The second line of defense

So last month we talked about the bee smoker, the beekeeper’s third line of defense.  Today we’re counting down with number two in the beekeeper’s arsenal – protective clothing.

The traditional beekeeping outfit consists of a hooded suit, or a hat and veil, and gloves.  Experienced beekeepers may sometimes not use gloves if they have particularly delicate manoeuvres to perform, but Luke always sets us a good example and wears gloves every time! 

The face and neck are particularly important to protect, because bees who are looking to defend the hive can be attracted to the breath, as well as the fact that a sting on the face is much more unpleasant!   Our beekeeping suits come in a range of colours, but the traditional suit is white and made from cotton .  Wikipedia tells me that this is to provide “the maximum differentiation from the colony’s natural predators (bears, skunks, etc.), which tend to be dark-colored and furry”.  I don’t know what dark and furry things the LSE bees are going to come across on a city rooftop, but better safe than sorry!

Beekeeping suits can be bought anywhere on the internet, with a full suit coming in between £70-100.

Stay tuned for the #1 line of defense!

“Smoke is the beekeeper’s third line of defense”

The topic of the post this week is the bee smoker.  It’s one of the most useful tools in the bee-keeper’s arsenal, but what exactly is it for?

In order to get into the hive to check on the bees or top up their sugar water (yet again this week the bees showed how hungry they are at the moment, managing to consume two full bottles of sugar water over the course of the week), we need to make sure the bees aren’t too cranky.  Blowing smoke into a hive has been a method used to pacify bees for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that we knew a bit more about why it works.

Here’s the most simple explanation the interweb could offer:

“Under normal circumstances if a beehive is threatened, guard bees will release a volatile pheromone substance, iso-pentyl acetate, better known as an alarm odor. This alerts the middle-aged bees in the hive — the ones with the most venom — to defend the hive by attacking the intruder. When smoke is blown into the hive first, however, the guard bees’ receptors are dulled and they fail to sound the pheromonious alarm.”  You can read more about the science behind bee smokers on WiseGeek or on Wikipedia.

We’re using a classic version of the bee smoker, and lighting it with cardboard along with a piece of twine.  The twine is included to ensure the fire stays smouldering for longer, guaranteeing smoke for the duration that the hive is open.  We generally give the bees a few puffs of smoke every time we want to manipulate a bit of the hive, such as putting back the queen excluder after we’ve checked on the frames.

Find out in the upcoming weeks what the other lines of defense are!

Olympic bees

The bees must be taking inspiration from the London 2012 Olympics, as they’re putting in the hard yards and making honey at a prodigious pace.  All the sugar water from last week had gone today, so it was great to see their progress.  The lift up to the 8th floor was also out of order, so everybody was working hard today!

Checking on the bees we could see that they’re expanding out into the frames on either side of the hive, and we even managed to spot the queen.  There was still some evidence of varroa mite, so Luke treated that with an organic liquid treatment, hopefully meaning the hive won’t be affected for too much longer.

All in all, the hive is looking really good and if the warm weather continues into September we may even get some honey this season – fingers crossed!

Summer flowers

The LSE sports ground in New Malden, Surrey, is made up of 11 hectares of playing fields.  But what you might not know is that there are also some beautiful wild flowers in the grounds, with these pictures being taken just last week.

Doesn’t it look like some bees would be happy there?  We hope there are some neighbouring hives in the area which are making good use of all these flowers, and perhaps one day LSE Bees will have a hive in Surrey.

Hungry bees

As the summer has finally arrived – well, all the summer that we expect to get – the bees are active and busy making honey.  During our visit to the hive on Connaught House on the 30th of July we saw that they had completely emptied the sugar water, so it needed a top up.

Bees are often fed sugar water (at a ratio of 1kg of sugar to 2L of water) when there isn’t much available for them to eat naturally.  In the case of the UK, those periods are in the early spring before the spring flowers have bloomed, and (normally) in the June period, in the gap between the spring and summer flower yields.  You can read more about feeding bees here.  However, because our summer hasn’t been the best, it seems likely that the bees are drawing on the sugar water more than they would during an abundant summer.

Opening the hive today we could see that the sugar water container was filthy, so after giving it a quick clean we refilled it with the new solution.  We also added a ‘trail’ of sugar water so the bees knew that it had been refilled.

One of the bees got caught up in one of the suits – luckily it was found before it was folded up and put away!  It was safely rescued and put back onto the new lavender bush up on the roof.  No-one has been stung yet – and we’re trying to keep it that way!

The sun finally comes to London!

After a solid few months of rain, the sun has finally arrived in London and the bees are definitely a lot happier for it. Check out that blue sky!

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Responsibility for the maintenance of the hive on the top of Connaught House is being transferred over to the LSE team after some excellent training from our apiarist Luke – today the whole operation was supervised by the team from Estates led by Danny.

Opening up the hive:

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Giving the bees some more food:

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Smoking the hive before checking on the bees:

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A pretty healthy looking hive:

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Putting everything back in place:

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Making sure there aren’t too many more varroa mites after last week’s treatment:

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Hopefully this week of warm weather will encourage the bees to multiply, as well as providing them with a lot more food out and about in the city.