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The bees at Swan Barn Farm have done really well this year. We have two colonies, and they each have very different patterns of foraging behaviour. The bees from one of them are always busy, always out and about gathering, making and doing. The other hive’s bees rarely get up early, they often don’t stir till mid morning, and even then take some time to get into the swing of the day. For a while I was worried that one must have some form of disease, but we have been making careful inspections all year, and nothing has shown up. It still might of course as we get into the winter, but for now we just have to conclude that they have different characters. Oddly they both still managed to produce a crop of honey, the busy bees more than the lazy ones, but even the lazy ones have provided a better harvest than I expected.

Watching the bees from the hive entrance is always fascinating, there is a great book on the subject out there that is well worth finding and reading. It can tell you so much about what the bees are doing, what they are like, and what is going on the the countryside around the hives.

A few weeks ago we made our apologies to the bees and took our share of this years harvest.

removing honey from hives

In the frame above you can see where the comb has been filled with honey and then capped over with beeswax. We took the frames into the basecamp kitchen and cut the cappings off with a sharp knife

uncapping honey

The frames then went into our new extractor (a centrifuge for getting the honey out of honeycomb) where the frames were spun to liberate the golden harvest.

extractor

From the extractor the honey was filtered into a settling tank, before being bottled. This is the only processing it gets. No heat treatment, no mixing or blending, just fresh from the hive and about as local and wonderful as you can get.

honey pouring from extractor

Swan Barn Farm Honey

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Coming up on the 1st October (10.30 till 3) we have a community apple pressing day here at Swan Barn Farm. It will be an opportunity to see the Speckled Wood Building, as well as to take part in pressing and processing any surplus apples you can get your hands on. The idea is that you bring along any apples you can beg, borrow or scrump and then join in the fun of chopping them, feeding them through our scratter (which crushes them) and then the apple press to produce the finest tasting apple juice you will ever come across.

The scratter and press are both historic pieces of equipment, and people have a lot of fun helping us to operate them. The team here will check how many apples you brought and then dole out a fair portion of juice for you to take home. You can either enjoy it fresh over the next couple of days, or, even better still, follow the instructions we give you to turn it into cider!

The team here have been responsible over recent years for planting 3 new orchards, and will also be on hand to try and answer any of your apple or orchard based questions.

If you can’t find any apples (and I’m sure a bit of inginuity will lead to finding a few) you can always just come along, partake of the tea and cake that will be on offer and join in the fun processing and pressing the fruit. The postcode for the Farm is GU27 2HU, hope to see you there!

Meanwhile, back in the orchard, the bees have been busy making honey. This was recently removed from the hive for processing. They are a new colony this year, and as such I had not been expecting much of a crop, but they have done really well, and we should get a few jars so our volunteers can get a taste of the local wildflowers.

The bee’s store the honey in a box called a super (because its for honey which is superfluous to their needs) which sits at the top of the hive above their nest.

The frames within a beehive encourage them to build nice straight combs, this makes handling and managing the bees much easier as without frames the combs can twist and turn all over the place. This is fine for the bee’s, but makes the beekeepers life a bit problematic. You can see this effect in the piece of honeycomb in the picture below which one of my colonies recently built inside the roof space in their hive.

When the supers get back to the honey processing room (kitchen in my case) each frame has its cappings cut off and is then put into the extractor.

The extractor is like a sort of giant spin drier, it spins the frames round fast and the honey flies out of them and collects at the bottom of the vessel.

The honey is then filtered and bottled. I don’t heat treat it or change it in any way, it comes in the jar just as the bee’s made it, a natural product which is full of character and of benefit to the local environment. Honey bee’s are having a really tough time of things at the moment, and without beekeepers to look after them would have pretty much dissappeered from the countryside. The problems are caused by a parrasitic mite which sucks the blood of the bee’s and spreads diseases. This mite is very difficult for them to control without help and can kill off entire colonies in no time at all. We all rely heavily on honey bees, both for our food and polination of many species of flower and tree. The simple action of putting honey from a local beekeeper on your toast in the morning can have knock on benefits across the countryside.

There are a number of ways of managing the mites in a colony, I try to avoid chemical input wherever possible, and one of the methods I use is placing a small tray of thyme oil in the colony after the honey has been removed.

This natural oil has a narcotic effect on the mites, knocking them off the back of the bees. Its just one of a range of weapons being deployed at the moment in defence of the bees.

This years honey crop turned out to be a big surprise to me. Haslemere is surrounded by heathland, and for all the time I have been beekeeping people have been telling me how lucky I must be to get heather honey. Its a highly sought after product which commands a high price. Up till now though I have hardly ever had any, the heather is often really difficult for the bee’s to work, as it flowers when the colony is starting to wind down for the winter. Its a useful source of winter feed, but I rarely see any in my jars.

This year though the supers were packed full fo the stuff. I did the extracting with a freind who is also a beekeeper, we were extracting from three diffent apiary sites around the town, mine, his and Swan Barn Farm, and each one of them was packed full of heather honey. Fantastic tasting stuff and as I said highly thought of, but an absolute pain to extract. It is one of the only substances in the world which is thixotropic, this means when it is stirred or agitated it turns liquid, but when it stands still it is a solid, most unusual. The extractor got properly clogged up and we made a bit of a mess. We managed to get it out of the combs in the end, but it was really difficult work. I had noticed the heather was flowering really nicely this year, but hadn’t been expecting this. Its the first time I have seen it in eight years of beekeeping, I wonder when I will see it again?

 

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