LOTS OF UPS AND ONE MAJOR DOWN..

“BE PREPARED” ••• “TO BE LET DOWN”

Lets start with the “Downer.” I did wonder whether to put this on the blog but then I thought about it and I did say in the very beginning that this would be a blog that follows me through the ups and downs of my beekeeping year.

On Tuesday I did my usual Singing For The Brain in Aylesbury for the Alzheimer’s Society. For those who don’t know that side of me, I sing with a lovely guy called Colin, who plays the guitar and does the harmonies, as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Society. I do this every Tuesday and I love it. Singing really is good for the brain, heart and soul and we always have a giggle in Aylesbury. After that, Colin and I have a bite to eat and then we go on To Kent House, which is a rehabilitation centre for people with critical head injuries. This is a very different gig to SFB. It’s more intense and therefore quite hard but nonetheless I love it, as I do, all the lovely guys and gals we sing with. Tuesday’s are my singing days! After KH I had to rush home and get one of the Barns all ready for new clients to arrive - another thing I do, manage three barns in The Chilterns for short term letting. But that was relatively easy as all I had to do was pop in a welcome pack as all had been inspected the day before. So my day was nearly done, all I had left to do was prepare supper and go and sort out the horses with their supper etc. I was preparing a roast and the whole time I was thinking to myself ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’ but I couldn’t figure out why it felt wrong so I carried on regardless. Walking Miss Tilly, (my dog), up to the horses I had a feeling that things were not as they should be, but no alarm bells rang…UNTIL…my phone rang. “Hi, where are you? You said you needed 30 minutes to set up and all the Guides have arrived.” Where was I? In the middle of a water logged paddock with a soaking wet dog, two drenched horses and a couple of sodden ponies up to my ankles in rain - that’s where I was - My heart started to pound. I knew the second I heard the voice asking where I was.. where I was supposed to be.. and why I hadn’t felt right prepping the dinner..because I had said to R as he left in the morning.. “You’ll have do do supper and the horses for me this evening as I’m in Ivinghoe talking to some Girl Guides..” Oh my dear sweet Lord. My first disaster. I gabbled at 100 mph while running through the paddock with Miss Tilly nipping at my heels.. “I’m sorry, I ‘m so so sorry.. I’ll run home, I’ll jump in the car and I’ll be with you in 30 minutes, I’ll… Natasha, the voice on the other end of the line, was, I am sure, doing her best not to sound cross, let down, and any other metaphor one can conjure up, but failing as much as I was failing to stay calm. I apologised profusely and I could feel her just wanting to get me off the phone so she could run outside of the village hall and scream before re-entering to tell the Guides that the Author/Beekeeper would not be there for the talk this evening in a calm and controlled manner. The phone went dead. I stopped in the middle of the next field and text her immediately saying how sorry I was and how, if she would invite me again, I would do the talk - of course - free of charge. Poor Miss Tilly sat in the wet grass, looking up at me, head slightly tilted to one side, the rain dripping from her ears, wondering why I had stopped, it was after all pouring down and I looked as if I had had a bucket of water thrown at me. I pressed ‘send’ and proceeded to walk home feeling enraged with myself for not checking my diary in the morning or for that matter, afternoon. I felt really ashamed. What a let down. A let down for the Guides and a let down for myself. I got home and R was already in the kitchen dishing up the supper. “Weren’t you supposed to be..” “Don’t” I said “Just don’t. I need a glass of wine.” I didn’t get a text back from Natasha. Fair call, I thought, she will be with the Guides now thinking of something else to do with them. I would be very low on her priority list right now.

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It got worse. Can it? I hear you say. Yes. At 9.20 my phone went “ting” I rushed to the kitchen and picked it up.. a message from Natasha.. No. It was a message from my client in one of the barns saying “I think this message is meant for someone else Meriet” I could feel my heart sink lower, I’m not sure how much lower it could have sunk, but it did. I had sent my apologetic text to the wrong bloody number… I dragged myself up to bed and buried myself under the duvet feeling like Scarlett O’Hara when she says “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and the first thing I did was email Natasha a grovelling apologetic email. And I felt no shame in grovelling as I was sincerely mortified. This sad tale has, I am delighted to say, a happy ending. Natasha emailed me. We have another date in the diary… 9th July… It is engrained in my brain and written everywhere. My house looks like Jim Carery’s office in Bruce Almighty. Fussake.

And so to the ups in the week and there were plenty!

Let’s begin with Chesham Bois School. Wonderful reception from the teachers and the children alike. Hopefully, as I always say, pictures will follow at some point. As we are all aware, parents permission has to be given for their children’s images to be used on the blog and schools are very busy places.. I have to be very patient! It was such a dreadful day weather wise but the honeybees managed to put a smile on everyones face during my talk and at the end the teacher’s had a “whip round” and paid me more than my invoice as they said it was such a great afternoon for the children. Well that’s a first! I was chuffed - make no mistake and of course, they bought a book for the school so a very successful day indeed. Finally I received this lovely letter from the children themselves..

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Lunch with Councillor Mimi Harker OBE, Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Council and Wycombe Sound Radio Presenter. This lovely lady interviewed me a couple of months ago on the radio and this was a “stay in touch’ luncheon at the end of which I had been booked to give a talk on the stage at The Amersham Festival on Saturday 20th July. I will also have a stand where I will be selling and signing copies of Betsie Valentine, which is by the way on it’s third print run as I type! So put that date in your diary. It’s going to be a great day out for the family and come and say hello to me on my stand!

