About East Riddlesden Hall Apiary

Airedale Beekeepers Association’s partnership with East Riddlesden Hall began in 2013 when we established an apiary on the site, near the overflow car park.    We now have 6 hives flourishing on the site, and produce honey which we sell at the East Riddlesden Hall Christmas Fayre, and also at the Keighley show.

Bee on weld at East Riddlesden Hall

Bee on weld at East Riddlesden Hall

The apiary is surrounded by sheep
grazing land, and the river Aire is
close by.  We have been working to establish a wildflower meadow, which
will provide the bees with
additional forage, with mixed
success.  This has led to Operation
Yellow Rattle.


June 2017

Despite being one year wiser and by that proxy of experience, better, the apiary although expanded is still in its usual stay of queenly disarray.  Gah!!  I could stomp my feet, punch someone’s cat and go a combustible purple with utter confoundedness.

Getting a colony queen right is quite taxing.  I think we’ve done everything we can do but the bad weather at a critical time and all of the other natural enemies of the beekeeper have left their mark on our little corner of the world.  I don’t want to go down the road of mini mating nucs because of the time you have to invest in them.  The poly nucs we are using are brilliant pieces of kit (buggers to clean) and more than suffice as devices to manage splits.

I think where we are going wrong is that we are not splitting quite soon enough in the season.  I’m only talking a matter of 7 to 14 days earlier, nothing too startling, but we’re missing out on mating windows. It’s difficult because if I was the Goddess Gaia then I would know exactly what the weather would do.  Drones are of course the big signal for getting mating ready. Once the colony has started drone production then they are demonstrating confidence that reproduction is on the cards.  That is after all their solitary aim – the continuation of their species.

We have got a few supers of capped honey and we have left those colonies large to keep forager numbers high to bring in loads of nectar.  They are harder to manage and do from time to time get a bit narky.  It’s still a lot of work for relatively little honey but then our most productive time is late summer honey.

The trouble with waiting too long for new queens to prove their existence is that the summer bees deplete quicker than their winter sisters.  They can expire pretty much on their first outings from the hive at about 22/23 days old but some can slog on up to and aged 40 days old.  It’s random but expiration is more likely to be in the low numbers rather than the high.  You can see that a colony without a laying queen  for more than 3 weeks is going to run into problems in that bee production is discontinuous.

With two colones up at ERH we hit that problem yesterday and had to merge those.  We have one more week with a couple of others and next week will probably merge others too. 

Vandalism up at ERH last week

For the first time ever some malcontents decided to have a go at the hives at ERH – one Friday eve according to our watchful neighbour.  He never saw nowt, but he felt the usual racket from the Hall’s weddings that they have to put up with was unusually close.  It clearly was no beekeeper more like some fool displaying a desire to be stung to death.  The clean stack of hives was dislodged as was a lure box.  It looked like someone was trying to find bees.  Anyway with the help of a long rake handle they eventually did and knocked off a roof and crown board of a newly caught swarm.  That must have been a bloody shock to the pillocks.  I’d loved to have seen them streaking away then!!  But the bees that were exposed spent a very wet two nights in a tight winter-like cluster huddled up and soaking wet. 

The good news is that they made it.  We fed them and put dry kit on them. Hurrah for nature.


Monday 19th September
Weather:  Damp
One final check for our largest and least friendly colony today.  Last week we saw scant eggs, no larva, no brood in any stage -aaarghhh!

They’re on brood and a half because whatever queen has been in there has always been prolific, but defensive.  They also are filling and capping 2 supers.  In our eagerness to spot a queen during this manipulation we put the brood box on top of the super but did not put a QX under that and it took a few moments for us to realise our horrible mistake.  She could now be running around either of the supers.  Oh damn, damn and double damn.  Fool! So we put it all back with a QX in between every box so we could trap her in.  There are at least a gazillion bees in this colony.  Maybe more!!! 

This week, Jill eyes-of-a-ship’s-rat Mastin  found her, where she is supposed to be.  But she’s small, unmarked and not looking at all fecund. And there’s still no larvae –what happened to those then? The bees however, and for the time, are content. And I really dont want to lose this honey with it’s near perfect ABKA-Honey-Show-prize-winning capped supers.  So we will look again in 3 weeks.  If we see no ovipositor action we will take the honey off and merge it.  It’s so big that we would split this colony into at least 2 parts so it does not overwhelm a single recipient colony.

