A whole beekeeping season has gone by and I’ve found that moving back home after building an extension and major renovations, have taken the toll on my writing life. However, the beekeeping season was amazing this year. The long spell of warm weather saw Spring merging into Summer with no stop in nectar and pollen flow. My three production hives cleared 60lbs each. This is a good yield as I live in a farming region with no flowering crops – mainly pasture- so nectar comes from hedgerows, small orchard’s blossom and a little Oilseed Rape. Starting with 3 viable hives (one having been lost to laying workers) I ended the season with 8 colonies made up from 1 swarm capture, 4 splits and the original 3 hives.
Talking of moving home, I was invited to enter the local church Christmas Tree Festival and decided to fashion a ‘tree’ from a skep. These days skeps are mainly used to catch swarms and take them to a new home by the beekeeper. Skeps have a long and interesting history in Britain and were brought over with the Saxons, once the Romans had vacated, around 410AD. It was only in the 18th century that modern hives were developed and then widely used. The name skep is thought to be derived from the Norse word for grain basket – skeppa.
If you fancy making your own skep, try here; skep making
On a visit to the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’, Cornwall, I came across this apiary wall which would have formed an ideal home for the bees. What strikes me is that a skep has a relatively small volume.
Some of my colonies get quite large and there has been much debate about some bee genetics producing prolific bee strains. The perceived wisdom seems to be to allow crosses with local bees to produce a strain that not only suits our locality, but which also suits our weather and forage availability. These crosses can produce bees that are equal to their prolific counterparts in gathering nectar, but who maintain a smaller colony. Certainly it would be easier at the end of the season to pack them down into one brood box, whereas currently I struggle to do that and therefore 3 of my colonies are overwintering on a deep brood box and super (underneath).
However, I have two colonies that I caught as swarms from the same area in Egloskerry. Each of these are more compact colonies and fit into a standard National brood box without getting cramped. I think next year, it might be prudent to breed some queens from these colonies and see what happens.
When I mention queens, I guess there are other relatively new beekeepers who, like me, don’t like to ‘finish off’ their old queens. I’m sure that my original colony has a queen that is 4 years old. I probably should have replaced her with one of my younger queens and I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t have another colony of laying workers in the New Year. It’s a part of colony management that I will have to come to terms with.
However, in the meantime, I’m enjoying a hiatus in beekeeping duties (although there is a bit of painting of boxes and repairs to do) and am putting my efforts into preparing for Christmas festivities.
I wish everyone a very ‘Ha Bee Christmas’