LIQUID GOLD... AND A PROUD ANNOUNCEMENT...

Well it’s been quite a busy two weeks, but then when isn’t life busy where honeybees are involved? It’s what makes beekeeping so interesting!

Taking off the wax cappings

Taking off the wax cappings

…. and spin!

…. and spin!

In my last blog I had just taken a couple of supers off two of my hives. My girls did well. I got 41 jars of honey from two supers and I have another two supers to spin. This year we invested in a new spinner. We had an old electric one which I used to have to hang on to for grim death as it dance it’s way around the kitchen floor. As my teeth jarred with the vibration I would tell myself this was good for my upper arms! When I was very first married, back in the late 70’s, I had a washing machine that would travel across the kitchen floor during the course of a six hour wash cycle. I was young, with a baby and it had been passed on to me by one of my mothers friends, so who was I to complain? My mother did eventually fees sorry for me and bought me a hoover twin tub. Best washing machine I ever had.. and the house constantly smelled of comfort…Back to the new spinner. Oh what glee, what joy, what bliss. It is not electric but may I refer you back up the paragraph a little to my thoughts about my upper arms as I turn the handle to spin. It has a sieve underneath so the honey spins out of the frames and goes straight through the sieve in to the settling tank. It is then rested for 48 hours and Bob’s your uncle, well he might not be - who knows - out comes the liquid gold straight in to the jars. I think I ‘m in love with my new spinner.

When you have spun the frames you return them to the hives from whence they came. This is very important, you have to return the right super to the right colony, so you number the hives or, like me, I put coloured drawing pins in the brood box and roofs of my hives and in my supers so I know which super came from where. You leave a gap between the hive and the spun frames. If you don’t the bees will just fill them up again. If there is a gap between the brood box and the supers they will not associate the spun frames with their hive and therefore take it down in to the brood box for their winter stores. This takes them about 48 hours. The spun comb will be as clean as clean can be. Remove the clean the frames and freeze for 48 hours to get rid of any disease their might be and store them carefully away ready to return them to the bees the following spring. I then return the wax cappings to the hives, using the same procedure as with the frames, i.e., leaving a gap. When you go back 48 hours later they have cleaned the wax beautifully. It is then ready to either melt down and keep for yourself to make candles or beeswax wraps (my new craze!) or return to Thornes in Windsor who swap it for new wax foundation at a much reduced price. Boom!

Liquid Gold.

Liquid Gold.

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And so to the afore mentioned ‘beeswax wraps.” Instead of just the recycling I have been doing over the years of plastic and cardboard, I am now making a conscientious effort to make my home as plastic free and environmentally friendly as I can. This year, as with previous years, come the spring, I hand over the top half of our garden to wild flowers. This means sewing wild flower seeds and not mowing the grass. Some years it works, some years it doesn’t. This year was exceptional. The flowers went crazy and it was alive with butterflies, wild bees, honeybees and countless other wild life all benefiting from my husband and my effort. It is not a large garden but it was very effective. Be warned though, when it’s over, it’s over and your garden ends up looking like something out of “Keeping Up Appearances” all it lacks is a rusty car and rabid dog and the look is complete! Once it has finished flourishing the garden has to be left for a couple of weeks for the seeds to self sow again and then it is quite a task cutting it all down and returning it back to a decent looking piece of grass. But.. it is worth it.. As mentioned above I am trying to rid my home of as much plastic as I can. This includes plastic soap dispensers and, of course, cling film. I have gone back to bars of soap and making my own beeswax wraps to replace cling film. You don’t have to make them yourself, they are now widely available in health food shops and market places. If you do want to make your own you can do what I did and google it. You Tube has plenty of different ideas of how it is best done and it is so simple! Above are a couple I made earlier in the week. It’s very difficult to rid your domain of plastic completely. Shampoo etc comes, of course, in plastic containers but I have sourced a cleansing cream that comes in a glass bottle, albeit with a plastic dispenser on the top, which is annoying. Here’s a little plug as it really is a lovely product which is an added bonus. Niels yard is the make. Their moisturisers also come in glass jars which is great. The other thing I have done is swap to old fashioned Nivea body moisturising cream because it comes in a tin!