We’re on track for going into winter.  Varroa count is done.  Treatments have been applied.  Mouseguards are on. 
We have left one colony with a laying queen and a supersedure cell -it has being trying to supersede for weeks but we’ve fought it.  We’re experimenting with this one to see what the outcome is in the spring, if they make it. We’ll keep you posted. Feeding has commenced on this colony as they have scant stores in the broodbox and there’s no super on.
Our next action in 2 or 3 weeks will be to take the honey off.  Undersuper with what we decide to leave on.
Then that should be it.
We did a bit of work in the meadow this morning.  I scythed off some large patches of horrible floppy wet grass with my ditch scythe.  Jill starting calling me Poldark.  Oh ha ha!! My chest is much hairier.  Jill popped some yellow rattle which we have purloined from ‘somewhere’ and is quite fresh and a mix of flower seeds from the meadow.  We have had a lot of success putting down fresh yellow rattle seed.  We have some bluebell seeds to add which Those Plant People kindly allowed us to gather from their patch.
So next is the ABKA Honey Show.  The ERH Gals have some prize winning entries planned – yeah baby!!
Mon 1 August
Weather: overcast, hot and humid.
We still have colonies with white queens who want to supercede.  So we have done Demarees on these two cols.  This keeps the colony together in case we need to merge later.  It’s late in the season but there are drones about and the weather’s good.  It also satisfies the colony’s desire to supercede if we assume that they have a proper reason to replace what looks to us a s a fully viable white queen.  It gives us time to wait and see what develops.


Stores in some hives are scant but ample and as we are checking this weekly we have not yet had to supplement with sugar syrup.  Other colonies are filling the supers well, these are the bigger colonies which makes a lot of sense as they have many more foragers.  But these colonies are also slightly more challenging to look through although I would not describe them as aggressive, just more assertive at times!!


We have a couple of colonies displaying signs of Deformed Wing Virus but conversely have a very low Varroa drop.  Based on horrific experience from last year with DWV we have treated these colonies with MAQS strips (formic acid which can be applied during a flow and a ‘natural’ chemical to which Varroa can build no resistance).

In a couple of weeks time we will be giving all colonies a thorough disease check in order to prepare them and us for the winter. We might open this session up to the general membership if anyone is interested.  Let me know.

Monday 25/7/16
Weather: Hot, over cast, humid
Cherchez la reine today.  I dislike this job so Jill, Linda and Joyce did it.  Five colonies to prepare for this weekend’s Bee Basic exam.
Each queen is now marked with a black pen – ha ha – just to make it harder for the exam candidates!!  OK not really.  White blobs on their lovely new thoraxes.
No new queen has been anywhere near a pen until we were sure that she had claimed the nest and was laying properly.  Marking too soon and there is the definite possibility that she will buzz off.  I’ve seen wit with my very eyes – and she ain’t gonna come back, not never.
The rest I went through.  I keep mentioning this but the new queens definitely take a long time to start laying.  I’ll work out the average later on and tell you what the mean day number is for that in a couple of weeks.
When waiting for a queen to start her tenancy:
Don’t look for a queen , look for eggs.  Look for pollen stores being laid down and pay attention to the bees’ timbre.  All of these are can provide useful clues.
Dont rush to mark her, wait until she has capped brood.  There’s no need to rush that bit.
All of the colonies were playing nice; bar one.  As it was so hot I’d taken my shirt off and was down to a vest top under the suit.  Opening up this hive exposed me to a maelstrom.  I reckon I took about 50 stings – 3 got flesh -wrist, back and belly.  It made me laugh because if parts of my anatomy was as pert as they used be 20 years ago, then …..
Good luck to everyone taking their exam this weekend from the ERH team.
Monday 4 July
Weather:Sunny, hot
A swarm flopped all over a dock in the grass greeted us this morning at ERH.  Tried to walk them into a hive which didn’t work.  They then re settled on another dock and gotcha! Housed and sited in the apiary.  Looking through the ERH bees there were no absentee queens, so we dont know where this one has come one.  It’s a nice size and I’ll go up in a couple of days and treat it with oxalic acid vapours as it’s broodless.
We did our varroa count this morning on all colonies.  Each board has been in situ for a week.  One hive is chronically infested with them, there is Deformed Wing Virus too.  We gave up counting after 80.  The others are low single numbers to nothing – that’s over a 7 day period.  That is quite a good sign and indicates that we do not need to treat them.  The fact that that one hive is so badly infested and has DWV will inform our choices for breeding off that queen next year. We will treat that infested hive with formic acid.   The boards were removed and cleaned ready for use in our end of season count.
We have started monitoring for stores in the hives.  All of them had ample today and needed no topping up but we still have to watch things over the next few weeks.  Nealy all hives with new queens are laying really well now.  That means we wait on average 24 days from an (accurately estimated) queen emergence from her cell. This week we did not look for queens but instead looked for eggs.  This is quicker and more reliable for the beekeeper.  Now that the queens have claimed their nest and are settled down we will invest some time in finding and marking her- but there’s no rush.
Bees in hair
We had an NT visitor with bees in her hair today.  It’s definitely worth sharing that you dont waste time trying to prize bees out of hair.  You squash them with your fingers.  It’s distressing having that angry buzzing so close to your face.  Your hair will be covered in venom anyway so if you flick it out it will probably return.  A quick firm squish puts everyone out of their misery.