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Following lunch with Mimi I had an appointment at Neptune in Chesham. They had approached me to do an event at their Chesham Branch in August. Lovely meeting with Polly. It all sounds very exciting. I will be giving a couple of talks, one mid-morning and one mid afternoon. I will let you know the date as soon as I do! Again, do come along. Neptune is a beautiful shop so definitely worth a visit honeybees or not! Do have a look at their website https://www.neptune.com/our-stores/uk/chesham/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=local&utm_campaign=GoogleLocal-Chesham and you will probably find yourself visiting there before I do my talk… if you are anything like me!

The First Naphill Brownies…. What can I say? Really great talk there. The girls were very lively and joined in the questions and answers with great gusto! Brown Owl (Ruth) and Bluebell (Catherine) were really lovely. We over ran time wise and the parents ended up coming in right at the end for the questions and answers and it was really lovely for them to see how much there children had engaged with the whole subject. As a result, possibly, maybe, who knows, but quite a few books were sold and signed. Again images to follow. Finally, another first.. one of the Brownies presented me with a lovely bouquet of bee friendly flowers. I am ashamed to say I can’t remember the name of them but I was really touched.

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Finally the week ended on a high. I spent the afternoon at the Twickenham and Thames Valley Beekeepers Association. They are celebrating their centenary and had an open day. I met them at The National Honey Show last year and they bought a batch of books from me earlier in the year to give to all the schools that visit them throughout this year. They invited me to come and give talks, book readings and signings. I did three separate talks that, as a result of the volume of interest and the questions that followed, I managed two cold cups of tea and half a slice of delicious homemade coffee and walnut cake (my favourite, incidentally!) throughout the entire afternoon.. I did not stop! It was a fabulous afternoon. They have a very enviable set up. Somewhat like The Bee Centre in Preston. They have their own site where they have hives, with hides where the children/adults can watch and/or take part in hive inspections. Rooms for members to hire for next to nothing where they can spin their honey. A lovely café and a science room! The picture below was taken by one of their members and the comment was put up on their facebook page. Boom!

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And so to the honeybees. At last I hear you cry!

“Amelie’s Hive”  Six frames now covered..

“Amelie’s Hive” Six frames now covered..

The weather has been so awful, I was honestly not sure I would manage to do an inspection at all. However there was a very brief rest bite on Monday so I took a dive in to all four hives, well three and one nuc to be precise. The good news is they are all going well. The queens are laying and hopefully by July the two split hives will be full of bees and ready for the summer forage! If not I will have to join them together as one strong hive will be more productive than two weak ones. Makes sense, but one hates to lose a laying queen. I would actually put her in a nuc with some nurse bees in the hopes it would build up enough during the summer months to a reasonable strength to get her through the winter. But that’s just a thought in the back of my mind. I told them “you have two more weeks to sort yourselves out girls!.” So they know they are on a warning!

“Amelie’s Hive”  Lovely wall to wall brood. Clever girls.

“Amelie’s Hive” Lovely wall to wall brood. Clever girls.

I had a lovely card from Amelie, see below, telling me she is doing a Speak Out about the honeybees for a Brownie Badge which absolutely delighted me. I have told her the next guaranteed warm weekend we will put a date in the diary for her to come and do another inspection. The Nuc I put together with the queen cells from the split hive is doing ok. I am not sure what is going on but I have seen the queen and there seemed to be evidence of eggs. But there are not many nurse bees in there, but for the first time in a couple of weeks I saw a couple of bees flying in and out and I don’t think they were robber bees. If they were they didn’t have masks on or stockings over their heads so it was difficult to tell! Seriously.. I am watching it very carefully. I couldn’t look for too long as the weather wasn’t great and I didn’t want to subject the eggs to too much scrutiny. It is one to keep an eye on..

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This blog started on a low…. has lots of lovely high’s and finishes on a really positive note.

The 1st Ivinghoe & Pitsone Guides, who I let down.. have, I am thrilled and relieved to say, re-booked me for the 9th July. Thank you guys!

I will leave you with a lovely picture I took up at the yard where I keep my horse. The humble bumble bees showing their fortitude and determination during the dreadful weather we have been having. The very moment the sun appeared between the heavy showers they too appeared in their dozens on these glorious fox gloves to keep on with their good work. See if you can see the one tucked up inside the flower!

The Humble Bumble Bee..

The Humble Bumble Bee..

A HIVE NAMED AMELIE

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And so it was that last Christmas a lovely lady, Lorraine, bought a copy of Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees for her eight year old daughter Amelie. She told me her daughter was fascinated by the honeybees and asked if she could come over when the bee season got underway and visit my apiary. I, of course, said I would be delighted. I Thought little more of it, when into my inbox last week popped an email from this Lorraine reminding me of her purchase, her daughters continuing interest and now, having read BV, her interest was ever more increased and could she come over and visit my bees? Of course, absolutely she can was my instant response.

This is not such an easy thing to organise. I tend to look at my bees as and when I can. I always check them once a week, weather permitting, but it is weather and work dependent now-a-days, i.e., good weather forecast, early finish to my day, go and have a look at the bees. I explained this to Lorraine, but said the first weekend with a good forecast I would make an appointment with myself to visit the bees and let her know straight away! Well, last weekend was such a weekend, so I emailed Lorraine and told her to put Saturday 1st June - 12 o’clock - in the diary!

Lorraine, her husband Paul and Amelie duly arrived. Amelie was quite shy, well you would be wouldn’t you! I thought I would give her the whole bee hive inspection experience and sat her down and talked her through how I kept notes after each bee inspection and showed her the notes on what had to be done on the next inspection. I had been through all the hives the day before as they are quite buzzy and sorted them all out and decided that the blue hive, the split hive from my original one, was the least buzzy. Even though I had lifted the lid, I left the inspection for Amelie and explained to her we were looking for evidence of a queen, i.e., eggs and brood and if possible to find the Queen and possibly mark her. Off we went. In the car, on our way to the apiary, I said that if at any moment she felt it was all too much she simply had to say and her mother would be on standby in a bee suit and she could walk away and I would close up the hive and it would not be a problem at all. The only surprised one was Lorraine at being told she too would be in a suit, standing by, to the side of the hive, taking pictures of the event!