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A rather nice thing happened to me in the week.. I had a meeting in London at the Institute of Directors. I was early so thought I would find somewhere to have a cup of tea prior to going to the meeting. I spotted, directly opposite the IoD a lovely looking restaurant called Wild Honey (St James). I thought it looked rather grand but nothing ventured nothing gained… I popped in. I was greeted by an extremely friendly Waiter and I said I didn’t want to eat and asked if it was possible to have a cup of tea. “Not a problem at all” he said and guided me to a table. When he came back with the tea he showed me the menu - just in case I changed my mind - I saw honey ice cream on the menu, stating that it was their speciality and the honey was locally sourced. I was fascinated and asked where they got their honey from and we started chatting. I told him I am a beekeeper and he disappeared and re-appeared with a frame of partially uncapped honey fresh from a hive and offered me a slice. It was very nice! A few moments later the Maitre D came over and started talking to me about beekeeping and there, before me, appeared a bowl of their speciality honey ice cream and some chocolate and honey concoction to have with my tea. I said they should have hives on their roof and he told me that they were in the process of doing just that. The Maitre D looked at my book and said he would order some for the restaurant as they often have children coming in and it would be within keeping of their honey theme to have a book about the honeybees for the children to read while there. My half an hour was up and I had to leave to go to the meeting and when I asked for the bill they said it was on the house! The strangest things happen when you are least expecting them..

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Delicious honey ice cream… really delicious!

Early on in the week I agreed to go and help at the Club Apiary in Chesham Bois. It’s in a funny old place.. near a graveyard, which is fine, I quite like graveyards as it goes and when they are well kept they can be very beautiful places. However, the apiary setting is far from beautiful. Five/six hives buried knee deep in stinging nettles. I am not going to lie, apart from the honeybees it doesn’t lure me in! But Celia, the lovely lady who has been assigned the task of looking after it needs as much help as she can get so I go and do my bit! One of the hives, which a couple of weeks ago I suggested needed to be combined with another, was now under attack from wasps, or steak knives with wings as I think of them. They are vicious. So I transferred what was left of the bees and their queen into a nuc and took it up to my apiary. I am afraid it was the same there. I brought it home. Yes you guessed it… same again. I went through the nuc and saw at the bottom loads of sugar syrup floating around on the floor. Well no wonder the wasps were in a frenzied state trying to get in there. I found my nuc and transferred, once again, what was left of the bees and their queen who was still hanging on in there. My nuc was all dry and fresh. I made the tiniest entrance I could and to my delight the honeybees appeared. Some of the came pouring out of the hive and huddled up at the top leaving the wasps a clear run to get in. I checked inside and a few were clustered around the queen. I am afraid I eventually lost the battle. I think the bees in the nuc were young, and therefore didn’t have a developed sting and were not as yet flying bees so they had little defence. This is day three and the wasps have won and I feel very sad indeed. Poor honeybees. I was really hoping it would be a happy ending, but alas it was not meant to be.

However, I am pleased to say that my bees are doing really well. I took a break from writing this blog to go and check my apiary and I have literally just returned from going through them. The ones without their supers are now being fed and they are mullering their feed morning and night and the hives are beginning to feel heavy and are full of lovely stores for the winter. So this at least is looking very hopeful.

Above are a few photographs I took while inspecting the green hive. Very calm and happy bees they are too! From left to right: Lovely covering of bees on top of the frames in the brood box. Freshly drawn comb, all pristine and white, awaiting stores. Slightly older drawn comb with a healthy covering of bees. Close up of their stores prior to being capped and of course, last but not least, beautiful wall to wall brood.

I will leave you with one last image that I took while at a friends apiary. I love the two honeybees at the bottom on the left. They look like they are having a good old girlie gossip as they come in to land!

See you in a couple of weeks….

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Oh… I nearly forgot. The proud announcement!

I have been accepted as a Speaker for the Buckinghamshire WI. I am so thrilled. I have already had five bookings for next year and I have applied to audition for Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Hertfordshire!

A NEW QUEEN ON THE SCENE AND A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR AMELIE

Apologies for the delay in this blog. Schools And Brownies have gone to ground and so it has been a chance to concentrate on networking and getting lots of bookings in the diary for the Autumn and Winter terms and 2020. I know, 2020… it’s just around the corner! And, to add to that, there has been much thought going in to the future of, not just Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees, but me myself and I too!

