Weird plant

I thought this was “vipers bugloss” but I’m no longer at all convinced by that. Even in the unwarped version. But this is an odd one. See how the stem has become flat, and the flower head all congested? I’d be interested to know what sort of oddity or gall this is, and also the True Name of the plant. Its a common weed or flower, depending on your viewpoint.

See-also: Forsythia, 2021.


Here is a pic showing the stem from the side, so you can see how flat its become. For comparison, here’s a normal one, with free bumblebee:


Here’s the whole clump, with free beehive:


The warped one is on the lefthand side. Here’s another oddly clubbed one (with free smaller beehive in background):


[Update: BrianO knows the secret. It is fasciation (sure ’nuff, live in a fever).]

For those of you cheated of your dose of climate snark, I recommend John Mashey on l’affair Salby which is well worth a good snark. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anything to say that hasn’t been well said already, so I won’t.


* We don’t even know how many legs he’s got (go on, guess why this is relevant)

Bad beekeepin’, good houseleekin’, loadsasnowin’

I go away for a week and the bees go mad.


I don’t mean so mad that they put their honey in a pot for me – only that they seem to have filled up the hive to the top, probably with rape. And this despite them being a new swarm, in place only since late May. That’s 13 kg of honey (err, with wax mixed in of course, since the frames in the top super were foundationless, because I was in a hurry. They did not put their own comb neatly in rows).

Also while we were away the houseleeks have come out into full flower, even better than last year.


That one is unadjusted, but not really true colour. This one is adjusted and closer to eye.

And lastly, we were in the Stubai again. Sulzenauhutte to Innsbrucker Hutte this time. Some decent days but an awful lot of snow. Here’s the view down to the Blau Lacke and beyond the Sulzenauhutte (just visible nearly center) from half way up the so-called “Aperer Freiger”, “aperer” being a name sometimes given to the lower peaks off main summits (the main summit in this group being the Wilder Freiger). I’d assumed, in previous years, that it meant “lower” but it turns out to mean “snow free”, which fits with being lower of course.


The bees are back

DSC_1959 My personal ones, that is. Around the start of April, on about the first sunny day of the year, I wandered down the garden to see the bees, who had been very very quiet. And when I saw none, I went closer, and tapped, and breathed into the entrance, and put my ear to the side, and heard nothing. So I took the top off, and found them dead, which was sad. As you see from the pic (and from this one) they hadn’t just disappeared – this was no colony-collapse-syndrome stuff – they’d just died in-place. I put it down to starvation – it was a long cold spring. I thought I’d left them enough stores, but everything was eaten out, apart from the crystallised rape honey which is no use.

So, I was sad. But now, they’re back. Total inaction wins again.

Here you see them frolicking about in the sunshine. About a week ago there were a fair number sniffing around the hive, but then they weren’t, and we had a week of downpours. And then three days of sun, and the bees returned, or they are a different lot who knows.


Someone else’s bees have swarmed, and they’ve decided my hive would be a splendid place to live. Of course, they’re right. Its a bit of a shame I didn’t get round to clearing out the bee corpses from inside, but I’m sure the bees themselves are quite capaable of doing that. It doesn’t look like there are many of them in that pic, but there are loads. Here are more.

Update: More bees vicar?

Last Sunday [2013/06/23] I was at the “cream teas on the village green” and someone said “there’s a swarm of bees in the churchyard”. And so there was. Unusually, on the ground, but only because it was so windy that the branch they were on had snapped off. So I went rowing, and came back at 7:30, and picked them up and dumped them in a box and took them home and put them in my #2 hive. They seem quite happy.

2013-06-23 16.20.00

La recolte

DSC_1828 It is early autumn, so an old man’s thoughts turn to his bees. Sadly neglected again, I wonder what they are up to? Have they produced a good honey harvest or – more likely given the rather unfortunate summer here – have they just survived? Happily I have some Apistan all saved up, and its, harumph, only a few months past its best-before date, so that’ll be fine.

This is going to be a long tedious post, since it occurs to me I’ve never done a proper one showing all the steps, and it might be fun. Its also a diary entry for my future reference. The first pix shows the hive as I found it – perhaps a touch overgrown. It doesn’t bother the bees, but I find it convenient to grub out some of the nettles.

