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Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Friday, 13 August 2010 13:36 UK
Bee Part Of It: Follow the progress of Norfolk's hive
Elaine Gibbs examining a bee hive at Felbrigg Hall
Bee buddies Fiona Lilley and Elaine Gibbs will report on the hive's progress

BBC Norfolk is housing its own bees for the Bee Part Of It campaign in a hive at Felbrigg Hall.

The bees are being cared for by avid beekeepers Fiona Lilley and Elaine Gibbs.

The weather is now warm and the bees are thriving in their hive, which is being held at the hall near Cromer throughout the summer of 2010.

Follow the progress of the BBC Norfolk bee hive as Fiona and Elaine report on the bees' progress.

Bookmark this page and follow the bees' activities over the summer months.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The beekeeping season is beginning to draw to a close. It seems strange to say this as it's only the beginning of August, but for our hives here at Felbrigg, the main nectar flow is over.

I carried out a routine inspection of the hive on Friday, 30 July and took the decision that the bees had collected sufficient honey for me to be able to take some off the hive.

They had stored ample for their own needs in the brood chambers and they had filled about 80% of the frames in their honey super.

The bees had converted the nectar into honey and the cells on the comb were capped with wax as they should be once the honey is 'ripe'.

The term ripe is used by beekeepers to indicate that the bees have evaporated the moisture content of the nectar to the correct point where it becomes honey as we recognise it.

The next step before the box of honey frames can be taken from the hive it to clear all the bees out of it.

Sieving Felbrigg Hall honey

This is done by placing a clearer board between the honey super and the brood chamber (or the super below if that one is not ready for removal).

The clearer board is simply a solid board of the same dimensions of the hive with one or two holes in the centre.

A small device is fitted over the holes on one side of the board which allows the bees passage out of the box but prevents them from being able to return - like a simple one-way valve.

This is left in place for at least 24 hours to allow the bees time to exit from the box and then when you return to remove the box, it should be empty of bees!

I returned very early on Sunday morning (6.30am) to take away the box of honey frames. The removal of honey should be done either very early in the morning or late in the evening so that the bees are not very active.

The less bees flying around to realise that you are stealing their honey the better!

Having removed the box successfully, I loaded it into the back of my car with several others from the hives here at Felbrigg and took them home.

I spent the best part of Sunday extracting the honey from the frames using my manual extractor, finally finishing at about 6.30pm.

The honey is extracted from the frames of the honey comb using an extractor. Extractors can be either manual (meaning they are hand cranked) or electric, which makes extracting a large number of frames less arduous.

As mine is manual it involved a lot of cranking the handle and ending up with one arm having muscles like Popeye.

Jars of honey from Felbrigg Hall
The finished product - the honey from the BBC Norfolk bees at Felbrigg Hall

Before frames can be loaded into the extractor they must be uncapped, which involves removing the wax from the top of the cells. If this isn't done the honey cannot be spun out of the frames.

I use an uncapping fork to do this - it is a comb with long and very sharp tines which are angled upwards.

My manual extractor holds three frames at a time which are loaded into a free-spinning holding cage standing on their side edge.

The extractor handle is then cranked which spins the internal cage thus spinning out the honey by way of centrifugal force.

The honey is drained from the extractor through a valve in the bottom of the drum and into a bucket through a double sieve.

The sieve strains out any particles of wax or bee parts which may have got into the honey when extracting, leaving the honey nice and clear and ready for putting into jars.

The extracting is a long, tiring and sticky process, but it all seems worth it when you see the honey bottled into jars lined up on your shelf.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The hive is progressing very well. Elaine and I do once-a-week inspections to make sure that all is well and keep up with the bees' needs.

The hive is now on what beekeepers term 'brood and a half" which means that as well as having the regular large brood box, it also has a slightly smaller box on top.

This is because the queen is laying so prolifically that she needed the extra room for the new brood.

The colony is not large as far as colonies go, but it is still building up nicely and should be strong enough by the autumn to go into the winter with a good chance of surviving.

Several weeks ago I optimistically put a honey super on the hive, which the bees have started to fill with nectar.

Bee foraging for pollen at Felbrigg Hall
BBC Norfolk's honeybees are settling into their new surroundings

On inspecting the hive last Friday (2 July) I placed a second honey super on the hive - but don't start to get excited and assume that this means there will be buckets full of honey!

We might be lucky enough to get a surplus honey crop but there are no guarantees. I would never harvest honey to the detriment of the colony's health and wellbeing.

The whole point of the campaign is to help boost the honeybee population and not just for honey production.

The additional honey super has several purposes. It will give the bees extra storage space for nectar as the main nectar flow starts to come in over the next few weeks. It also ensures that the bees don't fill the brood nest cells with the nectar, thus robbing the queen of valuable egg-laying space.

As the weather has been so hot over the past couple of weeks it also gives the bees more room and will help to keep the hive cooler because they are less crowded.

Here's hoping the good weather continues, but some overnight rain or heavy dews would be good to keep the flowers and plants producing that much needed nectar.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

We moved the BBC bees from the nucleus box into their proper hive on Wednesday evening.

Weather conditions were just right - it was warm but not too hot.

The bees can get a little stressed when performing a manoeuvre like this, so it was important that the weather wasn't too hot. Bees can quickly overheat when they become agitated!

Beekeeper lifts the hive's lid
With the recent warm weather, the time came to transfer the bees

The transfer itself went very smoothly. It is just a case of gently lifting the frames one by one out of the small nucleus box and into the proper brood box of the new hive (situated in exactly the same place as the nucleus box was sited).

As the nucleus box only held five frames and the new full size brood box holds ten, we needed to add extra frames.

Fortunately I had some which had already had the wax cells drawn out by bees from another hive, so this will make life easier for the BBC bees.

Instead of the queen having to wait until the worker bees have drawn out the wax foundation sheets into the hexagonal wax cells of the comb, she can instantly begin to lay her eggs.

The bees are steadily building up in numbers as the first eggs have now hatched.

As she can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day it doesn't take too long for a small hive to quickly become a big hive full of approximately 50,000 bees!

Friday, 21 May 2010

As the weather has been quite cold until recently, I have been feeding the bees with a sugar syrup to ensure that they have enough food to keep them going.

The bees will be moved to their hive when the conditions are right

Over the past week the bees have been making the most of the change in the weather and are very busy coming and going from the hive on forage trips.

The workers are bringing back lots of pollen which is a great sign that the colony is expanding and the queen is laying lots of eggs. The pollen will be used to feed the new brood.

I took a quick look inside the nucleus box on Tuesday, 18 May, and the brood nest now covers most of the five frames in the box.

I expect to transfer the bees into the large hive next week.

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