Monday 27th June
Weather: overcast, warm

General temper: most excellent – bees that is

It has taken some time for our new queens to come into lay.  We reckon we’re waiting over 3 weeks before we see eggs.  We don’t waste time looking for young queens now.  And if we’re getting nervous about the delay in laying we note the general temperament of the nest and marry this to the records.  Theoretically a young queen will leave the nest to make mating flight 5 or 6 days after emergence and then can soon start laying eggs after that.  That quick sequence has never happened to any colonies I’ve ever worked on. 


We have 3 nucs that failed to produce any laying queen and they have all been merged with other colonies – as we don’t want the palaver of laying workers.  That has all worked out well enough.  We have to factor in some failure.  This can be brought about by us, bird picking off bees, bad weather, pesticides, malformation.


We put Porter bee escapes this morning and tomorrow we’ll remove the honey capped supers (which will of course be totally bee free!).


Three further things of note:


1. Our President, Peter Hewitt, says he knows 3 beekeepers who have lost an eye each through not wearing head gear and being stung in the eyeball. 


2. And here is a shot of what beekeepers toes should look like at all times!!!


3. Richard Law – our Yellow beekeeper in action on the ERH lawn


 A postscript to the above….


Taking off the honey


So, 24 hours later I’ve gone up to the apiary to remove the supers.  The Porter bee escapes had mainly worked – nearly cleared off all bees. Only the most determined were still clinging on and working.  Those bee escapes need to be adjusted so that bees can’t get back up into the super once they’ve passed through the two pairs of sprung arms.  They can clear in under 6 hours.

I gently brushed off those few cleavers and bish, bash, bosh we have honey to extract.  We’ve marked which supers came of which hives as this will give us indications for breeding for next year.  Also we’ll put back the uncapped stores next week.


The bees may well take everything back from the supers if we have a dry July.  That is the point of it after all.   If you want honey then now is a good time to take some.  If you’re unsure just take a spoonful – literally scrape it up a comb and drizzle this into a handy jam jar.  Then take it home and ENJOY!  You dont have to take it all, just enough to act as evidence to a bemused family!  It has been known in our household that my loving brother was intending to buy me jars of honey for Christmas just to make sure I got some!  Oh ha ha ha I responded dryly.


This will be ERH’s WINNING summer honey for the ABKA Honey Show.  Yeah baby!!!


Monday 20th June

Last week the bees at ERH were horrid.  Quite distressing as good temper is one of the things we’re breeding for.  All colonies were behaving exactly the same – badly!  Those colonies were queen right, waiting for queens to emerge, waiting for queens to start laying – in fact every we had the whole gamut of queenliness. Talking to others, the difficulties we faced last week were not ours alone. 
This week most of the nests’ responses to our interventions and inspections were calmer.  Although they all do appear to suicidaly detest the suede bellows of one particular smoker.  We have decided to dispatch a fecund but swarmy queen.  She made us intervene 5 times over the last 4 weeks with various splits. All queens will swarm, it’s natural and good but that was several queen cells too far!
It’s time for us to be taking off honey now.  This has been a very good year and most of the supered hives are on two supers.  These are all, unsurprisingly, large colonies and a little bit defensive.  We will remove this sweet Spring honey, not taking it all, to ensure that there is enough to cover any gap in the nectar flow which is sure to come. 
Next week’s job is to do our summer Varroa count.  We’ve noted some deformed wing in a couple of colonies and a heavy Varroa infestation is sure to follow.  As we discovered last year, the speed with which the Deformed Wing Virus can appear is pretty disturbing.  Monitoring for Varroa now will enable us to apply appropriate treatments if required before the next honey flow and before the bees prepare for going into winter.

