Beekeeping 2020

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


Now we're just a few hours into a new decade, it's time for one of those new year looking-ahead posts. But first, looking back. I've really enjoyed beekeeping this year — it's gone better than I ever could have expected given how late in the season our swarms were. As well as being a combination of ourdoors and cerebral work, it's brought me, Dave, Ⓓ, Jen, Ⓑ, Hannah and Ⓒ closer together. My dad and Uncle Richard have got involved, as have visiting friends — thanks to Curly and Ralf for their help. Many more, including Jonny, Pinny, Rick, Paul, Ⓤ and Adam and his family have shown an interest in coming to help next year.

Before Thomas brought our first bees and started our careers as real beekeepers, I'd been on two courses (Leeds and Walworth) and gained experience through volunteering, but it wasn't until actually keeping them that the learning experience started in earnest.

In November, Dave and I confided in each other that we felt that, given the odds that this introduces, we were doing pretty well at beekeeping. We'd been warned by several people not to be too heartbroken if the colonies didn't make it, so the fact they've made it this far makes us both happy. This sort of hubris often comes before disaster, so let's balance it out by reflecting on the lessons learned in 2019.

I asked Ⓓ what she had learned in 2019. As well as bee facts such as how worker bees are all female, and bees can see in ultraviolet, she was quite struck by the realisation that colonies have personalities. This is a regular theme of the chats we have when we're finishing up after an inspection, and Dave suggested that the supersedure of the late summer, and the resulting chaos (e.g. burr comb) of the colony was down to the emergency queen — a queen formed from a developing worker bee. He mentioned the idea of a false queen, when a worker is laying but can't lay drones, simultaneously continuing and dooming the colony.

Ⓑ and I are pretty much agreed that we'd like another hive for the 2020 beekeeping season, and I know Ⓓ and Dave feel the same way. Our apiary will have four colonies in it and I'm sure we'll learn a lot more next year as a result. After last year's positive experience with swarm bees, we've both been on the swarm list since mid-November. I'm going to go for another Thorne Bees on a Budget National hive — it was easy to put together and has worked out well in 2019. This time, I'm going to stain the hive with something with no VOCs, maybe sage, not only to give it more protection but to distinguish it from the first hive.

My father is keen to visit the Quince Honey Farm with Ⓑ and me in South Molton, Devon in February. Perhaps not the most active time of year to go, but nevertheless a good opportunity for Ⓑ to see a bit of beekeeping somewhere else. The Farm has a branch of Thorne, my favourite supplier. From there we're planning to pick up the stain and other supplies, and the hive, so it won't be damaged in transit.

Dave is a much better carpenter than me, and he's going to be making another hive stand for the two new hives. These things are very sturdy indeed and lift the hive up to a height which makes inspections easier. He spaces them so that they can hold frames during inspection.

For all the talk this year of hive scales, I haven't yet chosen one that I can get excited about making into a telemetry analysis project, so I think I'll leave that for next year. Maybe it's possible to over-automate beekeeping, anyway.

There have been other goals talked about, including:

So, that was 2019. Thanks to anyone out there who's reading along. Best wishes for an excellent start to the twenties!