Beekeeping, Bees, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, pollinators, Seasonal Bee Inspector, Susan Jeffers

Beekeeping Bother: An Inspector Calls…

Probably one of mine!

I keep bees, although I never thought I could do it in a million years. The ideal beekeeper is well organised, calm, ready to turn their hand to remedial woodwork or a bit of flat-pack assembly at the drop of a hat, and accepts bee stings as just part of the job spec. I’m disorganised, anything but calm, hopeless at DIY and with a morbid fear of being stung.  I’m not even very keen on honey, so you might well ask why on earth I’m a beekeeper. It’s because there are so many advantages, they far outweigh any problems.  Making an effort to plan, to record, to learn new skills and—stealing a phrase from Susan Jeffers—to Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway—far outweighs any downside. Unfortunately, something happened recently that cast a big black cloud over me and my bees.

I love gardening, cooking, and anything to do with wildlife.  If I could create infographics, I’d put one right here, with beekeeping at the hub of my favourite things. It’s lovely to watch bees buzzing through the flowers on a lazy summer afternoon. The work they do in pollinating our  apple, plum and pear blossom provides us with fruit.  Later, at dusk, it’s fascinating to stand in the apiary (as a collection of beehives is called) and hear the bees humming inside their hive. With a large and busy colony, the noise is loud enough to be heard from quite a way away. It’s made by bees vibrating their wings, to drive off moisture from their haul of nectar. Concentrating the liquid means it will store without fermenting. If the weather’s very hot, bees will bring water into the hive and evaporate that too, in order to cool their home. It’s the original form of air-conditioning. How fascinating is that? I use honey in cooking to roast vegetables, and make cakes. Its anti-bacterial properties make it a great home remedy, too. The juice of half a lemon and a spoonful of honey, diluted with a splash of hot water makes a comforting drink if you’ve got a cold, or a sore throat. It’s dangerous to promote anything as a cure-all, but beekeepers are a pretty healthy lot (we’ll tactfully forget about the possibility of stings!)

My little apiary has been bumbling along (!) quite happily for about eight years. Then, the day before I was due to leave for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s conference in July, I got the worst possible news. The expert who sold me a colony of bees a couple of years ago had diagnosed American Foul Brood (AFB) in his apiary. That’s the equivalent of Foot And Mouth disease in farm animals. It’s about the worst news any beekeeper can get. As my supplier is a diligent beekeeper, he gave the details of everyone who’d bought bees from him to the Seasonal Bee Inspector, who had to visit every contact on the list and check their bees.

Last week, my bees were up for inspection. Although I check them for disease during all my weekly hive inspections and have never spotted anything, I was really worried. What if I’d missed something? The queen bee lays an egg in each of the familiar hexagonal cells of the colony’s honeycomb (don’t worry, in a properly-maintained hive, she can’t enter the part that provides the honey we eat. There’s no chance of eating baby bees with your breakfast!). Foul brood in a hive produces a horrible smell, as you might guess, and the bee larvae are deformed and mushy.  The larvae in my hives were all fat, white and curled up in text book fashion.  That didn’t stop me stressing.

If my bees had AFB, they’d all have to be destroyed, and my equipment burned. Okay, so “they’re only insects”, but they are my responsibility, and I had duty of care. Bees are in enough trouble worldwide, without me adding to their problems.

I was so concerned I posted about my worries on Facebook, and was touched by all the good wishes and promises of crossed fingers I received.  Thanks, everyone, I really appreciate your kind thoughts!

By the time the Seasonal Bee Inspector arrived, I was a bag of nerves. I was so concerned, I’d ironed my bee suit. I never normally iron anything! He was very kind and understanding, but his inspection took forever. He checked everything—and then he checked it all over again. As a matter of course, my bees were examined for any signs of deformed wings (caused by a different virus). They were brushed from their comb so the inspector could check the state of the wax cappings over the developing larvae. The appearance of everything was checked down to the smallest detail—several times.

I hadn’t been sure whether the bee inspector would be able to give me the verdict there and then, or whether I’d have to gnaw my fingernails and wait for lab results, but I was too nervous to ask. Luckily, he didn’t find any trace of anything nasty. He was able to give me the all-clear straight away! There was no sign of either AFB, or European Foul Brood (EFB), so I celebrated by writing full details of his visit and contact details down in my Apiary Record Book, as every conscientious, well-organised beekeeper should…:D

Incidentally, although the bee inspector was doing the insect equivalent of taking the roof of a huge maternity department and rummaging about among the staff and babies (for what felt like hours), neither he, nor I, got stung (thank goodness!). My bees have been selected to be docile, and despite this extensive disruption to their routine, they took it in their stride.

