Apiary Blog

Duck Race 2014:

Not the most obvious title for a blog entry for an association of bee keepers ..and you may think this looks like an ordinary plastic duck..the sort of thing a child (or a bee keeper!) might play with in the bath.  But it won’t look like a duck for very much longer….

A dab of mascara here….

P1070797A stripe here…

P1070799A wing here…

P1070800An evening to dry properly and our new queen duck is taking shape…

P1070801A second set of wings and she is all dressed up and ready for the race…

P1070808Safely delivered to the start line, she obviously took to heart that she should behave like a bee and tried to get off to a flying start…(there she is – just hanging around!)

c33 hanging around…only to be thwarted by the starting net… and she promptly capsized….

C33 capsizedC33 was last seen scuba diving towards the finish line….

But none of that matters really.  A jolly good day out was had by all who attended and much needed funds were raised for Casey Children’s ward at Epsom hospital, and other local charities…

For more photos of a great fun day out – please follow these links.

Images from the annual Duck Race along the Hogsmill. Yet another great day out this event is getting bigger and bigger…

Gepostet von Whats On in Epsom am Sonntag, 20. April 2014

Mr Herman & Mrs Hermione Duck

Gepostet von Ewell Court Residents' Association (ECRA) am Samstag, 19. April 2014

April 2014:

Our beginners classes have taken full advantage of the warm start to April.  Teaching has progressed a pace….




Frames have been very closely inspected and unwanted brace comb, however attractive, has been “spring cleaned” out of the hives…


Talking of spring cleaning, we decided to take some samples of flying bees to test for Nosema,  jam jars and old honey jars were pressed into service to capture 30 flying bees…


Abdomens were snipped away from the rest of the bees body…


And ground up into bee gut soup…


A drop from each sample was examined under the microscope for tell tale “rice grain” nosema spores…


And the good news is that all the hives we tested had only the tiniest indication of nosema spores.

March 2014: Herald of Spring, “Blooming Marvellous”


It really doesn’t seem like a year since we did this- but it is!!


We must have been very well behaved as not only were we asked back, but we were promoted to a room on the ground floor.

It was truly blooming marvellous – you really did have to look very hard to spot the library….

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We had our information boards….


We had a full stand of honey ….

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And plenty of information about what we can offer to anyone interested in learning more about bees and bee keeping…


We had a terrific day – how about you?


December 2013:  Dipped Bees wax candles.

Probably the most eagerly anticipated social event of the year!  Our evening of mince pies, mead and making dipped wax candles.

We started with some careful preparation; breaking up the wax reclaimed from the solar extractor, warming it in a bain marie to melting point then carefully pouring it into our own expertly designed wax pot (two baked beans tins welded together and set into two paint tins)…

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Very soon our wax pot was ready for us to dip our pre-prepared wicks…



Then the real fun began!  A self organised group of bee keepers in a constant procession dipping wicks that gradually built up to be candles…

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There was a rack for those who needed to pause and leave their candle to rest for a moment whilst they sampled a little mead and a mince pie or rolled out a flaw between two sheets of glass…

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There were no prizes for the biggest candle of the night…


Everyone took home a prize of a great hand dipped bees wax candle.

November 2013:  Gadgets and Gizmos revisited

Back by popular demand! An evening of our favourite gadgets and gizmos to help with different bee keeping tasks…

Some were specially bought like this prongy pokey thing that is perfectly shaped for cleaning dregs of foundation from frame grooves…


Some were carefully considered adaptations, like this crown board with adapted sides that make it a simple eke one way up and a snelgrove board the other way up…

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There was even some interesting metal work on display…. a frame holder for uncapping and a stirrer for creaming…


But possibly the star of the show (from the way it got passed around the table and thoroughly inspected by the wood working experts) was probably this honey bucket tipper upper….


We were assured it was normally wedged up (to help the last dregs of honey out of the bucket) by some wooden door wedges rather than fingers ..but it may be adapted with a large old fashioned bed spring for next year!

Can’t wait to see that!!

