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    The Farming Today bees again

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    The Farming Today bees are getting their own blog over on the Farming Today web site. While they're finishing off the design, Chris Impey and Fran Barnes, producers and trainee beekeepers, bring us news from the hive:

    When Fran and I started this project we thought it would be an age before we started on the honey-making process - and that we'd be lucky to get a single jar in our first year. But if all goes well, our mentor Clive has assured us, we'll soon be rolling in the sticky stuff.

    We've now put a 'super' on our hive. This is essentially a second storey on top of a mesh which allows the workers through but not the queen with her larger body. It means the honeycomb cells are only filled with honey - and not brood. When I checked after two days of it being on there was already some honey in there - but only enough for a teaspoon.

    When we'll be able to start collecting honey depends on the weather. It's turned a bit cooler and wetter meaning the bees will be doing less foraging - so they'll be collecting less and feeding more off the current reserves.

    One of the best parts of our evening classes was learning about the different types of honey, and that it's what the bees forage on which influences the taste. Honey from heather for example (very strong) tastes markedly different to honey from flowers (very delicate). Ours likely to come from a variety of flowers, trees and crops, and Clive says this will make it taste what he describes as a typically English honey.

    The endemic nature of the disease varroa means it's very likely our bees already have it. Fran's off this week to do some work with Clive to monitor for it. There should be something on that on the programme soon.

    And our suits are beginning to look and smell like the real deal. No longer pristine white, they're now covered in bee poo. And they stink of smoke.

    Fran Barnes adds:

    It's official, we have 'swarmy' bees. I've just been to the hive with our mentor, Clive Joyce. Only to discover in the 7 days of rain we've had the bees have been very busy. Unfortunately their efforts have not been directed into the honey-making deparment (it being too wet for them to fly mostly) but, instead, they have been making many Queen cups.

    This is not good news. Queen cups are the spherical cells which a new Queen grows in. For the uninitiated (which included me up to a couple of weeks ago), the worker bees occasionally decide they want a new Queen (or 10 in our case). They then create big round cells which the current Queen lays an egg in. The workers then fill this with Royal Jelly to create a very large, fully formed bee - a Queen.

    We really don't want more than one Queen in a hive as the bees will swarm off with the old Queen to create a new colony. When that happens the chances of getting any honey are remote. We 'dealt with' the Queen cells and will have to be very vigilant over the next few months. We're slightly mystified why they're doing this, usually bees only produce extra Queens and swarm when they run out of room. The Farming Today hive is still as spacious as a New York loft apartment.

    If the bees do swarm and take our current Queen with them this would be very annoying, particularly as we've only just named her. She's called "Auntie" - thanks to all your suggestions - from the intellectual, to the surreal (Kenneth?). We need to keep Auntie happy in her hive.

    While there, Clive also put in a varroa floor. This will enable us to count the dead varroa mite which fall through the holes of the new floor onto a piece of white cardboard. Any more than 6 a day is a problem apparently. Watch this space next week. Would love to hear your comments about swarmy bees and your efforts to control varroa mite. Anyone harvested any honey yet?

    Fran Barnes is a producer at Farming Today

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