Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Ben Nevis

Having been blessed with the chance, and the health, to walk up Mount Snowdon and Scafell Pike several years ago, NSB has long wanted to make it to the top of Ben Nevis, the third of the "Three Peaks". The chance came around recently on a trip to Scotland, and NSB was doubly blessed by very good (i.e. clear) weather. Below are some pictures but, before that, lets have a look at how Ben Nevis was formed.

Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK, at 1344m, and is located next to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

The mountains in this area were formed some 400 million years ago during the Caledonian Orogeny. At this time the Iapetus ocean was closed by the collision of the continents of Avalonia, Laurentia and Baltica. The images below from the BGS show how the upper and lower parts of the UK mainland were joined together during this process. As the ocean closed, there was a great deal of volcanic activity at the subduction zones at the ocean edges. This volcanic activity (which is similar to the volcanic activity on the western seaboard of South America currently) is what gave rise to the volcanic rocks in the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland.



Also here is a nice video explaining how Ben Nevis was formed (suggest skipping the first minute or so though).

The so-called "suture" line can actually be seen in the Isle of Man, as shown below.

Standing on two different tectonic plates

The rocks at top and left formed in Laurentia (which contained Scotland) but the rocks at lower right formed in Avalonia (which contained England).

Also well worth reading this vividly written BBC article on the volcanic history of the UK

Since its formation, Ben Nevis has been eroded down very significantly, as shown below - walking to the peak is now a journey through the interior of a volcano!

Schematic showing how Ben Nevis formed and was then eroded to it's current shape
Copyright Royal Geographical Society

Much of that erosion was caused by glaciers during past ice ages, when the Ben Nevis range might have looked something like this image from Greenland.

During the Ice Age,  the Ben Nevis area might have looked something like this

With that introduction out of the way, here are a few pictures of the walk up to the Ben Nevis peak.

Starting out,  100-200m up, looking along Glen Nevis

By  Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe - the "Half Way Lake" about 580m up

Looking back at the lake from about 900m up.

The top part of Ben Nevis is a "blockfield" of angular broken rocks. This is believed to have formed during the last iceage when the majority of the mountain was covered in a glacier leaving the exposed top vulnerable to erosion by freeze-thaw action.

At around 1200m and no, that isn't the top.

View  north just before reaching the top,
sheer drops if you drift off course in fog

Incredible view from the top 1340m

Image Sources
All NSB own except Isle of Man, Greenland , Iapetus, Schematic

Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) (schematic)

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Mike's Bees!

Mike, a work colleague of NSB, has recently undertaken a course in Beekeeping and with a view to having his own hive. Thought that it might be worth sharing Mike's Beekeeping story with you!


3rd April
"First beekeeping lesson! Great fun."

Todays Beekeeping suits look GOOD!


10th May
"The beekeeping stuff arrived today! It's like Christmas! Tried on the bee suit, God it's hot. Now, all I need is some bees, maybe I should get a net."

"A beehive typically consists of two distinct parts. A brood box and a Super. The brood box is usually about a foot tall and contains large frames upon which the bees can build honeycomb and raise more bees. When the frames are almost full the beekeeper puts a grid called a "queen excluder" on top of the brood box -this grid is specially sized so that workers can get through but the queen can't - then puts on a Super filled with frames.

Schematic of a beehive 

Mike's brand new hive, smoke gun and tools

The Super is usually half the height of the brood box. The bees then fill the Super frames with honey but because the queen can't get up there there's ONLY honey - makes it easy to extract.

So that's the basics, if you get lots of bees you can add more Supers - more Supers = more honey. If a beehive gets too crowded the workers will create a queen cell , grow a queen, she (or sometimes the old queen) will then leave the nest with about half the bees - which is why you sometimes get swarms."
Incidentally, the hive, like most in the world is based on the Langstroth design from the 19th century. This was the first design that allowed individual combs t obe removed and took advantage of the observation by Huber that bees would keep a "bee space" of 5-8mm between combs. As this is the space between the combs in a Langstroth hive, the bees to not join the combs up. This enables the beekeeper to slide any frame out of the hive for inspection, without harming the bees or the comb, protecting the eggs, larvae and pupae contained within the cells. It also meant that combs containing honey could be gently removed and the honey extracted without destroying the comb. The emptied honey combs could then be returned to the bees intact for refilling. Langstroth's book, The Hive and Honey-bee, published in 1853, described his rediscovery of the bee space and the development of his patent movable comb hive.