October 2013: A report from the National Honey show 2013.

We are really quite lucky in Epsom to have the National Honey show at St George’s College, Weybridge each year.  Whilst it’s not quite on the door step the 20 minute drive makes it very accessible, and an easy day trip out.

What an amazing amount of honey there was on show!

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And an amazing amount of silverware….


Waiting for those who are brave enough to submit to the scrutiny of the honey judges…


Last year Epsom entered six jars of honey into the class for 6 matching jars from one apiary and won!  With a much better harvest this year we were hopeful of similar success.  Sadly it wasn’t to be – no place at all.

Still we can still stand back and admire all the glorious honeys…creamed, set, light and dark…

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Not to mention the interesting displays of honey related products…

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And Honey and beekeeping related exhibits

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And beeswax

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Now – full of inspiration we’re off to make a plan for next year!

September – Honey Tasting

What a lot we’ve got!!!

2013 09 Honey tasting

32 honeys to taste in one evening – yum yum!!

They were all carefully organised and anonymously labelled by our excellent administrator and laid out ready to be tasted and scored.  We kept it simple this year 5 for delicious and 1 for disgusting…


Let the tasting commence…..

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It was great fun …as the ooohs …..aaahss and yumssss rose from the table punctuated by the occasional “Aaagh that’s Rank!” and as we all got slightly giddy on the sugar rush our administrator and score keeper kept us firmly under control…


Finally we were ready to reveal the scores…..

Oh no!! There are three with IDENTICAL scores !!   Time for a final adjudication to find the winner…


Oh no!! our jury couldn’t agree  – we still had two honeys scoring the same.  Time for a further adjudication…


What!!! – still no winner!! Is anyone brave enough to step forward to separate the winner from the runner up?


And we have a winner –Manley family honey for a second year running!!! How do they do it?


August – work, work, busy, busy

There was a lot to do in the apiary today.  But working mostly in two’s and three’s we soldiered on and got on with the list of jobs….

2013-08-10 14.04.18The last of the honey supers needed to come off for extracting…

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We shook off all the bees and had a good look for signs of disease on the brood frames….clearly this queen is stupendously picky and wont lay in the cells over the supporting W of wire…

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We found an open queen cell and a queen with really hairy shoulders,which made us think that she was a really new hatchling princess…

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We put patties of Apiguard on all the hives to treat for varroa…

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It doesn’t smell particularly nice….so quite a lot of bees stayed out playing with us for quite a while!

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July – Meanwhile back on the allotment….

So its been 4 weeks since we put the swarm down on the allotment ..time to go and have a really good look at how well that hive is getting on.

We really would have liked to have seen some honey in the supers by now….


Which is really frustrating because in the hive next door there is honey ready to harvest…


And really even for 6pm on a hot, sunny day there are not a lot of bees in here….


And this might be the reason why… there is simply no worker brood…


All those bubbly looking sealed cells are drone brood and a hive full of boys wont last long…..Looking at Brunehilde (what other name could be give a Queen in  a Beehaus?) you wouldn’t really think anything was wrong with her, she certainly runs fast enough…


But after some fairly intense debate and VERY close inspection…we’ve decided she is a done layer…P1050450 P1050452

Which rather begs the question …..how have these bees managed to make a Queen cell?


And if there is a viable queen in there…is there enough time left this summer for her to turn this colony around?

July 13th Apiary Open day

The sign went up….


The honey extracted and bottled…literally the night before…


The displays went up

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The bees were being very well behaved…


The bee friendly plant stall opened and did swift trade…


Would the people of Ewell come and see us? oh yes…and helped us raise nearly £200 to keep the Apiary teaching facility going.

Thank you people of Ewell


July 2nd: Pollen identification night

What better way is there to spend a Tuesday evening than by picking some flowers straight after work and heading on down to the apiary.  These lovely local floral samples weren’t for feeding bees though….