I include news about my bees and seasonal recipes as well as giveaways, and updates about my writing life in my newsletter, which I send out two or three times a year. The next one will include details of a short story due for release in the autumn, My Dream Guy, and  Heart Of A Hostage, which is the third title in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press.

To get my newsletter, you can sign up for my mailing list here. To catch up with the first two parts of my Princes Of Kharova series, you can find out more here.

Beekeeping, DD, family life, interview, OH, swarms

Beekeeping: Bothered and Bewildered…

Planning Something?

I don’t know about March going out like a lion this year, but the month of May certainly had an exciting end  here. DD’s first interview was almost hijacked by a swarm of bees!

DD wants a job, but as she also needs to build up credits as an archaeologist, her options for finding full-time work are limited. The digs she’s targetting happen during the long summer break, and the shorter one in October. Luckily, a part-time vacancy has recently come up at her old school. If she gets it, she’d be working term-time only. That would be perfect.

Yesterday, she bought her dress (very smart). Today was her interview (very nerve-racking). I don’t think she slept well last night – OH and I certainly didn’t! We were all ready hours in advance of giving her a lift to the school. Rather than sit in the house, making her feel nervous, I went out to check the greenhouse. With only twenty minutes to go before we were due to leave home, I strolled back. That was when I saw it – a huge swarm of bees on one of wooden posts supporting some raspberry canes. The swarm must have arrived after I checked my bees yesterday, and rested there all night.

The Swarm’s New Home

I couldn’t leave the swarm where it was while I took DD for her interview. It would have moved off as soon as the day warmed up, and I didn’t want our village subjected to the sort of panic that’s been appearing in the newspapers and on TV. Given time, I could have coaxed the bees off the post and into a box by using smoke and a soft brush, but we didn’t have any time! We had to leave for DD’s interview, ten miles away.  Luckily, OH was working from home. He’s very tall and strong, so he was able to uproot the wooden post with all the bees still attached, and shake the swarm straight into a nucleus box (a half-sized hive, used for building up small colonies until they’re big enough to go into a full-sized home). They dropped in perfectly, I closed it up and we dashed off to deliver DD to her interview.

It’ll be a while before these new bees decide if they like it here, and whether they’re happy to stay. I’ll let you know what happens – about the bees, and whether DD gets the job!

Beekeeping, celebrity, Happiness, United Nations., wealth

Writing Brings Riches…

…and there were skylarks singing, too!

…although it may not be the sort you can take to the bank. Someone at the United Nations has been brave enough to suggest there might be other ways of measuring a country’s wealth beyond balance sheets.  You can read the Daily Telegraph’s take on the story; Lollipops, washing machines and sleeping patterns show a nation’s true wealth here.

I have a terrible Daily Mail habit, checking the online headlines every morning before work.   I stick to the main pages, but it’s impossible to miss the dozens of famous faces featuring alongside the more serious news items.   Most of them are famous simply for being famous, and what good does it do them?  Our celebrity culture builds people up, only to knock them down again. A woman might become a national heroine for the way she looks, then five minutes later will be rubbished for daring to go out to the supermarket without makeup. What sort of a country do we live in, when a person’s appearance and size of their bank balance is seen to be more important than their happiness? When images of lavish lifestyles are the only things we see on line and in the press, day after day, it’s no wonder may people feel dissatisfied and resentful of the old nine-to-five. But we’re only fed the images the media choose to give us.  It’s a highly distorted view. I’m willing to bet that at least 99% of us worry about money, and know what it’s like to struggle to pay the bills.  Children brought up on a diet of “reality” shows (many of which are scripted, directed and otherwise faked, anyway) will have a skewed idea of what real life is like. It’s setting them up for a whole lot of disappointment and disillusion.

One of mine. Probably.