22nd May
"Interesting beekeeping tidbit I picked up from today's lesson.....bees can sting through your protective rubber gloves. Little sod. Still, I took it like a man, no crying or screaming, just a "ow you little git - you die now!" (which of course he was going to anyway, still........)"


12th June
"I was given a hive chock full of bees by a chap who had to give it up because he became dangerously allergic to bee stings (this can happen). As a result the beehive I got had not been inspected for 8 months - you're supposed to check them weekly when it's warm and dry enough.

Got to the allotment, the hive is very heavy but can't check it for about a week to let the bees settle.

There is a big IF about them settling down, common bee rules state that you move a hive either 3 feet or a minimum of 3 miles otherwise the bees will go back to the original spot. Well we've moved them just under 3 miles so they might not stay - we're keeping our fingers crossed."

The 2nd Hand Hive, complete with bees...

So how do bees make honey? Well, what happens is that the worker bees extract nectar from flowers and store this in their extra stomach (called a "crop") where it is chemically modifed by enzymes. When back in the hive, the honey is passed between bees several times by regurgitation until it is eventually placed in in a honeycomb. But it is still a thin liquid, so bees flap they wings to evaporate much of the water off before sealing the honeycomb cell with wax.


18th June
"The girls seem to have settled in! Gonna open up the hive tomorrow and see what sort of population I have. The hive could be full of honey or full of disease or parasites, I'll find out tomorrow, fingers crossed."

Video here


19th June
"Well I did it. Took the top off and unfortunately the top super (layer) didn't have any frames so the bees have made their own combs. Also, there's eggs and larvae in the upper layers so no idea what's going on there. Gonna have to bring in an expert. No sign of disease though."
.....A lot of bees

Bees had got busy in the top section of the hive,
 making their own honeycombs

Video here


24th June
"So today, with the help of an experienced keeper I took a look at what I had. The hive consisted of TWO Supers and a brood box. The queen excluder was on top of the brood box. So far so good. We saw that the top Super had no frames and so the bees had build their own combs which were all over the place. We decided to look at that last because it was heavy (hopefully with honey).

We looked at the middle level Super. LOTS of bees, AND grubs and sealed brood cells and honey - obviously the queen had got above the queen excluder, there shouldn't have been young bees in there. No sign of the queen though - you check every time for the health of the hive and to make sure that the queen is OK, she's hard to find in 50,000-odd bees because she's only a bit bigger, so as long as you can find eggs in cells you know the queen is in there somewhere and still working hard. Well we found no eggs, so we took off the queen excluder and checked the brood box. Every frame had either empty cells or cells with nectar, pollen or honey. No queen, this is bad, very bad- she may have left but in that case why were there still so many bees in the hive?

Beekeepers! This is not the Queen you are looking for...

We decided that maybe we'd missed something and we'd check again the following week. So, to the top Super with the natural combs. We took the cover off and it was brimming with bees, there was brood in the cells too. With natural comb we couldn't look for the queen but we did find a capped queen cell (with a pupating queen) AND an uncapped one with a queen larva inside. Maybe the queen is in this level then.

...Neither is this...

So, no honey for me and a real conundrum. The beekeeper and I discussed various options. Eventually we came up with a real risky plan. I have a spare empty hive so, we carefully (VERY carefully) cut the capped queen cell from the natural comb, we then placed it in the older hive carefully UNDER the queen excluder. The plan is that this queen cell will be tended by the existing bees and she'll take over (she'll have to leave the hive to mate and hopefully come back). We then put a new Super on top with new frames in it.

....close, but still no cigar..

The other crammed Super was placed on top of the new hive brood box with no queen excluder (they call it a brood and half), hopefully the bees will use the extra space in the brood box to keep going. If the old queen is in there and a new queen hatches they might not swarm because there's lots of space for them now so they'll probably fight to the death, cruel but that's survival of the fittest for you.

...Bingo !

Eventually I'll have to get the bees out of the natural honeycomb, destroy it and put in proper frames but that's a long way off.

So, no honey for me yet BUT, if my plan works I might end up with TWO hives - of course I could end up with two dead hives if it doesn't work. Fingers crossed."


7th July 2016
Thought it might be nice to fill in a little information about the group that provided beekeeping training to Mike - the Chesterfield and District Bee Keeping Association.

The CDBKA website is very good, and contains a lot of interesting information. For example, did you know that worker bees only live for 4-6 weeks - except for the last brood of the year that live all through the winter maintaining the hive (and keeping it warm by flexing their thoracial wing muscles to create heat)? No? Neither did NSB until reading one of the articles on the CDBKA website.