Much has changed since the publication of my first run of Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees. It has been a tremendous learning curve for me. I had no experience of the publishing world, marketing, sales or business in general. I am not a business woman, in spite of having been self employed most of my working days, as a professional editorial and portrait photographer. I never got involved with networking or looking for business. In the last seven years of my days as a photographer I had teamed up my nephew, Leo Holden, who is a talented TV producer and photographer. He was the young cool one who did all the Tweeting, Instagram, FB, you name it he did it, social media was his domain - I sat back in awe - half the time wondering what on earth he was doing. I never gave credence to the fact that I could jump on board. My children were my priority. My work fitted in and around their lives, not the other way round. Now my children have grown up and I am a grandmother I have so much more time on my hands. And time is what it’s all about. The ability to come and go as I please and not to constantly have one eye on the clock. It is a gift after 41 years!. Oh, for sure, there are the horses and honeybees, of course there are, but people can help you out here and there if you ask nicely, but being a wife and mother, I always considered my sole responsibility. And so, it is with my heart and soul, I am busy filling my precious time with that which I feel so passionate about - getting the word out there about the honeybees - and I feel tremendously honoured to be doing so.

Fingers crossed that my audition went well!

Fingers crossed that my audition went well!

I have grown in confidence in the last year. I am attending large networking groups and standing up proudly talking about Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees and my talks about the honeybees. Last wednesday I went for an audition with The WI to become a Speaker. I have been waiting for 6 months for this audition and the phone call came out of the blue. I was given less than 24 hours to prepare, so decided the best thing to do was NOT prepare and simply turn up and be me. Talking for fifteen minutes about the subject I love so much is not difficult and making people chuckle along the way seems to come naturally to me. As my eldest son said, not so long ago, “Mum, you are a power talker, you have finally found an outlet!” Never a truer word spoken in jest!

The audition went well. Lots of smiles and thank you’s as I left and made way out of the hall for the next person to go in. Three bookings came during the course of the following three days, all full of praise for my ‘presentation’.’ I am hoping, therefore, with all my heart that his is a good omen and I have been selected as a Speaker. Next blog will reveal all!

There can be no compromise with colour in Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees!

There can be no compromise with colour in Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees!

It has not all been straight forward. I am struggling with the second print run of the hardback version of Betsie Valentine which is a great source of frustration. The company that printed Betsie Valentine so beautifully first time around, sent the second print run out, (500 copies), that was so shockingly bad I immediately halted the delivery driver in his steps and re-loaded all the boxes back in to the van and told the delivery driver to take them back with a copy of the original hardback for the printers to look at. I wasn’t surprised to receive an email a couple of hours later, saying that they were sorry, the person in charge had been away and they must have gone out unchecked. What a waste of their time and money, not to mention my time too. Five hundred copies of BV in the bin.

I was then sent a proof, which was completely wrong again. We had a long conversation and I was told the fact that the colours were so beautiful in the first book was more or less ‘a fluke’ A fluke? Really? If you can print it beautifully once, nay twice (the Soft cover, although not quite with the punch of the hardback, is still a lovely book), why not again? They said they would send over another two proofs, one of which, hopefully I would like.

Nope! That’s the short answer to that. They have told me if I don’t like either of the latest two proofs they are unable to to do any more. I am currently in conversation with another printer.

I cannot compromise on the quality of the colour of the images in Betsie Valentine. Tegan’s art is so beautiful and her images truly jump out at you with every turn of a page.

Again.. I have to say…watch this space. Ad interim, I have no hardbacks in stock, The National Honey Show is looming and lots of talks, in the meantime, are being put in the diary. Massive hurrumph.

And so to the honeybees. “Yay” I hear you say! It has been a couple of weeks so much to catch up on.

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The Red Hive - My busy buzzy hive. They seemed quite agitated a couple of weeks ago, I did manage to spot the queen, which I was pleased about as I couldn’t find her last time but was happy she was there as there were plenty of eggs and no queen cells. Seeing her is always good though, it takes out the guess work and worry. I did get stung three times which wasn’t pleasant and one of the stings, I am guessing was a guard bee as it spread down my arm and in to my hand which swelled up and was was very painful. Naughty bee!

This week - no stings - still buzzy but I forgive that as long as I am not stung. No matter how hard I tried to explain to them I was there for the good of them they just weren’t for listening. However, buzzy bees, it is said produce lots of honey and the first super, has indeed been removed ready to be spun tomorrow. So they are good girls really!