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This is the serious business of investigating pollen grains…

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We didn’t drink that much tea before getting on with making up slides …


And, thanks to some nifty extra bits on the microscope we pretty soon all had some interesting pollen grains to view…


These from fox gloves


These from a Red hot poker


These aren’t orange segments they are pollen grains from Alstromeria

And some even more fascinating combinations from pollen baskets “borrowed” from bee’s legs….

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May – Experiment

Did you know that in a quiet corner of an Epsom allotment there is a small experiment in bee keeping under way?

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We’ve been given a Beehaus beehive and its fair to say we haven’t quite seen anything like it before…


After a bit of head scratching we decided there was nothing else for it – we had to simply put some bees in and see how they got on…

First to load the brood box with some “deep” frames…

P1050063 Then gently encourage the swarm out of their box…


The plastic queen excluder confused us for a little while…which way round do you think it should go?

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At least the first couple of workers up the foundation poked their heads through happily enough…


We loaded the supers with a few frames of stores…

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And then popped the lid back on …..the bees appear to be quite happy using the front door – despite the name plate!!


May – Basic assessment day…

We really couldn’t have been more prepared for our seven eager “beginners” to be undertaking their basic assessment.  The tea and biscuits were well stocked (thanks Liz!), the single brood hives were selected and we’d even cleaned out all the smokers…


In fact, there were almost too many to choose from…


But of course the one thing we couldn’t control was the lovely English weather… would we get all the assessments completed before the threatened thunderstorms arrived from the continent?  The morning sessions got off to a great start with a gentle puff of smoke…


The first frames were examined in great detail…



There were drips and drops of rain at lunchtime….but undeterred we carried on…

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So now its all over.  It didnt actually rain or thunder (phew!)

So now we just have to wait with baited breath for those results, good job  bee keepers are used to being patient!


The weather forecasters have been busy telling us that the spring is running some 20 days behind schedule….  Oh boy…do we wish they’d told the bees to run 20 days late too!

The bees in most of our colonies have been very busy…

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In fact we may have more developing queen cells than we know what to do with…so it was great timing that we had enjoyed two club night presentations on swarm control in preparation for performing an artificial swarm.

It feels like we’ve had more than our fair share of cold and wet Saturday classes but we have managed to use every sunny moment to get out and inspect the hives thoroughly…

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And with so much going on in the hives…we’ve been making copious hive notes…

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So its not just the bees that have been busy in May!


Traditionally April is the start of the bee keepers year.  The days are warm enough for shirtsleeves and so the first hive inspections of the year can be made.

But after the coldest March on record for many a year it was a fairly hardy and wantonly optimistic band of bee keepers and want-to-be bee keepers that assembled at the apiary on Saturday 6th April.

The sun, having shone brightly but not very effectively all morning disappeared behind the clouds and seemed determined to stay there.  So we contented ourselves with talking through health and safety stuff and demonstrating a hive inspection.

We were just finishing up by trying on some bee suits to get our beginners ready when the clouds crept apart and the temperature crept above 11’c.  Would anyone like to look inside a hive and feed some fondant to the bees?

Oh yes….


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and no matter how far back we stand to start with the fascination of looking into a bee hive soon draws folk closer in…

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Now if only we could book a few more sunny Saturdays……


March events

The weather forecasters are about to confirm that March 2013 is the coldest on record since 1962.  What a good job we’ve had some events to keep us busy…

There was a rumour that on 23rd and 24th March last year the temperature at RHS Wisley was 20’c and they ran out of ice cream.  What a difference a year makes…

Wisley snow

This year Wisley shivered throughout its “grow your own” event.  Some very hardy beekeepers paddled on the waterlogged ground (in the tent!) and sheltered from the snow!



Under the banner of Surrey Beekeepers volunteers from the different divisions manned the tent to promote beekeeping.  The company was excellent and sharing the chores and joys of running an event like this helped us all make new bee keeping friends.  Wisley saw over 3000 visitors over the weekend, and we sold over £400 worth of honey, which in light of the horrific weather, is nothing short of amazing.



It may have stopped snowing on the Sunday but it still felt like -5’c so we practised our clustering skills to keep warm!