Amelie was a star. She never lost confidence for a moment. When I took the lid off the hive and she saw the bees her first reaction was “Oh, aren’t they lovely, they are so small.” She didn’t back away and the honeybees behaved themselves. I took the queen excluder off and she could now properly see all the house bees going about their business. As I always explain during my talks, the house bees are not bothered by your presence they are too busy getting on with all their various jobs. It is the flying bees and guard bees who pop up and behind the hive to see what you are up to. If you stay quiet and calm they soon lose interest and buzz off! It was a beautiful day, we went up at 12.30 so most of the flying bees were out foraging and far too busy to bother with us on their return, apart from a few. Amelie took to it like a natural and stayed perfectly calm and engrossed in what she was doingl when they came to have a look at us and she certainly wasn’t bothered at all about the few who settled on her suit , she simply carried on looking through the brood box with me. We had seen the eggs and brood and we continued our search for the Queen. We found her which was great but didn’t mark her as I had mislaid my Queen clip so couldn’t catch her!

We gently closed up the hive and came back to the house. We sat down together and wrote down what we had seen on my notes and put in what was required on my next week inspection notes… “Mark The Queen!” I then went back to my notes and said I had decided to call The Green Hive - ‘Amelie’s Hive” - and she was welcome to come over again and also help spin off the honey from that hive when the time came.

I got the feeling she really enjoyed the time she had spent and just before she left she gave me the lovely little paper weight bee she had made especially for me. It is on my desk as I tap away, smiling at me with its cheeky smile and rosy cheeks. I love it!.

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My gorgeous little paper weight. I love her rosy cheeks and cheeky smile!

My gorgeous little paper weight. I love her rosy cheeks and cheeky smile!

Tuesday 4th June and I took off for Seaford. Seaford is where Tegan Sharrard lives. Tegan, of course being the illustrator of Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees. She was coming with me to a couple of talks at local schools. One of which her daughters go to.

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My first talk was at The Seaford Rainbows on the Tuesday evening. When I arrived they asked me if I would stay on and give a talk to the Brownies as it was raining and their planned evening could not go ahead as they had planned something in the garden so a talk about the honeybees would be a bonus. Well I wasn’t going to say no! You know me by now.. The more children, adults I can talk to about the honeybees the better!

It went really well. I love this image of a couple of the girls who, after buying a copy of BV, sat down in the middle of the hall and started reading it, oblivious to the comings and goings of Rainbows leaving and Brownies arriving! Hopefully there will be a few more images to add to this blog sometime soon.

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The following day was very exciting. Tegan was meeting me at the first school, Anecy Roman Catholic Primary School. She said she didn’t want to talk but was happy to go through and show the original pictures to the children after my talk. There were about four different years that came in and three girls from the Brownies the night before were all smiles when they saw me. I was absolutely thrilled… they knew most of the answers to my questions, although I told them I would let the other children try and answer first and then I would come to them for the answer. One of them even remembered the word ‘propolis.’ Propolis, by the way, is a robust natural product made by bees from plant resins. Bees use Propolis to protect and sterilise the beehive. It acts as the immune defence mechanism for the whole hive. They may not have remembered that but they remembered the name! At the end of the talk, it was play time and as I was packing up. A lovely lad came in and asked me to come outside and look at the bumble bees that were on the plants in their garden. We stood together, outside, chatting about the bumble bees for quite a while. It was lovely. A good result. After the talk we talked to the Headmaster who was so impressed by how the children were, his words, “buzzing” about the talk, he bought 5 books, one for each year of his school. Boom! It’s not just about the book sales it’s the continued learning about the honeybees while they are still… well… buzzing!

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On to Seaford Primary School. I can just ditto the above paragraph. It went really very well. Hopefully we will get pictures soon from Seaford Primary School that I can use on this blog. The children, as always engaged with the talk and left the classroom very excited. It was the last lesson of the day so the school set me up outside with the books, so parents could buy a book from me directly and both Tegan and I could, of course, sign them. I now have a book signed by Tegan!

I do love a beach hut..

I do love a beach hut..

I stayed the night with my dear friend Judith and her lovely husband Eion and in the morning decided, on the way home, I would stop off and take a walk along the seafront. I love the sea. So I went to Seaford and took a stroll along the beach. I spotted a little café, Frankie’s Beach Café, on the seafront and bought myself a coffee. I was chatting to the two lovely ladies who ran it, Deborah and Beatrice, and told them I was on my way home but couldn’t resist half an hour on the beach. They asked why I was in Seaford and I explained I had been giving talks at the local schools about the honeybees. A lady behind me piped up and said “Are you the bee lady who was at Seaford Primary School yesterday. “I am” I said “T’was me t’is me!” “Oh,” she said, “my son came home ‘buzzing’ with excitement about the honeybees. He told me all about the fanning bees, the guard bees, the waggle dance bees and your book. He was so excited I went on line to see who you were and ordered a copy!” “Your book?” chorused Deborah and Beatrice. “Yes” said the lady behind me, now standing beside me. “It looks lovely, we can’t wait for it to arrive.” “Can I buy a copy for my grandson?” asked Deborah. I went to the car and got her a copy. “Can I buy a copy for me?” said Beatrice… I went back to the car! When I got back they said I should go to a lovely gift shop in Old Seaford High Street called Onneke and tell her a local artist had done the illustrations, she may be interested. I thanked them very much, took my now tepid coffee down on to the pebbles and sat for half an hour mulling everything over. Feeling very chuffed with how things are going I drove to the old high street, found the shop and sure enough Onneke bought 5 copies on the spot!. I drove home smiling all the way!

