Throughout the spring and early summer we inspect our bees weekly to monitor for signs that the colony may want to swarm.
Vigilance against swarming is absolutely critical in urban centres like London to avoid disrupting neighbouring businesses and to prevent causing panic and distress to the public. Unfortunately too many beekeepers lack this most vital of skills and each summer London is besieged by large numbers of swarms, many of which go uncollected and turn feral.
We pride ourselves on managing our bees so that they do not become a nuisance or inconvenience to our neighbours.
We manage the bee’s natural desire to swarm and thereby reproduce by artificially swarming them. We move the queens into a new box along with a frame of open brood and switch this box place with the original hive.
This process satisfies the colonies need for reproduction whilst preventing the bees from being lost in a swarm.
We monitor our bees Varroa loads through the use of inspection boards below open mesh hive floors and by washing samples of bees in powdered sugar.
Late summer is a time when Varroa populations can peak in the hive and to reduce this threat to our bees we practice frame trapping. Rather than using potentially harmful chemicals on our bees to rid them of mites we place a frame with the queen inside a special frame cage which restricts the queens laying to just that frame. In this way we can control where brood is produced and by removing and replacing a frame every 9 days we can effectively remove Varroa trapped inside sealed brood.
After 36 days the colony is virtually mite free. This practice leave the bees largely free of mites in plenty of time to raise enough winter bees to survive the winter, whilst not tainting the wax or honey with chemicals.
Discarded frames from Api:Cultural hives are recycled and the wax harvested for use in cosmetics and soap making.
The only treatment which we do regularly give to our bees is a December treatment with an Oxalic Acid based treatment.
This organic acid is effective at removing Varroa whilst the colony is broodless in mid-winter. We follow the latest guidance on administering Oxalic Acid from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Sussex University who have conducted a great deal of research into the use of this naturally occurring compound.
In addition to the above measures to manage against disease we are also selectively breeding our stock to select for naturally occurring hygienic behaviour.
Organic beekeeping is not feasible in the UK owing to the bee’s habit of flying far from their colony. This means we cannot guarantee where the bees go to forage and therefore cannot say they are truly organic nor can we say their honey is organic.
In addition natural, low intervention beekeeping which is more conductive to the needs of the bees has its merits but is not appropriate in cities like London where swarms must be avoided. Our management style of high knowledge, weekly inspections and swift intervention but minimal use of chemicals works with the bees and we believe this is a best compromise between the bee’s needs and ours as their keeper.