If you made some nuclei, do keep an eye on them. Small colonies can quickly run out of space, in which case remove a full frame and replace it with one of foundation. Also, if there is no forage or bad weather, they can starve. Beekeeping books often tell of ‘the June gap’. This is the period when the spring flowers are over, and the summer ones have not started flowering en-masse. For the last two years, we have not had that gap here in the east. As soon as the oilseed rape (OSR) supers were extracted and returned for the bees to clean out, they began re-filling. I think the crop was from hawthorn, and not long after that, the brambles began.

Sweet chestnut can also be a good crop. We have none close by, so in past years we have moved colonies to them. When preparing honey for sale, a 30lb bucket of OSR with a 10lb bucket of a mix of sweet chestnut and bramble makes an excellent honey. Vintners and tea tasters mix for a better taste and so do I. I must admit though, I am usually both a little surprised and pleased by the result. For the last two years, a neighbouring farmer has grown buckwheat and I have moved a few colonies to take advantage of that. The honey is very dark with an interesting smell, some say reminiscent of pigs, others describe it as ‘the blue cheese of honeys’. It sold well.

Moving colonies to crops

If you want to move a colony or two to an interesting crop, it is not difficult. It will stress the bees, but they usually tolerate a move pretty well. Both you and they profit from foraging another crop. Check that the new site offers shelter, is away from people and animals and accessible when wet. For each hive you will need two straps, a screen, two small pieces of polystyrene to stop the frames moving in transit and a foam entrance blocker, cut to size.

On ‘moving’ day, remove the crown board, add the polystyrene pieces and add the screen; this can be a sturdy framed mesh or a just a piece of mesh pinned across the top. Straps can be ratchet types, but lever types are better. Parallel strap the hive together; see photo above. This is important; a single strap is definitely not enough as boxes may swivel and allow bees out. Temporarily replace the crown board and roof, then return at dusk with a water-filled hand-sprayer. Use the spray to persuade any bees around the entrance that it is ‘raining’ so they go inside. With a mesh floor, beware of more bees underneath. Do not worry if there are; when the hive is moved, they will probably sit tight, but just in case, have your veil zipped up. When all are inside, block the entrance, remove the roof and crown board. Carry the hive to your car. Two people are needed; it is simpler with a hive carrier. The boxes should be much heavier on their return. Ensure hives cannot shift and frames are ‘fore and aft’. Collect the roof, crown board and stand, and drive to the new site.

Place your stands, ensuring they are as level as possible; I have a bucket of pieces of broken roof tile for this purpose. Place the hives with entrances facing different directions, ensure the entrance blocks are out before departing and check that you really have done that!

Apiary essentials

When you go to the apiary, what do you take? Obviously, a smoker (stainless steel and caged against burns), a hive tool (different kinds do different jobs) and your colony records. Two lidded buckets always accompany me. In one there is about four inches of dilute (1:5) washing soda. In that bucket I keep a washing-up brush, a tooth brush, some stainless-steel wire wool, an uncapping fork and a pair of tweezers jammed into a cork. The uncapping tool is to fork out drones if I suspect too many Varroa, the tweezers for removing suspect larvae. Everything else is for cleaning my hive-tool, smoker and gloves.

The other bucket is for bits of brace-comb or propolis; I do not want to leave anything that attracts wax moth lying around. The lids keep curious bees out and prevent them from drowning in the wet bucket.

In the pockets of my bee-suit, I have a spare pair of gloves, my record book and a bag, provided free by the makers of super foundation, containing: a box of matches and a lighter, queen marking paint, usually two colours, embroidery scissors or fine snips, a box of drawing pins, another of chalk, at least two queen cages and a small screwdriver (my nuclei boxes have floors held together with lock-slides).

Now it is impossible to find long-cuffed gloves, I find what the bee suit manufacturers call ‘gauntlets’ indispensable. These bridge the gap between glove and bee suit cuff.

Photos: Jeremy Quinlan