Deborah on the left and Beatrice on the right.

Deborah on the left and Beatrice on the right.

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Lovely little gift shop that now sells, among her gorgeous cards, paintings and gifts, Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees.

Lovely little gift shop that now sells, among her gorgeous cards, paintings and gifts, Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees.

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I arrived home at about 3.30, walked in to the kitchen and there was a letter there for me. I opened it up and there was a lovely homemade card and below is the message inside. I had to show you as this is exactly what it is all about. Educating and inspiring young children. I look forward to seeing her badge.

See you next week!


ANOTHER GREAT WEEK!

RED, YELLOW, GREEN AND BLUE

Well what a week this has been. Let’s start with the bees, after all they are the reason we are here, literally!

The shook swarm I did with the Red Hive last week worked! I know I am guilty of overusing the exclamation mark but I think that statement deserved one. That poor queen, since the day she arrived has been, twice put up in to a brood box above her original one in the hope she would stay there and lay, and twice disappeared back down below. I don’t know how as I put on a queen excluder to stop her going down, but she has managed it. So twice, when inspecting the top brood box, I thought I had lost her, only to discover she had found her way back down below but still no sign of laying. So, if you remember, last week I gave up, interfered with nature and shook all the bees, including said “Houdini queen” in to the new box, (a very unconventional thing to do, to say the least, and not recommended), and I finally took the old brood box away.. sacrificing brood as the frames were a different size and wouldn’t fit in the new hive.

Oh what joy when I went in for a peek on Monday morning, there she was laying eggs, as happy as a queen be could be in a thriving hive of honeybees. The brood, already developing, and lots of lovely covered brood. Oh what glee, what joy, what bliss! I can only assume, from all this, is she was not a mated queen when she arrived and therefore was small enough to squeeze through the queen excluder. The drones in this area obviously took her fancy and we are off and running. Another exclamation mark coming up…. boom!

In the hive I took from my friend, the Yellow Hive, the queen has chewed her way out but as yet no sign of her. Early days. Patience is a word we teach “newbies” who are always so eager to see things happening. It can take six weeks from no queen to laying queen. I reckon, next hive inspection should see some results in that hive.

My original hive, the Green Hive, which I split, is going great guns. I have added another super - which means there are now three on there. If it needs another I may have to do an early spin of a couple of the supers as I am not tall enough to cope with four supers on the top! Also, I think it looks a bit wobbly and I worry about predators, deer, badgers, possibly knocking it over. The queen is laying and all is well.

Finally, the Blue Hive, which is the one I split from the the Green Hive, (i.e., artificial swarm) is still in the early stages as mentioned above. The queen has emerged but has as yet to do her orientation flight and then her mating flight. And, even then it will be a few more days before she starts laying. Another couple of weeks I think. It is about 2 weeks behind the Yellow Hive.

Lots to think about. We now have what we call the ‘June Gap’ which is when the Spring blossom fades and the summer blooms begin to appear. During this time I can keep an eye on the Yellow and Green hive and see how they develop. If they take off, ie., a prolific queen in each then I will leave well alone. If the queens or one of the queens is slow then it is better to unite them to make one strong hive. Better one strong hive than two weak ones. The weak ones will not produce much honey and a strong one, obviously will. If this happens I will offer a laying queen to a club members as a free laying queen can be a blessing to someone struggling.

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So a successful week with the bees..

Just a note.. this image of a queen surrounded by her attendants is not one of mine. Having found the queen safe and sound in the Red Hive, I didn ‘t want to cause any more disruption to her and chance taking a photograph, I feel she has been through enough. This is a screen grab from google images.

THE BEE CENTRE

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I love The Bee Centre in Preston. It is my second visit there and it’s always so enjoyable. It is a wonderful place. They are in the grounds of a beautiful Manor, Salmesbury Hall. They are a centre of excellence for bee-related education. They have a wonderful set up with a visual hive on the inside of the centre and their actual hives are in full view of the visitors so people can watch, through a huge window, a hive inspection while they explain what it is they are doing through loud speakers. I love the whole ethos. The couple that run it, Simon and Kath, together with their children who help are really warm and welcoming.

I set up a table with Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees at a craft fair they had organised as part of their World Bee Day Celebrations. All the stands were bee related apart from the Hedgehog which deserve a place anywhere they can and the Bonsai stand which was amazing. I didn’t just stay at my table, I wondered around chatting to people about the bees and assisted while Emma did a split hive on the outside and I explained what she was doing and why. The children and adults were all fascinated by the honeybees and it was such a great experience being able to show the children, who were fascinated by the visual hive both a waggle dance and an undertaker bee at work.

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It was only 5.30 when we had finished so I decided tootle off to Blackpool which was only about 25 minutes from the hotel I was staying in. Nothing to do with bees but I had a wonderful time and thought I would share some of the photographs I took. Betsie and I left there having made our mark in the sands of Blackpool.

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DYB DYB DYB - DOB DOB DOB

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And so, upon my return I found myself with the 1st Fulmer Scout Group. Did you know DYB means Do Your Best and DOB means Do Our Best? I didn’t until last week. I always wondered and now I know! Akela (Derek Fulmer) booked me to give a talk and bought 16 copies before I even arrived. The Scouts were lovely and the talk went very well. I signed all their books and then the next day I received this email from Derek.

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Hello Meriet,

The Cubs just loved the evening. My sons are all abuzz with the facts and stories. As I write this Owen has his head in your book and Loic is looking into buying a hive. 