Monday 6th June

Weather: Hot! Hot! Hot! And slight breeze.
Keeping good notes is critical.  It means the difference between you managing the bees; or the bees managing you.  This week we felt like real beekeepers and it took our 2 working pairs just over one hour to go through 11 hives.
My task is to review last week’s notes and make a  plan of exactly what we are going to do with each hive this week.  We then split the tasks between the two teams.  Our two teams mix and match depending on the task.  We discuss the plan and clarify any confusion I may have caused!
We then get all of the equipment we think we’ll need out of the shed and put it in the centre of the apiary:  this week we needed brood boxes both with and without foundation, supers with foundation and empty supers to start decanting capped super frames from the bees.  This stops us running about to and fro for bits and pieces.  We’re not ransacking the shed, shouting where did you say the brood frames are again? – it’s all out in a tidy accessible pile.
We have a session of filling up water sprays, priming and packing smokers, buckets with cleaning materials and rubbish buckets are doled out.  Each pair has her own queen cage in her pocket too.
The notes are split onto clipboards.  Each pair carries her notes with her -with a pen. One of that pair is the runner and fetcher.  Then we swap over so we all get a go.
Like I said 1 hour 10 minutes -done!  In that time we did a split, took an inch square portion of eggs out of our good queen’s hive and sliced those into two nucs where we’re on queen right time limit, added a frame of eggs from Good Queen Hive into Horrible (hopelessly queenless) Hive, checked for excess queen cells, assessed for stores, moved some grotty old comb out to edges of nests.  Jill (aka Two-Trowels Mastin) even managed to manicure the fronts of the hives with her clippers. 
Cleaned up, packed away, sweaty, second cup of tea and done!! 

Monday 30 May

ERH apiary inspection – Overcast, humid, light  

Inspections were brief but certainly testing today.  We’re in the unhappy position of waiting to see if our virgin queens have claimed their nuc nests.  It’s been two weeks approximately since emergence so we should be getting results soon, assuming they all made it back safely and weren’t picked off by swallows or flycatchers.  It’s possible for the virgin queens to get mated and begin to lay after only 2 days from their first flights – this has never happened in any of the bees I’ve ever been around.  Next week if we don’t see signs of polished cells then we will have to rethink. We will probably press a little slither of comb with eggs in from a nice hive and test the water. If the nest ignores it then they’re queen right.  If not then they will draw cells out to make new queen cells.  Temper is very telling on hives which are low on queen pheromones.


The supers are heavy with nectar and honey.  This is the first year I’ve ever needed to keep adding more.  It’s great, but hard on the back.  We should be able to remove some soon but we won’t extract until the June gap is behind us.


The meadow is starting to flower.  Hurray!  Not exactly a bounty of forage for pollinators – not yet anyway.  The yellow rattle is flowering as is red campion, cow parsley (I love that), mouse ear, black medick, corn cockle, common vetch and large daisy – a treat for compound eyes. 


The ERH team are:
Linda Schofield
Jill Mastin
Joyce Drake
Chris Hardy


Operation Yellow Rattle
Two 50 year olds scrabbling in grass on their knees, nails embedded with dirt and random exclamations of frustration and joy can only mean one thing at that age – the search for the painfully elusive yellow rattle.

Yellow rattle - rhinanthus minor

Yellow rattle – rhinanthus minor

Over the last three years we have tried every style of yellow rattle seed propagation for the meadow at East Riddlesden Hall.  Last summer, out of frustration, we borrowed some seed from another field close by and sowed it immediately directly into slightly scuffled.  We waited.  The field was winter gleaned by the annual Hebridean sheep visit and we hoped their hooves would trample in the seed further. Then over December and January the field flooded and we abandoned hope of success.  The rattle had probably been dislodged and was probably residing way down a river bank somewhere on the side of the Aire.

So after getting permission at a committee meeting we bought 150 yellow rattle plug plants.  These plug plants arrive with a little tuft of grass in them and a yellow rattle seedling which is parasitizing the grass root.  Quite clever.  We started to plant these tiny little things in groups of about 10 to 15 to increase our chances of successful colonisation.  It was while we were down on our hands and knees that Jill started to notice some seed from last year had indeed struck.  We were able to confirm this identification because of the yellow rattle seedlings we’d bought.

The fuss we’re making about yellow rattle is because we really need to curtail the vigour of the grasses in the meadow.  We need more flowering nectar rich species and less green sward as the meadow’s job is now to provide forage for pollinators not sheep.  Yellow rattle has a semi parasitic relationship with grass roots and therefore acts as a grass control machine. It also flowers over a long period, June through to July when it sets seed – and it provides nectar.