Here’s the kit. Jacket with built-in veil, nice cotton ventile trousers (actually those are windies, ex-BAS stock from the Sally Army), wellies, secateurs (not needed) and the always-useful hive tool , also convenient for weeding. The leather gauntlets are also convenient for pulling up nettles with.


DSC_1829 I forgot my friend Mr Smoker. You feed him with cardboard, and he gives out smoke, which makes the bees more passive. I’m told its because it makes the bees think of forest fires, which makes them forget about attacking you can go off and fill up with honey in case they need to Abandon Hive. Well, who knows, they are very small and have only tiny brains.

He’s stuffed up with dried grass because if you put in fresh grass last time then the cardboard stops burning and you can use it again next time because you forgot to bring any fresh out with you.

DSC_1830 That’s much better, isn’t it. Weeds all gone. Ahem.

Notice that the alighting board has rotted away. I got this hive stand from a friend about 10 years ago who was giving up keeping, and I fear that come next spring or summer I really am going to have to find the time to renew it.

DSC_1831 Take the roof off, and the crown board, and here’s the top super. Um. Not much there. Not even blank sheets of wax, because when I did this – in spring – I didn’t have any spare wax, so I just gave them empty frames, vaguely hoping that the might fill it in nicely. But alas they haven’t been busy enough for that – looks like it won’t be a bumper harvest.

Note that the bars aren’t black with fire, its just that the wax gets that colour with time as it ages and the bees teensy tiny little feet walk over it.

Lets move on down.

DSC_1832 At last, there is something there. But not much. Lets pull out a frame and see what we can see.

DSC_1833 Well, there’s honey there, you can see it glinting. Quite dark-looking too. Only some of it is capped though – that patch at the top you can see. The bees cap the honey when its ready – when they’ve evaporated it enough that it won’t ferment, which means that they can store it over winter or I can steal it.

DSC_1834 Same frame, in close-up.

DSC_1835 As I work down, I put the supers in reverse order on top of the upturned lid. This would work a bit better if the roof were flat, like in most hives.

Notice the coloured spacers at the end of the frames. These are convenient though purists complain that they prevent you adjusting them close.

DSC_1836 Now we’re at the bottom super. Again, some combs with a reasonable amount of honey in them, but not much sealed. By now its clear that it isn’t really worth me taking the honey off. I’ll just leave them with it, they’ll live on it over winter, and any spare can be harvested in the spring. Oh well.

DSC_1837 Looking down from above. The space between the comb is packed with bees.

They like to stay safe in the darkness.

DSC_1840 Lifting out a frame to look, the bees cling on. They act like a semi-fluid mass, and drip off in globs. Today they are all in a pretty good mood – no anger, no attempt to sting at all. Its quite warm, quite still, and I haven’t done anything in particular to wind them up, so maybe this is my reward.

DSC_1841 The bucolic scene. Mr Smoker perfumes the air. Ah, but he has been joined by a friend. Who is that? Its Mr Apistan, foe of mites.

DSC_1842 In more detail. Apistan comes in strips: you hang a pair in the brood box down in between the combs. The bees walk over it, pick up the stuff, and transmit it through the hive and ideally it kills all the naughty varroa mites.

If you don’t do this about once a year (using Apistan, or whatever this year’s flavour of anti-varroa stuff is) then the mites overwhelm the bees and the hive dies. Apparently its a tropical bee parasite, and tropical bees are smaller, and able to groom off the mites, so they don’t get wiped out. Another problem of globalisation.

This means that there are, essentially, no wild honey bee hives in the UK. Or, I presume, Europe.

DSC_1843 With the last super off, we come to the queen excluder – just a board outline holding wires, carefully spaced so the bees can get through but the queen, who is significantly larger, can’t. So she is confined to the brood box and can only lay larvae in there. If she started laying in the supers, you’d get baby bee juice in your honey, and you wouldn’t like that.

DSC_1844 Another of the many fascinating things about bees is the way they stick their hive together. Here (and here and here and here) we see the propolis and wax that so effectively gums up the hive, glueing one super to another and the frames into the supers.