Amelie and I going through the Nuc.

Amelie and I going through the Nuc.

The Yellow Nuc - My home grown queen experiment! Not much been happening which is worrying, they had expanded a little but not a lot. I had spotted a couple of eggs in one or two of the cells which is a worrying sign of a laying worker, but the queen is there. Sometimes, a young queen can lay a couple of eggs in one cell until she gets herself going. I decided to shake some bees in to the hive from a couple of the other hives. If you shake bees in from two hives they don’t fight as they get confused as to who is a newcomer and who isn’t. Well that seemed to do the trick because this week they seemed to be more lively and evidence of more eggs, but no brood as yet. So I have transferred them into a proper hive with a dummy board in place to give them a bit more space. I really do hope this hive takes off. It will be a real pat on the back for my patience and belief in this queen!

Look at all the bees coming at me!

Look at all the bees coming at me!

The Green Hive - I found the queen and marked her. Always a good feeling as it makes her easier to spot! This lot are as buzzy as the red hive, annoying but, like the red hive, I have taken off a super to spin this week. They are obviously getting on with their work and as they are not in the habit of stinging me I will put up with their buzzing! They are putting a lot of stores in the brood box, rather than using the top super, which is great for their winter stores, so no complaints there.

Amelies Hive - The Blue Hive.

Where did I get to? Ah yes. The queen has gone and I left one open and one closed queen cell. When I went up to inspect them a couple of weeks ago.. one of the cells had been part opened and the other was no-where to be seen. I left well alone. The bees were quiet so I assumed they had it all in hand, a queen had been born and was around and about. Best not to disturb them in the early days of a queen being born.

This week Amelie came up to the hive for another visit. It was the day before her birthday, she is eight. How fantastic that she has shown such interest in the honeybees and I can blog about someone so young showing such cause and dedication. I am so chuffed I cannot tell you! So she came all dressed up in her pucker gear with her smoker et al. I told her I had been a bit cheeky and popped up in the week to see if I could see evidence of a queen and sure enough I spotted her. So together we set out to find and mark her. We found her, she is very big, so clearly mated, and very quick. I managed to get her into the clip then couldn’t isolate her from the other bees to get her in to the marking cage. Finally after a bit of a struggle she fell in to my gloved hand which made it difficult to delicately manipulate her into the cage! I placed her on the floor of the hive. Let the bees settle down and then Amelie and I began our search again. I told Amelie we may not find her again this week and didn’t want to disturb the bees any more than necessary so we would just have one final check as we put the frames back in order. Lo and behold Amelie said “There she is!” - et voila - I caught her again in the clip. This time successfully transferred her to the cage and Amelie had the honour of marking her own queen. Boom! Because of all the waiting for the queen the bees had been filling up the empty cells with stores, so not a lot happening in the super. We decided to leave that super on and wait until she comes back from her holiday to spin her hives’ honey together. She left with a big smile on her face. Quite something for a girl of 8 to find and mark a queen. She has a lot to smile about and a right to feel proud.

Finally.. an amusing tail to end on. You gotta love a lady with a sense of humour!

Last week I was called out last Saturday to have a look at, what a lady suspected to be, a swarm of honeybees in a bush in her garden. The swarm had attacked a friend of hers so badly on the previous Saturday that he was still in hospital on his second blood transfusion.. true! Alarm bells rang because the swarm was only noticed on Saturday when said friend was trimming her bush, (make up your own jokes), and the Sunday had been a lovely day and I think a swarm of honeybees would have moved on to pastures new. A swarms' first port of call is rarely their last. Up I went, nonetheless to check. It was absolutely pouring with rain. Donning my bee suit and with my smoker at the ready, I was guided to said bush while the lady, very sensibly, beat a hasty reteat to her kitchen. I gently parted the twigs of what was/is a very dense bush and sure enough out came some angry flying creatures. I instantly thought they were wasps just by the way they flew around and the sound of their buzz. They were moving very quickly in the torrential rain so it was difficult to identify them immediately but they were, from what I could make out as they speedily darted all around me, more vibrant in colour than a honeybee. I wanted to be sure so I thought if I clap one between my hands and kill it I will know for sure. I was standing in her garden clapping away, missing every time and I noticed the lady watching me from her back door. I stopped and said..