It was an educational, entertaining and wonderful evening. The Cubs will have a whole new appreciation for bees and just how challenging a life they lead. Certainly opens one’s eyes to the nature that surrounds us. 

Thank you for the time and energy you put into the evening. 

Well.. it doesn’t come better than that.


IN THE GARDEN

Wednesday took me to Chestnut Lane School in Amersham. It was a beautiful morning and the teacher who had organised my visit asked me if I would mind giving the talk outside in the Children’s Garden. This was a first and hopefully will not be a last. It was an inspired idea and we were even joined by a couple of honeybees. It didn’t take them long to smell the wax which had the delicious scent of the remains of honey on it. As soon as I realised this was attracting them I tucked it away asap and off they buzzed. It was actually quite an interesting moment because when the honeybees appeared a couple of the children, understandably, became concerned, however with the help of the teachers who were listening to the talk we allayed their fears and assured them that the honeybees were not interested in them but the wax on the table. I told them not to make any sudden movements as they flew past and the honeybees would ignore them and ignore them they did. This was helpful to actually point out to them that honeybees are too busy to wonder what you are doing in their garden, they are on a mission to collect nectar and pollen to take back to their hive! It worked - the children saw it for themselves! Pictures from the talk to follow soon I hope. Again I received a lovely email from the Headmistress saying that the children were still buzzing in assembly the following morning.

WATFORD OBSERVER

Finally, a great end to another great week which has seen me getting emails every day requesting honeybee talks and all this is before the article below in the Watford Observer.

PS.. Tobi is home from his tour in America so I have the microphone back. A Pod Cast will be recorded and put up as soon as I can find a spare moment in this busy buzzy time I am so enjoying.

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BETSIE CONTINUES TO FLY

Last week went by in a flash. I embarked on a Queen Rearing Course, which I was really looking forward to when I realised quite early on that I am too busy to do it! Is this a good thing? Well, on the one hand yes, because I am busy with Betsie Valentine which is doing everything and more than I could have imagined. Actually, now I have said that, I am not going to erase it but amend it.. Betsie Valentine is doing every bit as well as I had imagined it would.. that’s better! And no, going back a sentence, because I really wanted to learn about Queen Rearing, especially after last year when I had such a disastrous year with Queens. Ah well, I will have to leave the Queen Rearing to others and get on with what I love best.. talking about the Honeybees.

Lovely talk at Ley Hill School on Wednesday. It was so nice stepping back inside the school. My two youngest boys went there and I used to photograph the children at the dress rehearsal of their nativity play. The school would then sell the photographs of the children, all dressed up in their nativity outfits, to the parents and that was my good deed for the school. I wondered how many of the children I talked to were the children of the children I photographed!

I also attended Turnfurlong School Fête in Aylesbury. They set aside a classroom for me where I gave three separate talks throughout the day about, of course, the honeybees. It actually went very well and the feedback as always was extremely positive. I love that so many people want to know about the honeybees and are fascinated by them and ultimately, at the end of the talk, leave saying “well I didn’t know that” or “I have learned so much” That is a “Boom” moment for me.

And so, on to my bees. Well, as I expected my hive that I brought through the winter has expanded to the degree that when I did my inspection I found Queen Cells. I was prepared. I had taken a spare hive up with the intension of doing an artificial swarm and an artificial swarm I did indeed do. It went well. I hope you can read the diagram below..

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I collected a hive of bees from a friends house that she, Sally, had prepared for me. It was touch and go as to whether I would bring it back at this stage. This stage being, It had two sealed queen cells in it. The problem with moving a hive like this is its fragility. I spoke to another friend, a more experienced beekeeper about the pro’s and cons of moving it. The ‘con’ being damaging the, as yet, unborn queen, which would have been a disaster. The pro’s being having the hive on my site when she is born. If I waited for her to be born it would be another 3 weeks before she started laying and could be moved. She would have to go to someone elses house first who lived further away from Sally than me and three miles, at least, from me for another few weeks so it would be summer before the hive arrived and much disruption to the hive. So I took the decision to move the hive very carefully to my apiary. My husband helped me. I drove at a snails place to get bring it home and left it alone until yesterday. I peeked in to have a look. The cell was undamaged and open.. she has been born. I didn’t disturb the hive any more than that, I closed it up and will wait a couple of weeks for her to mate with the drones and start laying.

The hive I picked up a couple of weeks ago had not taken to The Bailey Comb Change as had my original hive a few weeks back. The bees are in a Deep National Hive and therefore have plenty of space so simply don’t want to go up. I caught the queen and put her in to a new brood box above the old one. I could not put the frame with her on up there as they are so much bigger than my National frames. So I shook a load of Nurse bees in there and they simply flew out and so did the Queen. I was devastated but not surprised. A couple of days later I went back in and to my utter surprise she was back in the old brood box. She must have just flown back in. Luck was definitely on my side. So I took off the Queen excluder and left them to see if they would go up, but as I said before, highly unlikely given all the room they have in the bottom box. I am afraid to say when I went up there on Saturday I intervened with nature and decided patience was getting me no-where so I did a shook swarm, which has meant sacrificing all the brood in the bottom box which I hated doing, but I was never going to get them into the new box any other way. I am feeding them and the weather is good so hopefully all will be well.

I now have four hives. I really do want to have a good flow of honey, so I may unite two of them to give me three strong hives rather than two strong and two weak ones. I will watch them very carefully over the next few weeks and keep you in the know.

The sun is shining and the honeybees sure are buzzing, well they are at my apiary. Not many in my garden apart from the odd black honeybee which keeps appearing in my house as well. They are not mine, so someone close by has black bees. I would love to know who!