DSC_1849 Oh look! A bright orange spot. In a well-regulated hive, this might be a sign of the queen – what you’re supposed to do, once you’ve caught the queen, is to mark her with a dot of paint so you can easily find her again. I’ve always found that its the first “once you’ve caught the queen” that’s the killer, and I don’t bother. Wise bee keepers never venture down into the depths and mysteries of the Brood Box. Though it looks as though I really ought to renew some of the frames in there.

So, oh yes, the orange spot: its pollen (perhaps a Truely Excellent botanist would be able to deduce the plant 🙂 which the bees need for protein, I think. A good sign.

DSC_1854 And lastly… its impossible to keep bees without killing some. But never mind: the thing that is really alive is the hive; individual bees are like hair or fingernails, and are disposable.


* The Beetard
* “Spring” bees, actually June
* Autumn 2011

Bad beekeeping, again

DSC_0343-w-up-ladder The peace of Sunday afternoon was disturbed when a friends children called to say, very politely, that err there was a swarm of bees in their garden and might they be mine? Possibly, I said, though you can’t pin it on me guv, but I’ll come and look anyway. If you’re not used to looking at swarms of bees, its the dark blob just to the left of the point of the loppers, and the little specks in the sky to the left again are bees. For some faint idea of how heroic I’m being see how high the ladder is – bees delight in swarming into inaccessible locations.

DSC_0348-e-k-ben-bucket What I’m doing in the pic is cutting away excess branches. The usual next step is to snip the branch they are on, so the whole swarm falls into the box you’re holding with your other hand… except I need both. So Ben, whose garden was holding all this wonder, thought of hanging a bucket from a very long pole that he just happened to have in one of his many sheds.

DSC_0349-swarm-in-box From there it is all easy: drop the bees in the bucket, put the bucket in a cardboard box, loosely put on a lid, and then all the little bees who got all excited and flew up in the air follow the scent of their queen and end up inside the box. I even found a colony-less friend who wanted a swarm, so that was all very good.

At which point you could justly complain that I haven’t lived up to my post title. But wait. Today – at very long last – I finally got around to taking the honey off my own hive, for this “spring”, unseasonably delayed by bad weather for about a month.

This brings me to my exhibit:


which (the expert among you will recognise) is what happens to your hive if you don’t have enough frames to fill the super over winter, so you just leave a gap at the edges and hope you’ll remember, come springtime, to fill in the gap. And then don’t. Of course, the bees happily build their own comb to fill the gaps. Here’s a close-up; and here is the offending super, with the good comb in the foreground (standing on top of the spare hive) with the real hive in the background.

DSC_0493-spun-frame After that its all plain sailing: bring the usable frames back down the garden in a wheelbarrow, cut off the cappings with a breadknife (the nectar, as collected, is too thin to store. So the bees concentrate it by fanning in the hive. When each cell is ready, it is capped off with wax for their over-winter use), and then spin out the honey in a rotary extractor. Or in this case get Darling Daughter to do for me.

That leaves you with empty frames (some damaged but never mind: the bees are very good at repairing them) that can be returned to the bees for re-fill and the autumn recolte.

Oh, and the garden still looks a lot like this.


* 2010.
* 2009 – a different sort of bad.

Its been a bad year for the bees

I speak personally, I should add, not of the world in general. I can’t find my spring post – maybe I didn’t do one – but I recall only taking about 4-5 frames off, which is pretty poor by spring standards – I normally expect a couple of supers. Two days ago (I mention this because I put in the Apistan, so I need to remember to take it out 6 weeks later) I opened up the hive to discover that the top super could be trivially lifted off, which is a bad sign, since a light super is an empty super. The next one down was a bit better, but mostly only because they had glued it down the fiends. In the brood box there were plenty of bees, though perhaps with a gap on the LHS of a frame or two – not quite happy with that. But, they were storing honey down there. So I put in the Apistan and left them to get on with it – it was a sunny day, at last.

[Update: 2011/10/28: a sunny still morning and I happened to be at home, so I took the Apistan out. The bees were fine.Pulled down a few nettles. It would be good to crop some more trees to allow the hive to get winter sun. Or raise the hive, or pull it back a few feet.]


