Last year was pure joy with my bees. Having a nuc (small colony) quite late in the season did mean no honey for me and a little worry about getting the bees to a stage where they stood a good chance of getting through the winter. I am not sure I appreciated the benefits of learning or practising some of my craft with a smaller number of bees and more than enough space making movement of the frames quite straightforward. I had an English bred 2010 queen of Carniolan strain so quite young but she was laying very well.
Everything about this has benefits. You have enough bees to see a variety of behaviour and activity around the hive can be observed from a little distance – a sort of macroeceonomy – seeing the patterns in movement of a number – so I was entranced first at the orientation techniques and then as they became used to their new home the invisible tunnel in the sky that seemed to be their commuting to work route. I could easily sit close enough to the hive without any protective wear and see the pollen being carried in – comparing colours and quantity over the weeks. When I inserted the varroa floor I could see the curious waste of body parts, wax crystals and the odd mite. Fewer bees meant less weight whether it was on frames or for lifting a whole box. New equipment meant that eggs were easy to spot and there was not too much propolis.
I recommend any newbie to start with a nuc. It also allows you to assess your equipment and the choices you have made. Quite early I realised I liked the Fragile Planet hive stand. It seemed sturdier and it was quite reasonable compared with some of the cedar ones, plus a little taller so I was not bending down so far. This year I was trying to manipulate my hive with its supers on and that extra height meant that the supers were uncomfortably high that little bit sooner. However, the limitation that was most disconcerting was the fact that the stand was effectively 4 legs on an open square which was pretty much the same size as the hive. Seemed very sensible until I was struggling to move the brood body which was propolised to the super I had below. This meant two boxes heavy with frames and bees (and stores) and despite having run the hive tool right round, when I tried to lift the brood box it wouldn’t quite come away from the super and at one stage I thought the whole thing was going to topple over because in trying to lift I had moved things so the boxes no longer matched the outline of the stand. this was a very nasty moment. I am not sure how close I came to having the whole thing over with sixty thousand bees who would think it all my fault but it was far too close for comfort. So, I have taken two pieces of wood and placed them as runners on two parallel sides of the stand. The way I have done so means that there is now about a four inch tolerance in each direction. Of course in a few weeks time I will probably find why my alteration is not ideal…. Learning point: perhaps the set ups most association apiaries use is better – two horizontal pieces of wood about 15 inches off capable of taking two hives and allowing hives to be stable a few inches either way. It also gives a sort of working table area in between the two hives to place equipment or tools.
Learning point no 2. Those leather beekeeping gloves are nice – but washing them is virtually impossible. Gauntlet style rubber gloves (Marigold type) are good for washing but gaps between gauntlet and bee suit can happen. I am going to get or make some separate gauntlets and make sure they are tight enough (I need a large bee suit but my wrists are probably smaller than the Thornes elasticated bee jacket anticipates.) The all in one Bee basic suit has zipped wrists and ankles and seems a better fit.