The pictures below were taken in my friend Sally’s garden. Sally being the lady I acquired my latest colony of bees from and whose bees I steadfastly looked after last week while she was away. It wasn’t a sunny day but they were still out foraging on her wonderful apple blossom. Clever girls.

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Finally.. my lovely Dad is 97 and his wife is currently in Hungary for about 6 weeks. I am going over as much as I can to make sure he is ok. Meanwhile a splendid man called Len is popping in twice a day to keep an eye on him and help him with his very old dog Boysie. I was wondering what I could give to Len by way of a thank you for all he is doing when who should appear at the door when I was there but Len himself. You will gather I had never met him before. He had come round with his gorgeous granddaughter with an equally glorious name, Layla Rose. We started chatting about this and that and you guessed it, got on to the subject of honeybees. I had gone there straight from the talks at Turnfurlong School.. So.. I gave Layla a copy of Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees. Her mother very kindly sent me these photographs of her with said book. Thank you Layla’s mum for these, they are lovely..

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WHAT A BUSY WEEK!

What a great week I have had. Two talks at schools and one at Amersham Museum.

The first school talk was at Lee Common School. It reminded me of the school I went to when I was a child, Stag Lane in Chorleywood, which at the time was only one building with about 40 pupils! Yes, that really is how old I am! Lee Common is bigger but still has the original building charm about it. I gave a talk to Years 1, 2 and 3. They were very young but very receptive. I did not get any unanswerable questions from anyone but instead an unfathomable answer.

Q “How many flowers do you think honeybees have to visit to make a single jar of honey?

A “100 elephants”

Q “100 elephants?”

A “Yes 100 elephants!”

So there you have it, it takes 100 elephants to make a single jar of honey. Who knew?

The next school I went to was Ivingswood Academy in Chesham. Again this was Year 1. Very young, but I tailored my talk to their age and they were lovely. And I have to say when I asked them what they had thought they had learned from my chat with them they said, almost in unison “how important the honeybee is.” Boom!

The other place I went to this week was Amersham Museum. This time the talk was for adults. In amongst the audience was a very knowledgable gentleman who knew the answers to all the questions I throw out during the course of my talk, but he didn’t answer until other people had had a go and if they got it wrong I deferred to him as I knew he knew all the answers. When I had finished my talk I asked him if he was a beekeeper. “Yes..”” he replied.. “I am also on the committee of the BBKA (The British Beekeepers Association). Well all I can say is… I was jolly pleased he didn’t tell me that at the start of my talk. I asked him if I had passed muster to which he said “You most certainly did” and bought a book. Phew to that!

For the first time this week I have been receiving requests for my going to give talks which has been lovely. Opening up my emails to find someone asking me rather than responding to my request has been really uplifting - three of those requests were from Beaver Scout Groups. I hadn’t thought of approaching this group of people so I will be beavering away next week looking in to contacting more of this sort of group.

So it’s “dyb dyb dyb - dob dob dob” from me.. which mean’s “do your best - do our best”

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THANK YOU WENDOVER LIBRARY

Lovely morning today at Wendover Library, Buckinghamshire, with parents and children alike. I gae a brief reading from my book, a talk about the honeybees, followed by a book signing. Melanie Greasby, Librarian, had set it all up beautifully which added to the success of the morning. The children, as always were wonderful.

The answer to your unanswerable questions!

Why do honeybees build their comb in the shape of hexagons?

Circles wouldn’t work too well. It would leave gaps in the honeycomb. The worker bees could use triangles or squares for storage. Those wouldn’t leave gaps. But the hexagon is the strongest, most useful shape.
Humans have recently used math to find out why hexagons make the most sense and they discovered the geometry of this shape uses the least amount of material to hold the most weight.  Clever girls!

How many wild species of bees are there?

There are around 20,000 described bee species worldwide. Most of these bees are known as solitary bees with only 250 bumblebee species, 9 honey bee species and a number of social stingless bees worldwide. In Britain we have around 270 species of bee, just under 250 of which are solitary bees.

As I have said so many times, keep asking the questions.. because if I cannot answer them at the time I will send you the answers when I get home and we are all learning together!

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Love this picture of my book on the library shelves!

Love this picture of my book on the library shelves!

AT LAST... A NEW COLONY OF BEES!

Fantastic weekend at The BBKA Spring Convention. I drove to Hereford at the end of last week with a fellow beekeeper and friend, Sally, to stay with my sister while attending the BBKA Spring Convention in Shropshire, thus being able to spend time with my sister and work at the same time… Boom! Northern Books, were super kind and allowed me a section of their vast stand to display and sell Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees. I spoke to so many people and sold lots of books and went to a very good seminar on swarming bees. I was asked to give a talk at “Speakers Corner” which they had called “Meet Betsie Valentine”, which I thought was quite funny because I think people thought I was Betsie Valentine. I had no idea what they wanted me to say so I talked about how I became a beekeeper, writing a book and self publishing. They had plenty of talks about honeybees lined up so I thought I would talk about something different. It was good practice for my up coming audition for the WI to become a “Speaker.”

“Meet Betsie Valentine”

“Meet Betsie Valentine”

And so, at last the new colony of bees have arrived. It was not without it’s complications. The apiary from which I had to get them was exceedingly difficult to find - in spite of explicit directions from the owner and a friend who had already picked up her colony. I had to park in a lay-by walk across a golf course, through a woodland area and then along a very dubious and multi directional footpath in to a wild orchard. Ye Gads, thank goodness I had enlisted the help of a fellow beekeeper, Keith Patton, to help me. Keith is a builder so he arrived in a pick up truck with a sturdy trolly and a very strong strap to hold the hive down. And thank goodness he did! Once found and on board the pick up all went well, apart from dropping the hive when unloading. Only a small drop but enough to make Keith and I wonder whether it was time to run to the hills in case a barrage of angry bees had escaped. Fortunately for us the strap held tight and the bee hive did not fall apart and no bees escaped. All set up and looking dandy I decided to leave them alone for a day, to let them settle down, before putting a varoa board underneath the hive to do a varoa count and perhaps placing a super on top if there were a lot of bees in there. It is nice to see two hives at the apiary and I am eager to have another colony, as promised by a friend of mine, when she splits one of her hives.

