Sunday, May 06, 2012

Gabrielle has taken up smoking again …

Gabrielle, she's smokin' ...
… but happily, we need not concern ourselves with her health as she’s not inhaling the little puffs, directing them instead at bees.  As I’ve written many times, we have a long list of things to do, however, that does not seem to put us off looking for new projects to occupy us further and bees have been on our permaculture smallholding wish list for quite a while.
different sorts of honey bees
It is over a year ago that I wrote of our purchase of a hive, with the promise of a swarm just as soon as our lovely local apiculteur Jean Meilleur (lit: John Best) could supply us with one.  It was a poor year for bees last year.  So, when Gabrielle came across a chap offering a nucleus of bees for sale, we went to see him.
Richard is an enthusiast.  If it’s not tautologically inappropriate to say, he is an enthusiastic enthusiast, bubbling over with energy, and he invited us to have a look at our prospective purchase, along with a few other hives, so as to get to know our new co-habitants.  Gabrielle had purchased a beekeeper’s smock for herself and an ‘observer’s smock’ for me.   Gabrielle kitted herself out with a pair of gardening gloves and Richard lent me a pair of blue ‘industrial Marigolds’ (thick rubber gauntlets).

It was a classic case of learning everything in the doing.  All the reading we had done wasn’t the preparation that a hands-on with an expert alongside can provide and we left there with even more enthusiasm and a whole load more savoir-faire and confidence.  Gabrielle painfully learnt that her gloves were inappropriate but I traveled home as un-stung as I’d arrived.
check out the pollen

Two days later, with the day turning to dusk, Richard arrived with our queen with her five frames of larvae, honey, nectar and workers in a nucleus box.  That now sits where our hive will live and, in a few days time, we move the box aside, replace it with our hive, move the frames across (making sure that we don’t lose the queen in the process) and Bob’s-your-uncle, we’ll have a functioning beehive.  

A day later and our bees are not only having a fly around to re-orient themselves to their new location but arriving home with yellow saddlebags of pollen, so they seem to bee reesonablee happée!


Simon said...

Why do people in Brittany seem to start beekeeping via a swarm? Collection can be hazardous, temperament of the bees unknown, with the potential to bring in a diseased colony. Surely an easier way is to artificially swarm them and split the colony that way. Much simpler, you know how calm / productive the bees are and it can be done at your leisure. Just curious. Simon

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Simon,
Richard propagates bees by artificially swarming them and we watched while he performed this simple procedure.
The nucleus we have bought was formed by this method and they certainly seemed to bee well bee-haved when we first met them.
We haven't got enough experience or bees or Breton beekeepers to answer your question but, for the little I've recently learnt, I think I agree with you and Richard on the efficacy of artificial swarming.

Simon said...

Hi Stuart,
Thanks for answering my query. I saw a forum thread on the 'Beekeepers in Brittany' website and they were all talking about 'buying a swarm' and it made me curious. I will artificially swarm mine in the next week or two and find this a good way of managing varroa as well as increasing stocks. Happy to offer any advice from my four years of experience. Good luck! Simon

Phil Moore said...

Good to see you got some bees, interesting hive, what do they call it?
On swarms one advantage is the natural vigour you get and the reasonable expectation they they won't swarm this year. Nothing better for drawing out foundation than a big prime swarm. And of course they tend to come free.
A downside is they are of unknown origin and may bring poor genetics and possibly disease problems. The disease problem is reduced if the swarm is placed on foundation.
Good luck with the oncoming season.

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Phil,
Thanks for posting a comment and sorry for the tardy reply: it's all green lights at the moment, life doesn't stop for anything!
Our hive is a standard French 10-frame Dadant.
You'll soon read of our bees swarming, which you alluded to in your post. It's all ended happily and we now have two hives of bees for the price of one.