No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds!
The 19th century poet Thomas Hood wasn’t too enamoured of November – there are times when I would agree with him. I often feel caught by this transitional stage of the year. It is the time when the last leaves, that is the leaves that managed to withstand the battering of the recent storms, are torn from their lofty perch and drift towards the ground.
November presents opportunities too – ivy, being ever-green, retains its leaves and it is still in flower and the bees are flying at every opportunity they get. I must heft the hives to see if they have enough stores on board.
As we enjoy the fruits of the bees’ labour it is good to remind ourselves that honey production takes lots of hard work – a bee makes just a twelfth of a teaspoon in its life time. A one-pound jar represents the nectar of two million flowers. In Ireland we use 5,500 tonnes annually. It is a mix of about 80% sugars, 18% water and 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein. 70% of sugar is made up of glucose and fructose and the balance of these two determines whether a honey is clear or set. Both are equally pure and additive-free. Some honey contains more glucose then fructose and will crystallise quickly e.g. oil seed rape. Honey can be made liquid by standing in warm water for an hour or so.
I came across a Bee Meditation designed for those who feel they can’t meditate. I confess I have not tried it yet but here it is.
First, find a place you can be alone for a few minutes – sit comfortably with your back straight.
Scan your body and notice how you are feeling.
Close your eyes and put your thumbs in your ears and gently cover your eyes with your forefingers to block these two senses.
Inhale and on the exhale making a bee humming sound.
Repeat the inhale and hum sequence for ten breaths.
When completed keep eyes closed and rub your hands together to generate heat and place your hands over your face.
Gently open your eyes and remove hands.
Scan your body and notice how you feel.
How many hives?
A question keeps coming up as to how many hives one should have. Most people start with one hive but quickly realise they need a second after the first swarm emerges!
A single hive is never a long term prospect. If you only have one colony and it becomes queenless you have few options. The best way to confirm if a hive is queenless, is to give it a frame of eggs from another hive to see if queen cells are created (where will you get them from?). If you only want to a have a single hive you will need at least a nucleus hive.
It is good to ask yourself how many colonies you want to overwinter. This number can double in the season if you take into account swarm control. In that case you may need up to twice the number of boxes you plan to overwinter. Winter gives us an opportunity to work out how much equipment we need for the coming season.
I try to have a spare nucleus of bees at the end of the season. There is always a colony that needs a boost. I find that if I take any three colonies, one will be doing well, another will be doing poorly compared to its performance last year, and the third will be a complete puzzle. And by next year they will all have swapped roles! But at least I have options with three hives. I have a supply of drawn comb, a spare queen, sealed brood, and even stores if required. I can unite two colonies if they are weak.
I have never been very good at keeping hive records. It is a very helpful if you do it. Some useful advice I have used: First, you must differentiate one hive from another – numbering hives permanently is not a good idea as they get moved during the season so it can get confusing trying to keep track of them. The best solution is to buy numbers and pin them to the hive and it can then be transferred to other boxes as the queen is moved. Attach the number to the brood box and you can use the colour of the drawing pins to denote the year the queen was born.
There are options for recording your information for each hive. One is to use a notebook. The advantage of this method is that you can take it home and study it. Another way is to put some packing tape on the roof of each hive or on crown board and make notes on it. A third way is to use colony record cards that can be stored on top of the crown board.
Records do not need to be long and some form of shorthand is useful – invent your own abbreviations: Q for queen present, DL = drone layer. QC= queen clipped. No queen cells = X etc. The list of things you can record is long!
Hive Number Year Date
A final note
Bees are much better at adjusting to the changing seasons then we are. I tend to do the same things regardless of the time of year and don’t make any real seasonal adjustments to my life style – I sleep the same amount, do the same exercise routine, eat the same food, run around as busy as ever etc. As we enter November and deeper into autumn I like this advice. It reflects my experience, ‘At this time the wind blows and the inner universe becomes shaky. It is important at this time to stabilise our routine of eating, sleeping and eliminating. Becoming steady in ideas and convictions may help us to deal with this season of change.’ Makes sense!