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"I haven't gone mad. I am not trying to kill or catch a swarm one bee at a time.. I just want to catch one and identify it"

"Oh" she said "I did wonder. I was beginning to think I ought to put dinner on for you as you were going to be there for quite some time!"

Love it!

Long story short...Finally got one and... yes they were wasps!

LOTS OF LOVE AND LOTS OF LETTERS...

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Where to begin with what has been another busy but wonderful week. How about with.. I feel blessed.. honestly I do. I am travelling around to schools and community groups giving talks about the honeybees to a fantastically wide range, both in age and type, and getting such a positive feedback every way I turn. I have worked for the majority of my life but never before have I felt the drive and the passion I feel right now and perhaps that is why I am getting such wonderful comments filtering back. Oprah Winfrey said “When you align your personality with your purpose no-one can touch you .” Well I can vouch for that!

Onward dear friends to the weeks events.

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The week got off to a wonderful start with the 1st Loudwater Rainbows and 2nd Loudwater Brownies. Anita Haddon, Brown Owl, was wondrously warm and welcoming. We decided, as it was a lovely evening, to do the talk outside. The two groups joined together for the talk and once again I found myself with spellbound children absorbing all the information I ‘let fly’ at them! At the end of the talk a long queue formed as I signed books which always makes me smile on the inside…. Betsie Valentine going home with so many children.

I was presented with a beautiful Salvia, by one of the children, which now has pride of place in my garden and a lovely card signed by all the Rainbows and Brownies Somebody stop me smiling!

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Tuesday was The 1st Ivinghoe Pitstone Guides. These were the guys I let down a few weeks ago. I was determined to make it up to them. They were a very small group but it makes not a pennyworth of difference to me, they were given the full monty nonetheless! Sometimes it is nice to have a small group because you can then spend more time with them at the end answering all their questions and going through all the equipment etc.

My last talk this week was with the 1st Chesham Rainbows followed by the 2nd Chesham Brownies. Two separate talks. The Rainbows were absolutely lovely and had many questions. They each took home a book! The Brownies.. wow what a crowd! Brown Owl said I would be lucky if they stayed still and listened for an hour. They did! Below is Carly, leader of the Rainbows, getting in to the spirit of the talk and a lovely picture sent to me by one of the Rainbows.. To top it all I got a lovely email from brown owl whose words included:

“We were really impressed with how you engaged the girls. we have never seen them so quiet for so long.”

Boom!

And so to the bees.

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I have not been able to mark two of my queens because a couple of weeks ago I dropped the queen catcher and marking tube somewhere in the field where I keep the bees. I now have new ones.. Off I went on a mission to do three normal hive checks and find two queens and mark them. This shouldn’t take long - was my thinking - and I was looking forward to a lovely ride on my horse after the inspection. I called Amelie’s parents to see if she wanted to come along and help find her queen and mark her. Unfortunately she couldn’t make it but the inspections had to go on!

Red hive: No problem, all good, lots of lovely bees, marked queen seen, eggs and brood.. lovely.

The Nuc: Still not sure what’s going on in there. Not a lot. Saw the Queen again, she doesn’t seem to be laying, the bees continue to mill around and do very little. Last chance for them this week to get going with something. If not I will offer the queen out to someone, I don’t want to squish a queen, she may pick up with more enthusiastic bees, she may not. Nothing lost if someone who needs a queen gives her a try.. they can squish her if she is no good.

Green Hive: Veritably buzzy and extremely busy. Lots of eggs, brood, stores etc. Looked for the queen but could not find her but I was happy and sure she was there as there were lots of eggs, brood etc. I went through the hive twice, looking for her but the hive is so full and these bees are quite fast as they scuttle across the frames, she is clearly shy and doesn’t want to be found. Baring in mind I had another hive to look through and a horse I wanted to ride that afternoon as well, I decided to leave finding and marking her until next week. I did however remove some drone brood from the hive. A while back I had put in to the brood box a super frame, which is half the size of a brood frame, knowing that for some reason the bees tend to build drone comb underneath it rather than worker comb. See the picture below. It is a way of controlling Varroa. Varroa mites reproduce within sealed bee brood. A hormone that is more prevalent in drone brood cells triggers this. Once the comb has been covered you cut it off and the bees can build up the comb again. I have kept it as an example to show at my talks, rather than discarding it. Waste not!