We’re always looking to improve ourselves, our lot and our position in life. It’s part of being human. But be honest – once our basic needs for food, clean water, shelter, sanitation and health care are met, everything else is pure gravy. Yesterday the sun shone and the birds were singing. I felt better than I’ve felt for months, and sat in the garden doing nothing except listening to the laying hens cackling and watching my bees escorting their new queen on her first mating flight. None of that cost me a penny, yet I wouldn’t have swapped places with Queen Elizabeth herself.  Incidentally, the life of a Royal looks far better than it lives. Exchanging personal privacy for unimaginable wealth is a step too far, in my opinion. Last week I skipped church, just to spend more time in the garden. The Defender Of The Faith would never get away with that one!

There’s nothing wrong with working hard, and trying to improve your family’s living standards. But as well as waking up and smelling the coffee, why not try kicking back and listening to the birds once in a while?

Beekeeping, Cakes, Chuck Wendig, Creative Writing, swarms, Terrible Minds Blog

Food, Men and The Weekend…

…complete with travelling tins!

Last week, my husband celebrated a significant anniversary as a systems analyst. Supplying cakes at times like that is a tradition in his office, so I grabbed my First Edition of Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cakes and started baking. Her recipes are foolproof, and you can see three variations on her theme of traybakes in the photo: chocolate, lemon, and orange-and-sultana.

I also made Victoria sponge, which is the perfect quick tea-time treat. Here’s the recipe –


The weight of four eggs in caster sugar, self-raising flour and soft margarine (I use the organic butter/sunflower oil spread made by Pure)

1. Cream the margarine and sugar with a food mixer until it’s light and fluffy.
2. Break the eggs into a jug, beat them with a fork then incorporate them into the margarine and sugar mixture a little at a time, whisking hard after every addition.
3. Sift in the flour, and fold it in gently. Divide the mixture between two greased and lined 8″ (20 cm) sandwich tins.
4.  Bake in the oven at 180 degrees c, 160 degrees fan, 350 degrees F, Gas Mark 4 for about 25 minutes or until the cakes are light brown and spring back to the touch.
5. Allow them to cool on a wire rack, then sandwich them together with raspberry jam. Delicious!
By Healthnutlady

I must admit I balked when I was introduced to the blogs of Chuck Wendig (via writer Lynne Connolly) but the man talks a lot of sense about the art, and sheer graft, of writing. Don’t try reading his blogs at work as the language is ripe, but check out his instructive entries. Five Common Problems I See In Your Stories and The Full Time Writer are good starting points.

This weekend I’ll be checking my bees, and hoping they don’t swarm. On the other hand, I’m all ready and waiting to capture anybody else’s swarms that happen to come my way!

What are you doing this weekend? Have you got any writing planned?

Beekeeping, newsletter, River Wye, Turkish Delight, Writing

A Writer’s Life – Autumn Is Here…

That was then…

Autumn has arrived, and it came in on a blustery south-west wind. That means rain – and lots of it. Only a few weeks ago, the river level was almost down to the record low level of the famous drought year of 1976 – on the right is a snap of it as it was.

… and this is now

Now rain falling on the mountains of Wales is gradually draining into the Wye. Canoeists don’t have to  worry about grounding on gravel banks anymore. They’re too busy fighting their way through torrents and rapids. The snap on the left was taken today and shows how the small island has disappeared.

As I type this, it’s impossible to see our neighbour’s house – the rain is so heavy, clouds have filled the valley. All the water-butts around the house and greenhouses are overflowing, and they were almost empty in September. The weather this year has been as good as last year was bad. This meant a great harvest of fruit, and now autumn has set the blueberry leaves on fire.

After losing all my bees, I was lucky enough to get a replacement colony via our local beekeepers’ club. It was  late in the beekeeping season, but my new bees still managed to populate their hive. I shall have to be on my toes next spring, or their queen will think it’s time to lay a replacement and move out with a swarm of her followers. She’ll want to set up a new home somewhere else, leaving her daughter queen behind in my hive with a tiny nucleus of young bees. That means I’ll get no honey for the second year running! To avoid that happening, I’ll  try and hang onto my existing queen by persuading her to move out, but only as far as one of my spare hives. That means I’ll be spending this autumn cleaning and repairing all my spare kit, ready for next spring. Like gardening, beekeeping needs you to think ahead.
By TheMightyQuill
I’m planning to issue my next newsletter soon, and this picture has been a great inspiration! I’ll be including my own recipe for Turkish delight in my newsletter, and you can sign up to be included on the mailing list here