Keith loading the new beehive on to his truck.

Keith loading the new beehive on to his truck.

In situ.

In situ.

Having left the new colony to rest for a day, I went and put a varoa board underneath the hive. I have done this in order to do a varoa count. Why? I hear you cry. Because, I have to make a decision, whether to do a shook swarm in to one of my hives or a Bailey Combe Change. The reason being, the gentleman from whom I got the bees would like his hive back. If there is a low varoa count I can to the Bailey Comb if there is high count then I should do a shook swarm so as to give the new hive as little varoa as possible. I am hoping I don’t have to do a shook swarm because it would be such a waste of brood, but if it is infected then it is for the best. As soon as I went near the hive a whole host of bees came at me and started to buzz all around me. It was quite intimidating. I guess they hadn’t forgotten the move then, not to mention the wee drop! I then took a peek inside to see how many bees I had and in order to make a decision about putting a super on top. My goodness those bees were not happy. At one point I walked away because it was hard to concentrate. I decided a queen excluder and super were necessary so a trip to the car was welcomed. The bees came with me! I soldiered on and got the job done with little or no interference to the bees, not that you would have know that from the amount of bees flying around. I have posted a video below which is at the tale end of the performance when they were beginning to settle down. Tomorrow I am going in to the hive to find the queen and either shake them in to the new hive or do the bailey comb. I sure hope they have forgiven me for bringing them to my apiary. If they are still feisty like that I may have to squish the queen and allow them to re-queen. However, in their defence they did not sting me! This bares up all the things I say about the honeybees not wanting to sting you. They were trying to intimidate me, defending their hive but they didn’t waste their precious sting/lives on me. Clever girlies!

The following is a link to a video I put up on FaceBook, for some reason this blog is not allowing the video to load - so follow this link if you wish to see the buzzy bees!

https://www.facebook.com/meriet.duncan/videos/10218863321642686/

new colony with super

After all the excitement with the new colony I made my first proper inspection of the hive I brought through the winter. What a surprise I got when the I tried to lift the super from the top of it. It was full and therefore very heavy. They have obviously been making the most of the sunshine! A quick phone call to my husband to bring up another super was made. I did a full inspection, spotted the gorgeous queen, lots of eggs, stores, pollen and brood - a perfect hive - and NO QUEEN CELLS. So far so good. My friend has already had to do an artificial swarm as her bees have started making queen cells. Also she has a hive of unpleasant buzzy bees and she has removed the queen. I am thinking I may have to do this today with my new colony if they are still all over me when I go and take my first proper look through. I digress.. below are pictures I took during my inspection… enjoy..

Top of the brood box humming with wonderful bees all busy with their work.

Top of the brood box humming with wonderful bees all busy with their work.

Lots of lovely eggs.

Lots of lovely eggs.

Spot the queen… clue is in the word ‘spot’

Spot the queen… clue is in the word ‘spot’

And finally, what a splendid way to end a lovely week, with a fabulous interview with Mimi Harker OBE on Wycombe Sound 106.6 fm. We recorded the interview on Good Friday and it went out on Easter Sunday. I could not have asked for more from Mimi. She had read the book, done her research, asked really good questions and plugged the book and my talks…boom! Thank you Mimi. I am leaving you with a link to the podcast of the interview. If you have a spare hour, make yourself a nice drink, put your feet up and enjoy!

https://listenagain.wycombesound.org.uk/index.php/shows/mimi-meets/

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Signing a book for Mimi as she wanted to keep a copy for herself…

Signing a book for Mimi as she wanted to keep a copy for herself…

BEE-2-B..... 🐝

Excellent meeting with Sarah from “Sleeping Lion” and Rosie from “Rosie Duncan” this morning, both marketing experts, on how to expand the altruistic side of Betsie Valentine in to the world of corporate business. It was inspirational to say the very least. As you all know my passion is the Honeybees and I love nothing more than going in to schools and talking to children and their teachers about their importance to our planet and the lifecycle of the Honeybees. I also visit W.I’s, Libraries and local communities which I also enjoy doing with every beat of my heart. The more you learn about the Honeybees the more you learn about community, communication, leadership and so on. And so.. I am expanding my business in to going to small, large and corporate businesses to talk about the correlation between the success workings of a colony of bees and a successful corporate company and what we can all learn for the good of ourselves and our planet..

Its very exciting.

Why Bee-2-B? It’s my corporate calling card. Let’s get it out there and create a buzz!

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FINISHING OFF THE BAILEY COMB CHANGE

Yesterday the sun was shining and it was just above 16 degrees so I decided to go and have a look at the bees to see if the Bailey Comb Change had worked.

I first checked the new brood box to make sure the queen was still there and laying and indeed she was. A wealth of brood on 4 frames and surrounded by her dutiful nurse bees-a-plenty. I very carefully lifted both the old brood box and new one together to one side, leaving the floor in its original place. I then placed the new brood box on top of the floor and popped the queen excluder on top just to make sure she didn’t fly off. I went through the old brood box to check that all the brood had been born and to make sure they hadn’t turned any of the eggs in to queen cells, which they can do, it happened to a couple of friends of mine. They went in to check their boxes and there was a queen in both! Fortunately that hadn’t happened to me, although not a complete disaster, you would just have to split the hives, but more hard work.. The picture below is of me shaking the bees from the old brood box in to the new one. Once that was done, I replaced the queen excluder and because of the amount of bees that would now be in the new brood box I popped a super with frames on the top to make sure they have enough space and are not tempted to swarm. So all in all that has been a perfect Bailey Comb Change and I could not be more thrilled to be starting the honeybee year with a strong colony of bees.

