This blog will follow the flights, flows and foraging of Embercombe's honeybees.
We currently steward 3 topbar hives and 2 dadant hives.
Embercombe is a landbased social enterprise in Devon, UK existing to 'touch hearts, stimulate minds and inspire
committed action for a truly sustainable world'.
We run courses for beginners.
2013 courses will be in April, May and June.
see here for details

Monday, 18 February 2013

Sunny winter days

 The bees reminded us just how much they love the sunshine, even in the middle of the winter. On a sunny day just after New Years eve, the bees were out in full force. These pictures were taken by our bee friend Ivo Frank who was staying at Embercombe. The bees were all over these flowers and the hive entrances were as busy as a summers day...

Its such a joy to get a midwinter peek at the bees. As the beekeeper, I feel myself relax a little to see them all flying and full of energy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Them Bees we sees...

Them Bees we sees....
Can you believe them Bees we sees
The ones that hang from up them trees
That buzz around them pretty flowers
Collecting nectar for hours and hours.
Can you believe them Bees we sees
That work together in harmony
Frequenting meadows to pollinate
A joy to watch from behind the gate.
Can you believe them Bees we sees
Work hard all day with elegant ease
Then come the night all huddle together
To maintain the warmth whatever the weather.
Can you believe them Bees we sees
Such mystical beings so misunderstood
Id live in a hive if only i could
They struggle in places which once they created
Its from us they return heavily sedated
Can you believe them Bees we sees
They’re vanishing in numbers, failing to survive
With what some are doing we’re surprised they’re alive
We need to sit with them and listen, observe the hive
Its down to us to help them revive
Can you believe them Bees we sees
We must slow down its time to ease
Lets unite together i urge you please
To ensure we continue to sees them Bees.

Poem written by Tim Kidney, Course Participant May 2012

Monday, 7 May 2012

Meeting the bees

Observing the entrance
 We have just run this year's second Natural Beekeeping course here at Embercombe.

The course intends to inspire and inform people about bee-first natural beekeeping. People leave feeling confident and ready to take their next steps to support the honeybee - whether that involves setting up their own hives, planting some bee-friendly plants, or just spreading the word.

The sun came out on sunday and we were able to spend a good amount of time with the hives in the garden. We spent time observing the bees at the entrances... watching the many workers laden with pollen on their legs coming home after a foraging trip. There were also a large number of drones (male bees) around both hives, but particularly 'light' hive, which we had found out the previous day, is superseding. This involves replacing the older queen with a new one, so the unborn virgin queen is likely to be attracting the drones to the hive.
It is a good idea to observe the activity around the hives before checking inside. You can tell a lot about what's going on inside the hive from what you see at the entrance. Pollen being brought in tells you they are likely to be raising young (bee larvae eat pollen). Ordered, steady activity suggests all is well in the colony.

Participant holding comb from the topbar hive
The sunny weather meant we could have a peek into both topbar hives, and even a look inside one of our conventional dadant hives which is being run naturally. Most participants on the course said that the time with the hives was one of the most inspiring aspects of the course.
Beekeeping course around the hives

We had a brilliant and varied weekend, and we love to share our passion, experience and knowledge and to invite people to come and meet the bees.
Some participant feedback includes...

 "really lovely, inspiring and accessible weekend. I feel much more confident to start beekeeping now."

 "I had a fantastic weekend and feel I have been given enough info to have a good go at my first hive".

If you are interested in attending one of our natural beekeeping courses, please click here.

Monday, 5 September 2011

the summer months... and into the autumn

Oh! how the summer has flown by... and now we are heading into autumn, and thinking about whether the bees have stored up enough throughout the summer to get them through this winter.

 The hives at Embercombe have been doing really well this summer, building up to great numbers and showing a strength we haven't seen before. The two topbars in the garden, although behaving differently (one swarmed a number of times and the other didn't swarm at all) have both grown hugely and have enjoyed a bountiful summer.

The hives in the top field were slower to build up, but have got much busier in the last month or so.

This time of year is when we as beekeepers want to make sure the bees have enough honey stores to last them all of winter. Conventional beekeepers will have just done their honey harvest, replacing the mineral-rich, complex sugars of honey with a sugar syrup for the bee's winter sustenance. We choose to make sure the bees get through the winter before taking their precious stores... so if the winter is kind we may get some honey this spring.

We also need to think about other robbers that might be after the honey (other than us!) like wasps and mice. So we will be closing down the entrances to make them easier for the guard bees to defend.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Swarming time

As expected, May has brought us swarming adventures.

Our first swarm of the year came from a topbar hive in the garden called Light (we assume...). Although we had done a split*, it seems the swarming impulse remained and they swarmed. I found them clustered on an apple tree in the garden.

When bees swarm, a group of bees and a queen leave the hive in a big swirling mass and settle in a cluster nearby. From here, they send out scouts to look for a suitable new home.
Cluster on the apple tree

moving into the skep

It is at this stage that they are easiest to catch, so we got Jo's grandfathers skep (a beautiful 100 year old woven beehive). We then bashed the tree to knock the cluster into the skep, and left it propped open for the rest of the bees to climb in...

... A couple of days after re-homing the bees in a hive, they were gone... so we must have done something not quite right! Beekeeping can be such a rollercoaster of emotions. The joy and wonder of finding the first swarm of the year, watching them climb into the skep... and then the feelings of loss on finding them gone. I just hope they have found a beautiful wild home.

But the rollercoaster goes on, and the same day (so it could be the same bees!) a swarm was found high in the treetops in the woods. Hanging on the topmost branches of a lovely old oak was a beautiful big swarm cluster. This stayed for a few days through rain and sun until sunday. During the sunday while the 70 or so people on the friends weekend were eating lunch, a swirling mass of bees moved up the valley towards the top of the site...
we walked up following the swarm's slow pace, and ended up in the top apiary, where they headed into an empty dadant hive left there since the colony inside had collapsed.
the swarm moving into their new home

*Split: Otherwise known as artificial swarming - once a colony has started queen rearing, to split off a few frames of brood and stores from the main colony, along with the existing queen or some queen cells, creating a new colony. This tries to capture the swarming impulse and means we don't loose the bees.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Intermediate Natural Beekeeping Course

We had our first natural bee keeping course of the year back in march. This one was for the more experienced, which allowed Phil Chandler and Tim Hall to take the participants a bit deeper into the world of bee keeping. We explored swarm control, hive splits, and had local bee inspector Adam Veevers talk about pests and diseases. 

The beautiful weather also allowed us to go into some of the hives. We dusted 2 of the topbars and 2 of the dadants with icing sugar. We use icing sugar dusting as a way of encouraging 'hygienic behaviour' (cleaning themselves) among the bees to encourage them to clean off the Varroa mites. We have continued this treatment weekly, for 4 weeks, in order to catch the next adult varroa mites in the lifecycles. By the end of the four treatments the hope is that the mites will be down to safe levels for the bees to enter summer thriving.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bees in the Willows

Bees on the Willows at Embercombe - Spring 2011
What a joy it has been to see the bees out around embercombe. The willows, which are in flower now, are particularly busy, some trees covered in bees of all types, including lots of our honeybees (and I wonder if anyone elses...).
I feel like I've encountered a healthily large number of big beautiful bumble bees this year as the earth is reawakening. They join the honeybees on the beautiful willow trees colecting leg-fulls of pollen.

Honeybees collect pollen by gathering it in 'pollen baskets' on their back legs, which are basically a number of hairs designed to hold the pollen particles. Look closely at a hive entrance and you can watch returning foragers carrying a whole spectrum of orange and yellow pollens.