Drone comb built and the brood covered underneath the worker brood in the super frame.

Drone comb built and the brood covered underneath the worker brood in the super frame.

The Blue hive - Amelies hive: First frame I pulled out 2 huge queen cells and an open one with a grub inside. I popped it back in the hive and called R to ask him to bring up a new hive as I was going to have to find the queen, mark her and do an artificial swarm. The spare hive duly arrived and I put everything in place as is required. Having failed to find the queen in the previous hive I had to find her in this one or I couldn’t do the artificial swarm. I started to look really carefully. The bees were calm and completely unfazed by my presence which was great because theoretically it should have made finding her easier. However, try as I might, I just could not find her. I went through the hive several times, to no avail. It had really warmed up, the sun had burned away the clouds and I am afraid I was so hot in my bee suit, the sweat was literally dripping of me, not nice I know but it was!. After an hour and a half of diligently looking for the queen I phoned my friend Penny - Penny Bees - we call her and told her of my predicament..

“Penny, I have queen cells in one of my hives and I have been looking for the queen for an hour and a half and I cannot find her. It’s such a quiet hive I cannot understand why I can’t see her.”

“Are there any eggs in the hive?”

As soon as Penny asked the question I knew the answer! I had been so intent on finding the queen I hadn’t looked for the eggs but I knew as she asked me the question that there were not. Lots of stores in the gaps where the eggs should have been, which I had spotted but stupidly not put the two together. I thanked her and went back to the hive. No eggs! No eggs = No Queen. I couldn’t find her because she wasn’t there. The strange thing being, it was so full of bees it didn’t ring any alarm bells that she had already swarmed. I am thinking, maybe perhaps she had died or not taken many flying bees with her. I will talk it through with another beekeeper at our next meeting. Well I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I had had a clear head and thought through the inspection before forging ahead on a mission to find the queen with no regard for anything else that might be going on in the hive. A lesson learned yet again! I think I will use the excuse of the the heat getting to me and I wasn’t thinking straight. I removed one of the queen cells. Left a closed and open one and walked away with the spare hive and loaded back in to the car, exceedingly pleased to peel my bee suit away from my sodden skin! Willow never got ridden, I had run out of time. I would like to blame the bees. I did on FaceBook, but it was my bad beekeeping that wasted my time, not the bees!

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Well that was the beekeeping. Not too bad. Still have three thriving hives but now have to wait for the arrival of the new queen in the Blue Hive - Amelies Hive. I have added a super to each of them so now all three have two supers on. A steady flow of nectar is coming in so definitely looking forward to some honey this year which is great, so all in all it is going well.

When I got back home I had received a wonderful card from the Owls Class at Pathways in Aylesbury with these fabulous letters inside. Chuffed? I should co-co. This is what it’s all about.

Finally, a lovely end to the week was spent on the Chalfont Beekeepers Society Stand at Chenies Manor Flower Show on Sunday. Chenies Manor is absolutely beautiful and once a year people come from all over the UK to exhibit and sell their beautiful flowers. I cannot thank my club enough for the continuing support they are giving me with Betsie Valentine. I had a whole area to myself for my book and their enthusiasm is heartfelt and appreciated so much. I sold lots of books and met with a potentially very interesting gentleman. I shall say no more but should anything come of our little chat I will be shouting about it from the top of the Chiltern Hills! Watch this space.

Fiona Matheson - our love Chairperson at The Chalfonts Beekeepers Society Stand.

Fiona Matheson - our love Chairperson at The Chalfonts Beekeepers Society Stand.

One more thing, or as an old friend of mine would say “and another thing” before I sign off for this week. I got this message from Amelie’s mum this morning. I am so proud of her! What a fantastic response she is getting from everyone and it all started with Betsie Valentine And The Honeybees!

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Thank you for logging in yet again..

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Willow”

That’ll be me ‘orse… See ya!

QUEENS, QUEENS, GLORIOUS QUEENS AND LOTS OF LOVELY BROOD!

I have to start with an apology and a warning!

First I apologise for the absence of last week’s blog. The week flew by and before I knew it I was half way through last week when I realised I still had not done the blog from the week before!

The warning… this is two blogs in one… so make yourself a cuppa, or pour a glass of wine because it could be a long one!