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Wisley had some great feedback about the overall event so we will be crossing our fingers (once they’ve thawed out) that we are asked back on a warmer day!


On 2nd and 3rd March 10 of our members spent an enjoyable weekend representing Epsom Beekeepers at the Herald of Spring, Bourne Hall.  Jeremy Harte, museum curator, very kindly provided us with space in the museum to set up a display to inform the public about beekeeping, advertise the division, the courses we run and to sell honey.



The theme of the Herald of Spring was ‘Medieval Magic and Medicines’ so the medicinal use of products of the hive fitted the brief well and Jeremy prepared a very professional set of information display boards about medieval beekeeping and products of the hive for us to use (and which we get to keep) so a big thank you goes to him.


So, over the course of the weekend we handed out leaflets, sold honey, helped children roll candles and ‘talked beekeeping’ to a very interested and enthusiastic public.  Gill Futcher and Pete Smith kindly donated honey to taste and this proved a real crowd puller.  It was very interesting to see how divided people were as to taste preference – but both types were enjoyed and sold well along with a number of other beekeepers’ honeys.  In fact we sold out of a number of things!


I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped – especially my able assistant Indigo Manley who helped me accost numerous members of the public to invite them to visit our stand (she was also much better at candle rolling than I was –  but don’t tell her)! 

The weekend certainly raised the awareness and profile of the division –  and most importantly the beekeeping! I am hoping we will be invited back next year…..





Apiary goings on…

Perhaps we all breathed in a little too soon!

Since we were last out an about there’s been nothing but cold grey damp mizzle loitering around the apiary. These days are tricky; spring just doesn’t seem to want to get properly started. We keep watching the weather, as it is starting to be warm enough for the queen to be starting to lay eggs, but not every day guaranteed to be warm enough for workers to fly out for pollen, and a laying queen needs all the protein she can get from as much pollen as possible…

Meaning it feels like there are more jobs for beekeepers than bees…


As soon as we get a day above 12’c every hive will need a quick check for eggs, not just any eggs mind, – worker eggs are what we are after, more bees to collect more pollen and honey…



And if there doesn’t look like there’s enough pollen and honey in the stores around the cluster then it’s time for more fondant. That is unless we can see the blackthorn and Mahonia flowering…


And watching…

For signs of “spring dwindle”… a seemingly charming name for bee dysentery (Nosema). Rather nastily this prevents the bees digesting pollen properly and undernourished bees don’t live long, meaning the colony struggles to grow. None of our hives or the frames in them look like this.…



So plenty for the Beekeeper to be watching….

But if a colony doesn’t look like its building up properly we may have to investigate further… in the meantime we just need to be patient and keep watching…




Apiary goings on.

It’s definitely time for a deep breath.


Breathe in

There… can you smell it?

Is that just the tinniest hint of spring in the air?

Today is 1st February. If the bee-keeping year traditionally starts on the 1st April then we have 8 weeks to get ready – golly gosh that’s not long

Jobs we are tackling in February:

  • We’re keeping the entrances to all the hives clear of dead bees
  • Bees will start to take advantage of any dry bright days to make cleansing flights so we make it easier for them to get in and out.
  • We’re feeding the bees fondant
  • It was such a poor year last year that it’s possible the hives don’t contain enough stores of honey to last right the way through till spring properly starts – so the odd block of fondant helps to keep them going



We’re watching for spring flowers…

After what has felt like weeks of snow there are some tentative signs of spring in nearby gardens meaning that when the bees do venture out for the odd flight there is some pollen and nectar for them to bring home.



We’re still on pest watch..

It’s nearly the last chance oxalic acid treatment for varroa mites in the hives – ideally we need the hives to be brood less, but the chances of three weeks of weather consistently below 5’c in our corner of south east England is remote so we’ll be seizing the opportune moment to trickle some oxalic acid between the frames.


So once all that’s under control there is just enough time to settle down with a warming cuppa and catch up on reading (about bee keeping of course), then fully refreshed we’ll be out again sniffing for signs of spring.