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June Bees

This season started well with very few losses of our bees over winter, the bees were well fed last September with invert and sugar syrup, and all were given a kilo block of sugar fondant in late January. The spring weather has not been good for the bees this year, with little in the way of forage for them to stock up on their stores some have succumbed to starvation; fortunately we managed to feed those affected in time to save them. Noticeably the yellow Italian / Buckfast type of bees we keep in the North East apiaries seemed to be the ones put under most stress, with the Native Cornish Black colonies actually beginning to fill the odd super. Nature is telling us something here, 10 thousand years of evolutionary selection and adaptation of our native Cornish black bees has produced a resilient honeybee fit for our Northern Maritime environment, whereas the genetics of the “imported” non-natives, even though locally bred and selected shows something lacking when face with poor conditions. Our plan has been for some time to eventually have all our stocks of bees bred from our own Cornish black bees. One problem we have encountered is in use of the new type of underfloor entrance open mesh floors, mice cannot get in, but generally we do not have a mouse problem… but the bees also seem to have a problem with clearing away any bees that die in the colony ( workers only live for 48 days, and some inevitably will die in the hive) the entrance can get blocked with disastrous consequences! As with the 14 x 12 frames we tried last season, these will be going into Room 101 along with the single handed queen catcher and the nasty varrocides we were encouraged to buy! The weather forecast looks good for the next few weeks, the blackthorn is already flowering and clover is abundant, we just need that SUN! We have had but a few “swarm calls” so far this season, nothing like as many as in previous years, all have been successfully collected and taken to our “isolation apiary” where they have been fed and will be monitored for disease for two brood cycles at which point if free of disease will be dequeened and used to boost our stocks. We do not sell them!!! The queens that are removed from the swarms get posted with a few attendants in a postal cage up to a beekeeper friend in Somerset. We have been listening to the various pleas and questions on Radio Cornwall that the general public would like answered by the delegates to the G7 Conference being held in Newquay down here in our beautiful Cornwall over the next week. High on the agenda seems to be how to deal with the environmental impact of our throwaway society, and reducing our carbon footprint on our planet. We at Kings Orchard Honey have strived to make our own impact as small as possible particularly with our choice of honeybees and our use of packaging. We have received some criticism on our use of polystyrene hives and nucleus boxes since some consider all “plastics” to be environmentally unfriendly. The “plastic” hives we use have proved to be robust and easy to clean; our oldest now 25 years old is still in regular use. Our oldest cedar hive is a Robert Lee WBC, still in use by us today and saved from a bonfire at Dene Forge, near Buckfast Abbey, one of my first hives when we started up beekeeping again in Devon, the hive was manufactured by Lees in Uxbridge sometime in the late 1930s…. BS Nationals which are our chosen stock hives were produced after the Second World War to save on timber that was in short supply. Our honey is packaged in glass jars, which are designed for single use. We suggest that the jars are rinsed and placed in the clear glass recycle bin, most glass is crushed and used in aggregates as the cost of making new glass products from them is more costly energy wise than using new mined silica which the planet has in abundance. The steel lids are widely recyclable; our labels are printed using environmentally friendly degradable paper and inks. Our Kings Orchard “Twin Pack” boxes and out “cut comb” containers have been especially made for us by a company in Plymouth, using degradable and recyclable cardboard and degradable inks. The clear plastic cover of the cut comb boxes is recyclable and carries the recycle information, the lining of the box is also coated with a food safe biodegradable product to prevent leakage. I think we are the only honey producers to use a completely environmentally friendly container for our cut comb. We looked carefully at the product we use at the shows etc. for “tasters”, we use wooden spills for the honey tasting, totally recyclable! The little pots we use for the apple and fruit juices are recyclable plastic, we looked at the so called “biodegradable / compostable products coming onto the market, but with some research found that they broke down into micro plastic particles that are even more environmentally unfriendly than a product that can persist for 100s of years… and can be recycled if processed correctly and not just chucked on the verge or into the sea! We now steam out our used frames of foundation, collecting the beeswax for candle making and pressing new foundation. Making and reusing the frames is time consuming but sustainable! Of course the most environmentally friendly thing we do is to produce honey here in Cornwall using our own Native black bees. Our honey may have thousands of bee miles to produce it… but we know it has not been produced and transported from the other side of our planet! Chons da!

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