Isolation Starvation

Starved Bees
Starved Bees

The saddest sight a beekeeper can see is a huddle of dead bees, heads thrust deep inside empty wax cells, with the queen dead in the middle. And the wretched thing is that they had starved just an inch away from a broad, golden arc of honey. This phenomenon is called “Isolation Starvation“. 

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Scorching

Blow-Torch
Blow-Torch

With the temperature relentlessly around zero, the word “scorching” is clearly unrelated to today’s weather forecast.

Well, it is and it isn’t. This frosty time of year is ideal for a belt and braces cleansing of empty beehives. This can be accomplished by immersing the hive parts in a lye (sodium hydroxide) solution, or for smaller scale beekeepers, by using a blow-torch to singe the interior crevices and wide surfaces of brood and super boxes. That’s where the scorching comes in. Here I am, spring-cleaning a hive which I have just started to manage.

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Why Don’t Bees Store Water?

Bee Drinking - Courtesy Of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Crown Copyright
Bee Drinking – Courtesy Of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Crown Copyright

Along with Earth, Air and Fire, Water is one of the elements common to ancient Greek, Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. And even when modern scientists scan for signs of extra-terrestrial existence, water is the first thing they look for. Water is vital to life. So why don’t bees store water?

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Honey Processing

The Honey Processing Room
The Honey Processing Room

We’re lucky that we are neighbours to a Jamie Oliver Teaching Kitchen in Orford Primary School. During late August, with the summer holidays coming to an end, we move our extraction and filtering equipment, together with honeybuckets and jars, into this pristine food-quality environment, we spin out and then cold-filter the honey harvest, prior to ripening the honey and then pouring it into jars.

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Bubble Wrap

Bubble Wrap
Bubble Wrap

The competition for bubble-wrap becomes intense in our household at this time of year. And it’s not just Sarah’s extraordinarily gregarious Christmas present list which drives the local demand for that commodity.

I have a beekeeping confession to make. It is strange, but true. I wrap my Bermondsey rooftop hives with bubble-wrap in December and January each year. There, I’ve said it.

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The Sawh Dynasty

Sawh Sign
The Sawh Sign

Maff spotted the sign, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Barbados: “Sawh’s Bee Hiving Enterprise – we specialize in bee hive removal. 100% pure Honey. 100% pure Bajan.

Irresistible.  I called the number. After a long, almost too long ring, the phone was answered by a woman’s voice. A kind, busy, slightly singing intonation. I explained that I was a beekeeper from London and that I’d like to buy some genuine Bajan honey. “Certainly”, the lady replied: “where are you staying on the island? I’ll bring some to you.”

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In the Apiary : Mid-May : An Inspector Calls…

At 5.31pm precisely the doorbell rang. It was the Seasonal Bee Inspector for South London, Brian McCallum, sent from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on a routine visit to the Bermondsey Street Bees. In the 8 years in which I have been keeping bees, this was my first visit from an inspector. Or, as I like to look at it, the first time I have been offered a free beekeeping lesson from an expert, paid for by Her Majesty’s Government. Hey, Brian, great to see you! But what kept you so long? Suiting-up on the roof terrace, I noticed that Brian’s bee-suit’s breast pocket has a badge with the insignias of “Fera” and “National Bee Unit” sewn into it. Now, there used to be a government department called Fera, which was formed in 2009. But Fera is now a limited company, owned 75% by Capita plc and 25% by DEFRA (Department of Food and Agriculture). Of course, DEFRA was created to absorb the splendidly-titled Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 2002. And the Bee Inspectorate was transferred from Fera to APHA late last year. Can anyone out there explain why government departments change their name-tags as freqently as those of the baristas at your local Costa Coffee? Dizzying, isn’t it? Anyway, smoker lit, we set straight to work. Brian was soon performing the slow ballet of beekeeping on our precarious fourth storey rooftop. Standing in a narrow gully between the pitched slate roof and the brick parapet on which the hives stand, we danced a pas-de-deux, as elegantly as possible in our veiled bee-suits, visiting Abbey Hive, Square Hive, Swarm Hive, Neckinger Hive, Leathermarket Hive, Shard Hive and Thames Hive.

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