* 2010

Bad beekeeping

The latest in a long stream of posts avoiding more important matters. But you take what you can get, I think. This one is about my continuing wanderings in bee land.


Some comb, as you’ll doubtless recognise. Don’t be too hard on the poor things, as the frames have been re-ordered as I was taking them off, which is why they don’t fit together as you’d expect. The stuff off to the right is what they do when you don’t give them frames to work on (who would be so careless as to fail to do that?). You can see the bee-space (1/4″ I think) that they like to give themselves, and the maximum thickness they will make. But you can also see how prettily they construct space-filling patterns. It reminds me of zebra stripes or somesuch. Of the others, only the fat one near the middle is good, the others are all lopsided or too think. But then, I often put them in like that – it has been a long time since they have had a clean set of frames to work from. This time I needed to melt a lot down – lots of rape honey from the spring set in the combs, that I didn’t deal with at the time – so maybe next year they will have a better chance.

I see this photo was taken on 9/13, which is when I took the honey off and put the bayvarol in. Or thereabouts. So today is about 6 weeks on, which is happily when I was supposed to take the bayvarol out, and indeed I did. So that was good.

This has been quite a good season. Lots of honey in springtime and (unlike last year) plenty in autumn too. I really should have done all this taking off about a month earlier, but summer is always busy.


* 2010/06
* 2010/05

Comedy beekeeping and the river to Clayhithe

Yes, another of those posts about the tedious details of my life that you care nothing about. And also an advert for my honey, hurrah.


In the middle you’ll see my beehive. I’ve finally done most of the honey-related stuff this year (see-also previous bee blogging) so if you live nearby and care to purchase some finest quality Stoat honey with only a few bits of dead bee in it, please email. This year it does seem to be rape, judging by the speed at which it sets. The “comedy” aspect of the beekeeping was the way I managed to stumble around knocking the supers nearly off as I tried to get the lid on. Fortunately the ladies seem quite well behavined, even the one that sneaked into my suit. The kitchen is still full of odd bits of comb waiting to be melted down (I fail again: I left them for a week or more with an empty upper super, so of course they filled it full of beautiful comb which I must destroy, alas).

Saturday saw we few venture off downriver over Baits Bite lock in the Four of Death (drumroll). We didn’t get as far as Bottisham – it was rather windy and the last stretch down there didn’t tempt, unlike Tanya’s coffee which did, since she was moored just before the bridge. And she even gave us chocolate cake, and a second cup of coffee when it rained. So we could truthfully say we had a 3 1/2 hour outing, even if some of it wasn’t on the water. And bits of the rowing were good, and even the unbalanced bits weren’t dreadful. Steven turned out to be a perceptive coach, though I’m not going to straighten my arm, sorry. But full marks for spotting it :-).

Oh, and Brian’s latest is good.

I forgot to mention that today was fathers day, and I got breakfast in bed courtesy of Miranda and Eve, with a menu and a card too, and a chocolate coin.

Bee blogging

Dscn1508-bee-pollen_crop_w800 (for Maz). Perceptive readers will notice that this is a bumblebee, and on a hollyhock, so is anachronistic.

Sunday afternoon, and I finally had time to see to the girls. This was my first visit of the year (oh, the shame) and so finding the beesuit and trousers and gloves was step one. Step two was the smoker, cardboard and matches. Step 3 took rather longer, and was to clear the nettles and general vegetation away from the hive. After that, it was time to open up, and I was pleased to find a happy hive full of bees with the two supers nearly full, but not capped. The Rape is around this year (last year, for a pleasant change, it wasn’t) so I’ll have to Take Off fairly soon. At this rate I may have to add another super first, which will mean digging out some frames or making them up.

Dredging down in the brood box (they were being well behaved) I found a couple of empty queen cells, which tallies with a neighbour a few doors off who had a swarm of bees descend on his house on Saturday and then vanish inside his chimney (yes I went for a look, but since his roof is tall and his fireplace bricked up, there was little to do). Although the hive felt somewhat full for that. Ah well, who knows really. I’m happy they survived the winter – Nikola’s didn’t.