The week of 17th June got off to a great start. I gave a couple of talks at Monks Risborough School. They were performed as two assembly’s. The children, as always, and I know I keep saying it but it’s true, were fantastic. There was a sticky moment with the older age group assembly when one of the older boys asked why the drones die having mated with the queen. I glanced around at a couple of the teachers who stared me out and I said “well, a part of their appendage comes away having mated and so they die.” Feeling more than satisfied with my answer I quickly pointed to the next person who wanted to ask a question who happened to be a girl and she said “what does appendage mean?” One of the teachers very kindly stepped in and said “we can discuss that further in class!” And relax, I had gone to talk to the children about the bees not the birds and the bees! Upon leaving the science teacher who had booked me came up to the car, as I was loading up my equipment, and thanked me for the talks. She said she was so impressed with the whole experience she would like to pay twice as she felt I had earned it! I charge per visit, not talk, but she insisted so I didn’t argue.

On the Wednesday I went to Sunrise Senior Living in Beaconsfield and they really enjoyed the talk. The woman who booked me said she was amazed to see they stayed awake for the hour of my talk! One lovely lady’s husband had been a beekeeper and she told me some lovely stories about spinning the honey etc. And another lady was looking at the book noticed I was born in Honeypot Lane, not only did she know the area, as she too was from that part of the world, so we took a trip down memory lane together, she also said it was my destiny to work with honeybees! I could not argue with that..

My final talk of that week was at The Aylesbury Primary Referral Unit. I have done a talk at one of their units in Chesham about two months ago. These referral units are for children who have been excluded from school for one reason or another. I was told before I started that two of the children would definitely not make it through the talk so not to take it personally. Well… they all sat absolutely still and engrossed for the whole time and one little lad in particular seemed to know a lot of the answers. I asked him if his parents were beekeepers. “No,” he said “A lady like you came to my other school and gave a talk about the honeybees.” One of the teachers asked if it was The Oaks.. “Yes!” he said. Well, that was the other referral unit I gave a talk to and I was so impressed - and so were the teachers - he had remembered so much! Today I received a lovely email from the lady who organised my talk.. see below

Hi Meriet

Thanks for the fascinating talk; the children were all enthralled and have been chatting about what they learned since then.

Please could you send me an address to forward their thank you letters.

It just gets better and better.. being paid twice and thank you letters!

My beautiful black queen in the red hive.

My beautiful black queen in the red hive.

Onward to the bee inspection on the 22nd June. It has been appalling weather recently so I grabbed the first moment I could to zip in to the hives to check all was still ok. I was very dismayed to see that two of my hives were not pulling out comb for the queens and so she was only laying across 6 frames and also in my original hive, (The Green Hive), there was no brood but there were eggs. I did, however find the queens who had eluded me previously and now need marking! Below are a couple of pictures of the two queens I couldn’t find before. One of them, Amelie’s queen, please note, is surrounded by her attendants, almost in a perfect circle as per the picture in my book on page 49.

Amelie’s queen all-but surrounded by her attendants.

Amelie’s queen all-but surrounded by her attendants.

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Talking of Amelie’s queen. I had a lovely email from her father saying she is doing this talk to the Brownies about the honeybees. She wrote to a couple of people who sell equipment for beekeepers and they sent her a couple of free bee suits, one for now and one for when she is older, gloves, a smoker and a hive tool! I will endeavour to find out who they are and thank them very much. Now that’s PR if ever there was. I will name them as soon as I find out who they are. It’s the least I can do. Not only will I name them but I will tweet about them too!  

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And so it is to last week, last Monday to be precise when I stepped back in time into my old Primary School, then called Stag Lane, but now Chorleywood Primary. It was a lovely feeling going back to a school in which I had been very happy. I can remember most of the children in my class and I can definitely recall the names of all the teachers I had when I was there. My only disappointment was the Stag’s Head, under which I had spent a quite afew times with my hands on my head, had gone! I really wanted to re-create a a picture of me, once again, standing underneath with said hands on head! Never mind. I felt my Headmaster, Mr Powell, would have been very surprised but also very proud to see me talking to the Junior Assembly. I took a picture with me that was taken in my final year and showed it to the children. I think they were more surprised that camera’s had been invented in those days let alone anything else!   Moving on.. I had an amazing welcome and the children, I repeat myself I know, were great. It was at the end of the day and the teachers were having to drag them back to their classes to be collected by their parents after school. They were bursting with questions about the bees. I accidentally left some equipment there and went yesterday to retrieve it and one of the office staff said they were all still buzzing about the visit, not only in the classrooms but also staff rooms! Apparently the children are still hunting out the honeybees during their play time, which, is what my visits and my book are all about; sparking interest in the honeybees.

