Preparing a nuc for winter: part 2

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Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books, Nucs | Posted on 19-10-2010

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Bees nuc box

Five frame nuc - not a mini-nuc

It seems a few corrections are in order. For starters, what I’ve been referring to as a ‘mini-nuc’ for the last several weeks turns out to be simply a ‘nuc’. Also, Mrs S would like me to point out that that nice Mr Turnbull off the BBC wasn’t “hopeless” on Strictly Come Dancing (see ‘In the dark with Bill Turnbull’). He was actually rather good, apparently. So, sorry Bill.

This week I had a plan and I stuck to it. I was quick (see last entry), decisive… –ish, and meticulous in maintaining a written record – which is just as well, because at one point the voice recording of my inspection has me saying, “I’m removing the third frame, no, the fourth… hang on a minute, I’ve forgotten that one I took out earlier. So that’s the fifth frame… err, or is it?”

Turns out it was the fourth frame, which – packed with capped stores and brood – I transferred from the main colony to the nuc. The nuc already contained five frames so I had to take one out to accommodate it. The big question now was whether or not I should place the spare frame taken from the nuc back in the main colony, particularly as the latter was left with only seven drawn frames, plus one new frame with foundation, inserted the day before.

Damaged beehive honeycomb

Bad comb over: when it looks like this it's best to start again

To be honest, the spare looked a bit old and weather-beaten, and I wasn’t sure that there weren’t traces of mould in some of the cells (although it turned out later that what I was seeing was probably just white pollen). I remember Richard Ridler of the Essex Beekeepers Association delivering the ‘Beekeeping For Beginners’ class earlier this year, and recounting how when he and wife Jane started they almost performed their inspections with hive tool in one hand and copy of Ted Hooper’s Guide To Bees And Honey in the other. I now know exactly what he meant. Skip forward two hours and the magnificent Beekeeping Forum was able to tell me exactly what – and what not – to do, but that was after I’d sealed the hives up, having thoroughly messed both colonies around for 20 minutes.

So instead I elected to scrape away the affected cells with the ‘hook’ end of my hive tool. Fellow beekeeping novices, hear my advice: this is not a good thing to do. You will end up with a mess. See picture above left.

Other questions you may benefit from knowing the answers to are: is this beyond repair? Answer: yes, but only because the comb is past its sell-by date. What should one do with the sticky mess of uncapped stores and pollen left in the cells? Answer: throw it away and boil the frame before fitting new foundation. Is it a good idea to leave the main colony with effectively only seven frames? Answer: probably not. Now that I have however, I should keep feeding them and thank my lucky stars I’m located in the milder south of England.

I’m indebted to the members of the Beekeeping Forum for their advice.

Next week: Essex Beekeepers’ Annual Conference

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In the dark with Bill Turnbull

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Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Beekeeping books | Posted on 06-10-2010

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Arrive home at six to discover the neighbours congregated around the end of our driveway. There’s been a power cut. The electricity has been off since mid-afternoon. As I’m told this an EDF van pulls up with an engineer. Nice to see they’re on the ball.

I go inside to find the place eerily quiet. With two junior-teens in the house it’s normally lit up like a Christmas tree with them both transfixed – zombie like – by whatever is blaring out of the TV or X-Box. Now I find them sitting around (well, sprawled across the furniture) actually talking to Mrs S.

The light is fading fast so we break out the torches. I start reading a book, except that this is viewed as ‘unsociable’ by everyone else, so instead I’m persuaded to start reading aloud from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, the impending film of which we’d been discussing recently. When he was much younger I actually read the whole Harry Potter series to Lanky Teen so it’s a bit of a trip down memory lane. I’m encouraged to ‘do all the voices’. (“My Hagrid went down a storm in Woodford Green, don’t you know.”)

The Bad Beekeepers Club by Bill Turnbull

'The Bad Beekeepers Club' by Bill Turnbull - not just strictly for beekeepers

By 8.30pm the lights still haven’t come on, so Mrs S and the Ziz decide to call it a night. I can’t get to sleep that early so stay up reading to Lanky Teen, who then surprises me by asking if we can switch to Bill Turnbull’s The Bad Beekeepers Club (Sphere, ISBN 978-1-84744-398-4, GBP 12.99). If you’ve not read it yet I highly recommend you get a copy, particularly if you’re new to beekeeping. Mrs S bought it for me as a relaxation aid a month or two ago when I was in a particularly heightened state of Andy-ness.

I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t really aware who Bill Turnbull was until I read his book. I could just about identify him when told that he was, “that bloke off BBC Breakfast on the telly.” I had no idea he’d been taken to the country’s bosom as the obligatory ‘popular but hopeless’ contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. More to the point though, he’s also a beekeeper, and a very good writer to boot.

Bill’s generous starting-point is that if you’ve done anything wrong or silly while beekeeping, the chances are he’s already done it – and worse. Which of course is massively reassuring to all beginners. The sections in which he describes harvesting honey and then bottling it in the kitchen are laugh-out-loud funny.

By the time I hear the click, whirr and hum of lights and appliances coming back on it’s ten o’clock. Lanky Teen is fast asleep beside me and I’m feeling a lot better about my talents as a beekeeper. Now I just wish I was a better writer.

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