Have you ever wondered what beekeepers do in winter?
My own strategy is to try and eat my own weight in honey. Others are more industrious.
Here are a few examples our group has shared over lockdown.
You can click on the pictures for a higher resolution image.
Peter has been chainsawing a load of black poplar, oak and alder logs to make 23 (!!!) hive cavities: just look at the wall thickness there!
Sturdy and with plenty of insulation and thermal mass, they will make excellent bee homes.
He is currently fashioning roofs while the logs dry out, then he’ll create top bars. The hives will have wooden roundels as floors and roofs, and each will be freestanding on slate pieces upon a two foot log stand.
The thing about thermal mass, as opposed to simple insulation like polystyrene, is that the massive hive walls damp down minor fluctuations in temperature (like the sun going behind a cloud). This means the bees don’t have to work as hard keeping the brood in the narrow 2C temperature band they need. Less stress all round, and more workers available to make honey.
There is a certain humidity buffering effect from all this wood too.
Jane made an alveary at one of Chris Park’s skep making workshops about a year ago, and Patrick built a slate and wood “bee shelter” for it.
An alveary is an earlier form of a skep and is made of willow with an outer covering of clomb (clay and straw) which insulates it. They are used still, and you can see some in the film Honeyland.
The first picture shows what the alveary looked like before it got covered in the bucket of clomb.
Just a few days ago Jane finally got her hands on some thatching straw for the hackle, the conical weather-proofing outer layer and set to work – the completed housed alveary is shown in the second picture.
She found excellent instructions by Beth Somerville on how to make the hackle.
Talking of skeps, my wife knitted me a skep tea cosy, complete with bees. Functional and decorative … and the cosy is not bad either!
I noticed some bees from my other hives were using today’s fine weather to rob (clean out) my one hive that didn’t make it through – a dwindled deadout due to queen failure – so it was obviously time to retrieve the remaining honey for myself.
I opened the hive, breaking the strong propolis seals, and once again marvelled at the wonderful sweet resiny smell.
There was half a box of honey there, so I separated that box from the hive body, placed a solid board below it and put the new clearer board I made a few months ago on top to ensure it is bee-less in a few hours. I can then take the box into the house and get properly sticky when I extract the honey. This one, using Porter bee escapes, is much better at clearing than my previous one which used cheap Canadian cone escapes.
Brian has been making one of these clearer boards over winter, looking forward to being able to harvest some honey later this year. (We always look forward to a possible harvest, if the bes have a true excess. Reality may differ.)
Other projects …
Eric has been building more hives for his community project – I’ve lost track of how many varieties he has now: Nationals modified to heavily insulated Golden Hives; TBHs; Warres; double walled hives.
A number of us have been repairing and adding insulation to hives. And some ordering new hives in preparation for the upcoming season. The re-awakening of our hives after a long cold period has prompted people to ensure they’re ready for the new season, cleaning equipment and preparing hives for swarms which often start at the end of April in this area.
As for myself I am satisfied with simply doubling the wall thickness of a new TBH, each to their own level of skill.
Whatever people have been doing, one thing is common between us all – we have found the presence of the bees a constant calming and uplifting influence.