The Beekeepers Apprentice

This year I have undertaken the role of a beekeeper’s apprentice as my father has a small apiary at the bottom of one of our fields.  At the start of the year we had three hives which required very little attendance, other than making sure they had enough syrup during the cold winter months.  The fun really started when around April when the decision was made to artificially divide the hives in the hope that this would stop the hive from splitting and then swarming later in the year.  Well… that was the theory…

I spotted the first swarm on the first truly hot day of the year in the middle of May, fortunately my father was in the house when it happened, and with his help and guidance together we caught the swarm in a box – before then re-housing it in a ruchette (little hive).  The following day there were two more swarms.  So once again we donned our bee-suits and caught them both before once again re-housing the swarms in separate ruchettes.  I vividly remember half way through rehousing the second swarm (which is done by placing a white sheet in front of the ruchette with a plank of wood leading up to the entrance – so they can quite literally walk into their new home once you’ve upended the box of bees on to the sheet) my father turning to me and asking me if I could try to spot and then catch the queen (please bear in mind there tend to be thousands of bees in a swarm) whilst he popped back to the barn to get something.  I set about this task during his absence and with the help of the workers bees who tend to bow with their tails in the air when a queen is in close proximity, I managed to catch not just one queen but five queens (please note this is NOT normal).  After a lot of deliberation we decided to let all the queens go and watched them all head on up into the Ruchette – which with the joy of hindsight and a little bit of research on Google was entirely the wrong thing to do.

I suspect you might have already guessed what happened next…

 

       

The following day when both my parents were out at a friend’s birthday lunch, I popped down to check the hives at midday to find three swarms.  With no option other than to catch the swarms myself I armed myself with the swarm catching kit (aka 2 wine boxes and a wicker waste paper basket) and set about catching and attempting to re-house each of the swarms.  To say I had one or two problems was an understatement!  One of the swarms decided they did not want to enter the new ruchette but instead they would rather remain in the wooden box – so after two attempts I decided to leave them in the box.  One of the swarms did enter the ruchette but two hours later decided they would rather swarm again and  take up residence on a branch 3 metres away.  So I had to catch and re-house them twice.  As for the third swarm that was placed in the wicker basket I decided after all the excitement of the second swarm I would leave them be (excuse the pun) until my father’s return.

Similar events occurred the following weekend (typically when my parents were away visiting friends leaving me in charge of the smallholding and all its occupants).  Below is an email I sent to my father whilst he was away to update him on the “Bee situation”…

To: Dad

Subject:  Bees

Dear Dad

 Well this is how yesterday went.  Saw big swarm – put it in a box very easily.  Went to get Ruchette, with Susan’s [A Beekeeping Friend who was somewhat of a life saver] help kitted it all out and went and put them in the box.   Meanwhile another sneaky swarm was forming so after rehousing the first, went and put 2nd swarm in box.  Left them until 7pm – both swarms were still in situ so I rang Susan!  Susan had fortunately just reorganised her bees, so told me to pop over and collect her display hive.  She gave me more wax and cardres…  I then came home and sorted it all out, and put the bees to bed – which was in fact a much bigger swarm by the time all the bees had gone into the box than I would have thought.  So I then put those bees to bed (please note as I did so I saw what looked like a new young queen – who must have gone into the ruchette as the bees flooded in…)

So this morning, I am going to remove one of the feeders from a ruchette and give it to the second new swarm.  Will look at the big hive at the same time…

Love Ant

P.S  I dislike your bees immensely right now!!!

P.P.S Lambs and I are not on speaking terms as they have taken a chunk out of my index finger.

After all the excitement of the swarms during May, things calmed down considerably and the only thing that needed to be done to the hive was place a super on top to allow the bees to start making their honey which they have been doing all summer.  At the end of last week it was decided that the honey harvest was to happen and so, over the course of one afternoon, we spun the honey out of the frames using a centrifuge which has left us with roughly 82kg of honey…

I apologise for the length of the blog and don’t blame anyone who scrolls straight down to the recipes, which surprise, surprise involve honey as an ingredient…  Over the last couple of days I have made a number of dishes but there are really two that stood out.  The first was a play on an upside down cake and the second can really only be described as a fancy cheese on toast starter.  But without further ado here are the recipes.

Honey, Reine Claude Plum and Apple Upside Down Cake (Serves 8-12)


Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs
  • 250g cooking margarine
  • 250g sugar
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cardamom pods (shells removed and seeds crushed)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 15 plums (stoned and halved) – I used Reine Claude
  • 2 medium apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
  • 5-6 tbsp honey (runny)

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C fan.  Line and grease a 30cm cake tin.
  2. In a bowl, beat to together the margarine and sugar until soft.
  3. Add the eggs to the mixture slowly (adding a little flour if the eggs start to curdle).
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and beat together thoroughly.
  5. Pour the honey into the bottom of the cake tin, using the back of a spoon to help evenly spread the honey around the bottom of the tin.
  6. Add the fruit in the pattern you would like (remember it will become the top of your cake).
  7. Finally pour over the batter and place in the over for approximately 50 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean).
  8. Serve with crème fraiche.

Fancy Cheese on Toast (Serves 3)

Ingredients:

  • 6 pieces of melba toast
  • 100g soft goats cheese
  • small handful sliced almonds
  • 6 fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp runny honey
  • Black pepper (seasoning)

Steps:

  1. Cut the cheese into 6 slices.  Place a slice of the cheese onto each of the melba toasts.  Place under a hot grill for 1 minute.
  2. Whilst the cheese is under the grill, heat the almonds in a frying pan on a hot heat for around 1 minute.
  3. Remove the cheese on toast from the grill and plate up – by placing two of the toasts on each plate, scatter over a few almonds, drizzle over ½ tsp of honey, place a coriander leaf on each of the toasts and season with black pepper.  Then serve quickly so you can enjoy them whilst they are still warm.

8 thoughts on “The Beekeepers Apprentice

    1. antoniamortimer Post author

      I agree with you entirely! As a complete novice, the thing that amazed me is how calm the bees tend to be when you open up their home/hive to take a look or remove their honey, it is quite incredible. That being said I think I have been very lucky, as I have heard some swarms when they are not Buckfast bees can be really quite aggressive…

      Reply
      1. cooking with audrey

        it’s kind of alarming… but it teaches you so much about the colonies and how bees work. we need them, and need to be more like them! you can find the film on netflix 🙂 have a great day!

  1. Pingback: A Wet Day Swarm « Molles

  2. Fiona Ellis

    Hi Antonia!
    Just come across your old blog about the bees… sent by people we know near us who acquired bees last year from your father and have obviously had a good yield this year… I’d obviously sent her your blog to read so it was attached to a recent e-mail from her.
    I’ve just been wondering how well your parents bees have done this year?!?
    Fiona

    Reply
  3. mollesmontpezat

    Reblogged this on MOLLES MONTPEZAT and commented:
    If you visit Molles you will note a number of hives. Roger was a beekeeping novice when he first moved here, however he has since mastered the art and has passed on his knowledge to friends and family whilst keeping us all in honey. You will see from the blog below how our daughter stepped into the fray when we escaped for a long weekend…

    Reply

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