Lots of fascinating info on the "General Beekeeping" page also, including an article on how Australian researchers have been placing tracking backpacks on bees to study their behaviour!

Bee with a backpack, obviously!

An article on the CDBKA can be found on the "Bee-Craft" website, which bills itself as the "The Informed Voice of British Beekeeping". The article describes how the group worked hard to replace the post-war beekeepers who were retiring at the end of the 20th Century, and managed to increase members by 19% year on year. This growth in interest was then accelerated by media articles sounding alarm at bee population levels - in one 18 month period members increased from 85 to 160!

And the CDBKA has some high profile alumni, for example, Kim Schofield, beekeeper at the Longshaw Estate.


24th July
Update from Mike: "OK so bee update...last Tuesday a friendly beekeeper came and delivered a queen with a load of bees. We put them into the bigger hive with a layer of newspaper separating them. Well today I went down to check...either I'd find a settled queen or a load of dead bees. I didn't find a queen but I did find larvae. Couldn't see any eggs but larvae could be a good sign (of course a worker may have started laying drones) FINGERS CROSSED that's not the case. There's a hell of a lot of honey in there - I'll have to add another layer sharpish.

The smaller hive has eggs!!!!! The bees in the smaller hive are more placid too, didn't need smoke to check them. They're building new cells on my new frames instead of just in the natural comb.

This is the situation in the (smaller) Hive 2

I'm still praying but things could be looking up."


7 Aug
Update from Mike: "A new bee being born! Just one of about 50,000 but pleasing to see nonetheless. And I didn't get stun!". Video here.

Bee emerging from cell (arrowed)!!!


Update from Mike : "So a pile of wood and nails.........
You won't find this in IKEA...

an hour later has become 10 honey frames....huzzah"
Voila! More frames!


Update from Mike :"10 frames ready for extraction."
Honey Laden Frames removed from the Hive 


Update from Mike: "I was expecting maybe 10 jars, got 24 in total!!!!!! PLUS the combs are intact so they go back into the hive,the bees will clean and repair the combs (and lap up any remaining honey). No more honey untl next year though, time to start prepping for winter.Honey in my coffee,on my toast,on a spoon. Time to make some mead too methinks."
Honey from honey laden frames now in jars!


Update from Mike: "Checked on the bees for the first time since taking the honey. The big hive was ok actually, the bees were pretty calm but hadn't started working in the new frames yet so I took them out and replaced them with the frames which had the honey taken. These frames were pretty much intact because the honey was spun out so by putting in these frames the bees just have to do some repair work to the comb and they're good. There's also lots of residual honey left over so they can recover that too.

Getting them ready for winter now so time to start parasite treatments - it's a bit fiddly but it started ok, next dose in two weeks. All good.

Then hive number two, the little one. Still no progress on any new frames AND they're doing all their work in the natural comb which is no use to me. Also, my God they are aggressive! Almost the whole hive rose up and started banging into me, eventually two of them stung me through my gloves, I hadn't been trapping them between my fingers (which is why I've got stung up to now), they just landed on my hand and bang! Finished the check anyway and got the heck out of there.

I had noticed a lot of wasps hanging around and this is the time of year that you can get a lot of 'robbing' of honey stores by wasps. So I made so wasp traps and came back later and installed them around the hives. The bees shouldn't get caught because they don't want jam. Anyway I'm sat beside the hives, closest to number one and watching them both -they were VERY busy which is great- when I saw a black shape getting closer to my left eye, of course it was an angry bee (from hive two I'll bet) who then bashed into my eye. I start flailing at my face, catch the sod but not before she stings me about 5mm under my eye (yes I did yell out). Pack everything up and lock up the allotment, get to the car and look in the mirror - the sting was still in there, took a while to get it out too - full dose. It's not very swollen but it IS very painful to touch. Hope it doesn't swell up tonight which is a possibility.

Still love my bees, apart from hive two, those girls are all jerks.


Related links
Nottinghamshire Beekeepers Association
Derbyshire Beekeepers
Article on how African Farmers use beehives as elephant repellant
The National Bee Unit

Related NSB Content
Talk on reproduction in Bedbugs
Talk "From Soil to Supper"
Wildlife in the Garden
Talk on Dungbeetles and Drugs

Image Sources
All by kind permission of Mike, excepting the following:
Bee with Backpack; Queen, Queen, Queen, Queen