When I’m at schools one of the most asked questions is “Do you get stung?” I always tell the children and anyone who asks the truth, the answer is very rarely. Honeybees do not like to sting you because they die. If you go to my Betsie Valentine Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/betsievalentine/videos/577337936109096/?modal=admin_todo_tour you can see the video of me shaking the bees from one box to another and you can hear and see the amount of bees that were flying around. Of course they weren’t happy, I was completely disrupting their hives BUT I did not get stung, not once, during the whole procedure so I think this answers the question very well don’t you?

I am delighted to have been asked to go on Mimi Harker’s radio show for Wycombe Sound 106 fm. I am going in on Good Friday to record the show and it will be aired on Easter Sunday between 12:00 and 1:00 on “Mimi Meets” She has asked me to choose three records that mean something to me, so if you want to find out what they are and why do tune in and listen! We will also, of course, be talking all things Honeybees and Betsie Valentine.

Tomorrow I am off to Shropshire to the BBKA SPRING CONVENTION. I will be on the Northern Books stand if anyone is in the vicinity and would like to come and chat. I am also doing a 15 minute speakers corner called “Meet Betsie Valentine!”

So another busy week comes to a close. Hopefully next week a new colony of bees will be arriving to joint my other hive and the season can really get going as the weather gets warmer. Meanwhile, enjoy your weekend.

SHAKING BEES FROM THE OLD BROOD BOX IN TO THE NEW ONE

SHAKING BEES FROM THE OLD BROOD BOX IN TO THE NEW ONE

WHAT A GREAT WEEK

First of all a massive “merci beaucoup” to the French farmers. They have banned the use of all pesticides posing a threat to the honeybees. Vive La France! If other European farmers follow suit that would help enormously with the decline of our honeybees.

Secondly scientists now think honeybees can provide an answer to the antibiotic question. As we know, Doctors are less willing, these days, to give out antibiotics as the more they dish out the more immune we become to their healing properties. According to Science Dailey “Raw honey has been used against infections for millennia, before honey— as we now know it — was manufactured and sold in stores. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria found in fresh honey, from the honey stomach of bees. The bacteria produce a myriad of active antimicrobial compounds.” They have been tested on several human wound pathogens such as methicillin- resistant staphylococcus among many others and it has shown that the lactic acid bacteria applied to the pathogens in the laboratory counteracted all of them.. Not to get too scientific on you all, they go on to say that the findings have implications for developing countries where fresh honey is easily available but also for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is seriously increasing.. So google away if you want to know more!

On to a lighter subject. Yesterday I was at a wonderful networking lunch run by an incredible lady, Lady Val. It was held in Brown’s Court Rooms in London and the guest speaker was Sir Michael Palin. Quite a few of the the attendees worked for Prison charities in one way or another and it occurred to me, while chatting to various people, that, perhaps in some prisons, maybe open prisons, it might be a good idea to introduce beekeeping to the inmates. Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that teaches you so much about community living and how working side by side produces wonderful results. To be a beekeeper you have to have patience and be very gentle and respectful of the honeybees. And, once you are a beekeeper you will undoubtably have enormous respect for the honeybees.. the more you learn about them and handle them more respect you have. And this you can take through to your every day life. At the end of the spring and summer season you have a wonderful product, honey, that you can sell, and after the winter you recycle the wax from last years brood boxes and can either make candles or various products from it yourself or send it off to be recycled in to new un-pulled comb for the new season. Now I know not many prisons have much space but perhaps in an open prison where they do have gardens this could prove to be a very worthwhile project which would sit nicely side by side with gardening. It is something I am definitely looking in to.

With all those thoughts buzzing around my mind, no apologies for the pun, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and all the really interesting people I met. Below are a couple of pictures from my day, one of them with Sir Michael Palin, who was, by the way, utterly charming, witty and very entertaining. In other words he did not disappoint. You know sometimes you really like someone you see on television and then you meet them and it turns out they aren’t the jovial kindred spirit you had been led to believe they were. Well he was everything and more. I had a wonderful time. Met great people and I know I will stay in touch with quite a few and also work on the beekeeping in prisons idea.

This morning I was at Chartridge Combined School. Hopefully photographs will follow. The children were fantastic. I first talked to year 6 students and then to three classes all at once. Again, they were enthusiastic and asked great questions.. Here it comes.. the question to which I didn’t know the answer to.. the thing is, and here I go with my excuses, I did know the answer but that naughty little doubt fairly tweaked my mind and so I erred on the side of caution and said, as I do, I would google the answer and get back to them, which I have just done. I do not think it does any harm for the children to know that we adults to not have an answer for everything or indeed that we too can get brain freeze!

Do honeybees see in colour?

It has been proved that honeybees do see in colour.  However, they do not see it as we do.  They see it through an ultra violet light.  Their vision is much faster than humans and their colour vision is the fastest in the animal world, five times faster than human vision.

If a honeybee were a super hero it's sight would be its super power!

Well that’s it for this week. I will be putting all of this on to my podcast when I can get in to the studio. My youngest is currently recording a book in there.. hence the delay in my weekly podcast.

See you next week. Keep tuning in!

Me and the legend that is Sir Michael Palin.

Me and the legend that is Sir Michael Palin.

Lovely Lady Val who runs a wonderful Networking luncheon once a month..

Lovely Lady Val who runs a wonderful Networking luncheon once a month..