3 of the Gallery beekeepers went up onto the roof on Monday lunchtime to check on our hive now that the weather had warmed up. The prolonged cold had already been seen to have had an adverse effect on our bees when they had quickly been checked the week before. Numbers had been low and things were no different this week. There should be about 10,000 bees at the low point of the season but the prolonged cold spell meant that the queen couldn’t lay any eggs while the worker bees in the hive were reaching the end of their lifespan and dying out - an unfortunate downward spiral. Luckily spring arrived just in time and the temperature rising above 12 degrees meant that eggs could be laid and brood could be reared. On Monday we spotted the queen who was looking healthy and we found both uncapped and capped brood. So although numbers were low they should now start to rise as the new brood metamorphosise into adult bees. They still had plenty of stores for themselves meaning what we had left for them was more than enough to tide them through the winter months. They have also started to make foraging flights to bring back fresh pollen and nectar. So in the face of all the news of colonies not surviving the winter our Gallery hive has scraped through - just.
Did you know that in Tutankhamun’s tomb pots of sealed honey were found and they were still edible after 3,000 years!!!
With Twitter announcing the closure of Posterous, the Beespace blog has now taken up residence on tumblr. As tumblr is far more active please feel free to create some dialogue. Keep tuned for all Gallery beehive related news and gossip right here. The new season will be starting towards the end of March. We have 4 new beekeepers in training who will be helping us on the roof and there are rumours that another building nearby might be getting in on the bee action.
It’s been 3 months since the Gallery Bees last made an announcement, what have they been up to all this time? Why have they been so quiet? Are they ok?
Once you’ve harvested the honey crop and put the bees to bed not much happens in the beekeeping world. Honey bees don’t hibernate like some other insects, they stay active all winter long. As the cold draws in and the autumn nectar flow ends the worker bees form a tight cluster around the queen. Once in the cluster they vibrate their flight muscles to create heat and keep the inside of the cluster warm. The worker bees on the edge of the cluster all face inwards so that only their back legs and rear end is facing outwards, this is both to ensure they have minimum heat loss and to create an edge of stingers to face any possible invaders. All the workers will take turns to move into the middle of the cluster to warm up. The cluster can loosen or tighten to regulate its temperature as it needs. Without any nectar to feed on the bees are solely reliant on their food stores to survive. The cluster will slowly move around the hive to wherever there are stores. When the temperature hits a certain low point the queen will stop laying new brood and those worker bees that hatch will live for the whole of the winter months. Only if there is a particulary mild winter will the queen attempt to lay some eggs, this can be to the bees detriment as feeding brood uses up more stores than usual. Fingers crossed with such a mild christmas our bees are ok.
The Gallery beekeepers are keeping themselves busy by ordering new equipment for the new honey season and reading up on their beekeeping knowledge. We will be expanding to 2 hives on the Gallery roof and 1 hive on the Manchester Museum roof this coming year.
Watch this space!!
This is it. This is the big event of the season that everyone has been waiting for. The extraction of the honey from the frames into jars. I’ll give you a quick run down of how this process works.
- Clean & sterilise all the equipment and the area where the extraction is to take place. Even though we will not be selling any honey this season it is still very important to follow the Food Standards Agency guidelines.
- Uncap the frames. This involves using a capping fork to scrape off the wax cappings the bees use to seal off a cell of honey once the water content is at the correct level. Once uncapped this allows the honey to start oozing out.
- Insert the frames into the extractor. This is a large cylindrical drum inside which is a steel support for the frames to slot onto. On the top of the extractor is a handle and spinning mechanism.
- Spin the frames to extract the honey. The centrifugal force of spinning the frames causes the honey to flick out of the cells and onto the wall of the extractor drum where it begins to collect and slowly run down the inside.
- Filter the honey. Once all the frames are empty the extractor is placed on a high flat surface. A double filter containing a coarse and a fine filter is placed on top of a plastic container and positioned underneath the extractor valve. The valve can then be opened and the honey will pour onto the filters which will remove any wax debris. The filter will need to be left for a good few hours to let all the honey make its way through. What you will have left in the plastic container is lovely filtered honey.
- Jar the honey. Simply pour the filtered honey into prepared jars. If you were to sell the honey these would need to be labelled appropriately with the date etc.
- Eat the honey! The best stage of all.
So the Gallery bees have produced their first ever honey harvest. Which tastes absolutely delicious.
And we would like to invite you all to a Honey Tasting Evening on November 8th from 6pm onwards as part of Manchester Art Gallery’s Thursday Lates programme. We will be providing bread and honey and an opportunity to talk about all things bee related
Another interesting news article on the BBC website about there being too many bees in London
Friday 28th September
After a couple of weeks on holiday the bee blog is back. John & Sam have been doing a wonderful job keeping them safe but how are they doing now? Where is the queen?
2 weeks ago the hive was given its first varroa treatment following the honey harvest. A small tray of Apiguard was placed above the brood box, this is thymol in a slow-releasing gel.
Thymol is found in oil of thyme, and extracted from Thymus vulgaris (common thyme) and various other kinds of plants as a white crystalline substance of a pleasant aromatic odour and strong antiseptic properties. Thymol also provides the distinctive, strong flavor of the culinary herb thyme, also produced from T. vulgaris. (Wikipedia)
The thymol gel slowly evaporates and as it is heavier than air, descends through the hive. It acts as a protein denaturant, disrupting cell membranes and affecting all cellular processes within the varroa mite. As a result the varroa mites die. This form of treatment is reported to have a 85-95% control rate. It is common practice at this time in the season to treat your beehive in this way but as we had a higher than expected varroa drop count 2 weeks ago when we put the varroa floor back in it was essential we perform this task now. This treatment can only happen once the honey has been harvested as the strong odour of the thymol can seep into the honey and affect its flavour. Don’t worry though the bees don’t seem to mind this whole process. They do detect the odour and the housekeeping bees will start to remove the gel from the hive but by then the vapour will be doing its job. The bees are also not put off by the tainted honey, they are still as eager to use it as a food source.
As we head into winter the bees will be heading out less on foraging trips and as a result will begin to lengthen their lifespans. It is possible that some of the worker bees that hatch now will live to see the spring. This is because they are not using their energy resources to fly long distances. Our concern is whether we have any worker bees hatching right now or not. We had a quick look through the 2 honey supers which were heavy and full of stores for the bees to take into the cold season so we put them to one side. Moment of truth with the brood box. The first half of the box all the frames had more honey stores, compacted pollen and lots of active bees. However as we got into the 2nd half of the box about 3 frames had both capped brood cells and uncapped cells with brood visible inside. It was too overcast to be able to check for signs of eggs. So good news, there is a laying queen in the hive! At this time of the season it is to be expected to have such a low lay of brood, queens start reducing their laying from June onwards as the days shorten. She will eventually stop laying for the winter when all the worker bees will go into a cluster around the queen to keep warm. A 2nd thymol treatment was applied and the hive put back together. As there is little to check for at the moment we will leave the hive alone for a couple of weeks.
Over the end of August and beginning of September the number of wasps that had become interested in the hive had increased. They could be seen hovering around the entrance and stealing/eating dead bees on the floor. To assist the bees deal with this threat some cheap DIY wasp traps were made from sugary drink bottles as can be seen in the images. Wasps are drawn to the processed sugar of man-made products, bees are more fussy and prefer the natural sugars found in plants and trees.
Next up - honey extraction!
…interesting news story from the BBC - Bee brains help to make robots smarter