I drove across to darkest Somerset to Bee Happy Plants, where I have a top bar hive set up to educate my apprentice, Sarah Holdsworth, who’s Nursery it is. It was 5pm and the bees were flying strongly. We kitted up. I gave my hands a squirt of ‘Bee-Jet’ to hide my aroma but Sarah declined as she had been handling her Manuka plants and thought they would do as good a job.
I gave the entrance a squirt of liquid smoke whilst apologising to the flying ladies for doing so. We undid the rope that Sarah had entangled around the roof to stop the wriggly tin from blowing off in gales. It was also held down by a couple of hefty bricks. We removed the layer of insulation that Sarah had thoughtfully added to keep the bees warm for the winter. Then we opened up from the rear of the hive.
It was a bit damp inside at the back and slightly mouldy: whether moisture coming in from without or lack of ventilation within is the cause, I know not, but it needs sorting before the rot sets in. We removed a few bars from the rear to give working space and moved forward There was a comb that was detached from its bar and on the floor so I removed that. Another comb had been built askew, probably as a result of propinquity with the former, so I cut that out also so they can rebuild on the straight and narrow. There were several harvestable combs but Sarah reminded me that, if we were going to divide the hive, they would need stores so, if you’re reading this: Sorry Jane, I haven’t any honey for you at the moment, but you’re high on my list!
I received a sting on my right hand, the first this year and, during the next 10 minutes or so, about 4 more in the same area, despite Sarah spraying my hand with liquid smoke to dilute the pheromones. I wondered whether there would be a reaction as it is so long since I’ve been stung but, typing this a day later, there was no prolonged pain or swelling.
We got into the brood area. There were plenty of bees and I pointed out to Sarah that they were a mixture of races: some very black and some tawnily striped. I took a close look at the unsealed brood and it looked very healthy. The sealed brood was in very solid blocks with no holes for Jurgen Tautz’s supposed ‘heater bees’ to perform their hypothetical task! I kept an eye out for bees with DWV but saw none. There was some drone brood but I didn’t have my uncapper with me to check for varroa; besides, I don’t like killing things for idle curiosity. Sarah told me later that she had seen a drone, which I had missed. She’s getting good!
So far, despite working bees together with me for about a year, bare handed and without smoke, she hasn’t yet had her first sting. We have just been exchanging emails and she wants to take the hands-on role next time so that she can get stung! Brave girl! We’re going to split the hive, making an artificial swarm with the flying bees using their usual entrance and the split using the, currently plugged, hole at the back. I hope this will cure the damp problem as the bees will probably propolise any damp areas.
Sarah is, this week, going to make an inner screen to split the hive. Being a competent carpenter, she’s also going to make her own copy of my hive, a half cylinder with a 17″ diameter. There’s flattery!