Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
As I write this, on 24th June the Blackberry is in full bloom and the weather is warm and there is a lovely smell of nectar coming from the hives. I have not mowed the lawn since the end of April – ‘no-mow May’ seems to have become no-mow summer! - apart from a strip to walk round and to get to the bee hives. There is quite a lot of white clover in flower in the grass, which the honey bees are visiting. In my wildflower meadow proper, the Meadow Cranesbill, much loved by bumblebees, is still flowering and the knapweed will be shortly and it is full of brown butterflies and a few damselflies. Elsewhere in the garden Goats rue is popular with bees and Catmint should be out soon. Both of these willingly seed but are easy to control.
My bees have all got over their Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) now thank goodness, but I expected the colony populations to be down slightly as there did not seem to be as many bees rushing out to collect nectar as there should be, given the weather. However, when I checked them for space and queen cells yesterday after a gap of 9 days, I was surprised to see half of them bursting at the seams,with new white wax on frames and brace comb (see picture between frames) very heavy to lift and urgently needing supers, which I had to make up and gave them. Perhaps the virus had stimulated the queen to lay more to recover, this virus does not affect brood, only adults. Only one, the largest, had made a single sealed queen cell last week. I took the box off as a nucleus but when I checked 4 days later they had torn it down even though they did not have the queen with them, so I merged it back with that colony. Another had a single queen cell with jelly, but it was being torn down and had no larva in it. Perhaps they changed their minds when the nectar flow started. Overall, I am feeling much more optimistic about my colonies now.
We need to keep an eye on the space they have, especially in the first part of July, putting on another super if there are bees on at least ¾ of the last super you put on, don’t wait until the frames are ¾ full. Nectar, being more dilute than honey, needs about 3 times the final area to process it. Some people put new supers below the existing ones (good idea if they are congested, but best if already drawn) or on the top, as I have this year as mine mostly are not making queen cells and so do not need such regular checks. If I only have foundation left, I would move/swap one or two drawn comb frames from the super below into the middle of the box of foundation, to encourage them into it. A full box of foundation can be a bit discouraging to them. I did this for three of the supers of foundation I put on yesterday, but the other two were so full of bees (see picture of super under the crownboard) and one a bit tetchy I just put them on the top, the bees will soon move into them. I did not use any smoke so the disturbance would be minimal and it took only about 30 seconds. In fact I have not had to use smoke since the beginning of May in spite of their huge size. I would like to think my careful requeening of angry ones is finally bearing fruit, but it could be they were depressed with the CBPV killing off the older more defensive bees or just nice weather when I looked, but it makes it a pleasure to work with them. The one in the picture was quite unconcerned by my presence and has beautiful solid slabs of brood; I regret that it is becoming too late to do any queen rearing now, and I am rather tied up with lots of baby bats coming in to my bat hospital, but will have to hope the queen is still around next year, to rear from. She is a 2020 queen but that colony regularly supersedes so hope I can keep her strain.
As I believe the nectar flow tails off by the end of July, that is when I remove my honey, so any further nectar/honey they keep for themselves. Rather than continuing to add more empty supers in the second half of July, I see if I can rearrange the honey frames. They tend to fill and cap the middle frames first and then work outwards, so as frames become full and capped we can move them to the outside of the box, encouraging them to complete the part drawn/half full ones now in the middle. Of course, the success of this depends on the flow, and the weather and the colony size. Any fully capped supers can be removed and extracted earlier. I run my colonies with no queen excluder so in the second half of July, when sorting the honey frames, I shall consolidate frames with brood lower down and may put a queen excluder on for a couple of week, under the top most supers to make removing them easier…ensuring the queen is lower down first!