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The rest of my week was spent networking! I had an interesting meeting and evening at the Institute of Directors with a Publisher who is sending me a proposal. This is the second time we have spoken. I went to a lovely breakfast meeting at Moor Park Golf Club which is always a good chance to mingle with people from all types of businesses. And, finally to round the week off, I went to Lady Val’s Network luncheon in London, in Browns Court Rooms. This is always a great networking opportunity. They always have very good speakers, this time it was Jon Snow, who turned out to be an extremely interesting man. I am about to copy and paste what I put up on FaceBook about that day so if you have read that.. skip the next paragraph!

Myself, Lady Val and Tracey James.

Myself, Lady Val and Tracey James.

My mother’s signature for Jacqmar.

My mother’s signature for Jacqmar.

My Theosophical Canvas Bag!

My Theosophical Canvas Bag!

What a great luncheon! Tracy James, Lady Val et moi! Jon Snow was very good.. I know my mother is watching me.. how? I’ll tell ya.. Jon told a very touching story about how he learned his mother had alopecia that involved him at the age of 8 and a “Jacqmar” headscarf.. After his talk, ( I was sitting at his table), I commented that it was unusual for an 8 year old boy to notice the make of a headscarf and to carry the name with him through to adulthood. He said it was the distinctive Signature of Jacqmar on the head scarf that made him remember it. It was with great pride I told him that the signature was my mother’s hand.. She had designed it based on her handwriting for the company! I like to think she was telling me she was there. Lady Val was charming as always and Jenny Garrett delivered an excellent thought provoking workshop. The whole afternoon was relaxing, informative and worthwhile in so many ways.. Feeling uplifted by the Jacqmar incident.. I popped along to Covent Garden and bought myself the ultimate canvas bag. My great Aunts, on my fathers side, were all Theosophists and travelled the world as single determined feminists in the 1800’s armed with canvas bags and forward thinking ideals.. I think today they would be smiling and hopefully passing on their tremendous strength and energy which saw them through to their 90’s! Here’s to the next 30 years.. I’ve only just begun!

Finally.. I get to the bit you have probably been waiting for.. The latest bee inspection.

Beautiful capped brood.

Beautiful capped brood.

Lovely uncapped brood.

Lovely uncapped brood.

Last week I was left feeling very concerned as little brood had appeared in any of the hives and in one in particular there was no brood left at all. I called Bill Fisher, a member of our club, former Chairman to be precise, and an exceedingly knowledgable beekeeper. He said the reason was probably because of the bad weather when the queens stop laying. So things come to a halt. I told him about my concerns that the bees were not pulling out comb for the queens to lay in in any of the hives and that they seem to be stuck on laying on between four and six frames. Bill suggested I place a frame of partly pulled comb, taken from another part of the hive, in between two brood frames. The bees do not like this interruption to their flow so will quickly pull out and build up the wax on that frame so the queen can lay. I did this and wa-hay.. this week I went in, and as if by magic, helped I am sure, by the lovely weather we have been having this week as well, they had spread on to eight frames in all of the hives. Good job girls. The little nuc is still slow but Bill suggested I leave it as it is and keep an eye on it. the queen is there and laying, but no flying bees as yet bringing in the goods. They do have stores in there so I will continue to watch and wait. At least I have a spare laying queen per chance anything should go wrong in one of the other hives.

Look very carefully and you can see lots of tiny little dashes of white, like white cotton, those are the eggs.

Look very carefully and you can see lots of tiny little dashes of white, like white cotton, those are the eggs.

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I will leave you with an image I just took of a hive I have in my wild garden. No bees in there, it is just for show as my husband is allergic to bee stings! The wild garden has been a real success this year, attracting bees of all kinds and wonderful butterflies. I urge everyone to make space for a patch of wilderness in there garden, no matter how big or small it will put a wonderful smile on your fact when you see what comes up and what flies in to enjoy and spread the wild flower word!

Have a wonderful week. Enjoy the sunshine.

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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