July beekeeping notes, Amanda Millar
June has kept me busy with my bees after a relatively quiet previous month. My best, largest colonies earmarked for queen rearing obligingly each started to make a small number of queen cells, without me having to force them. In order to keep strong colonies for honey gathering, I just took the queen off in a nucleus in three cases and in the fourth used the old queen (2016) to requeen a colony of dubious temper and health. They now seem much better. I harvested surplus queen cells for Apidea. One big colony has now mated, laying and busy, another two I am waiting for the virgin to mate. Because there is always a risk of delay in a virgin mating from a big colony, I decided in one to swap back the queen with the queen cell when it was ready for moving (a week later, i.e. 2-4 days before hatching) as they mate better from smaller colonies and I wanted the main colony to work hard bringing in nectar. I checked her a week later and yes they had been busy, big beautiful queen was there but having trouble finding space to lay in as while she was away the foragers had filled the spaces on the brood frames with nectar so I have given her a box of drawn comb to lay in to ease the pressure and moved the one shallow frame with 5 open swarm cells to the top of the colony with a view to harvesting them, however they have torn them down, sadly. Taking her off for only a week may not have been enough to change their minds from swarming. But so far I am still in control.... just waiting for the queen cell in the nuc to hatch and mate.
Strangely, one week in mid-June, I found swarms clustering under two hives, not from my colonies. One small swarm I put in an Apidea and the already mated queen laid eggs the next day. The other large swarm under a hive, I brushed into a partially drawn super placed under the hive. A hands and knees job and they were rather bad-tempered, but seemed to be fanning and accepted the box. Putting the insert under both hives certainly speeded up their use of the new entrance. At dusk I shut it up and next day moved it well away to an out apiary. After a week this swarm had drawn out and laid up 4 frames. Black bees and very good tempered now. Unusually the first frame they drew out in drone size, now with larvae, then two frames in worker sized cells with multiple eggs in the cells, neat and at the bottom. I wait impatiently for another week or more to see if it is worker brood. Is it a newly mated queen settling down, or a drone layer or laying workers? It normally takes more than two days for queenless workers to start laying though. Where these swarms are coming from I don’t know, and why don't they use my nice bait hive instead of upsetting my colonies, and making me grovel under a hive? Another cluster under a hive was a result of the clipped queen coming out and going back under the floor. Not sure why she did that as they did not have sealed queen cells in there, only a few with very young larvae. She either went back in or got lost but I must now go in, check and thin any queen cells.
With a bit of luck now the nectar flow is on they will settle down to the important business of nectar gathering and stop messing around. The blackberries started to flower at the beginning of June and were in full flower by 9th round me earlier even than last year. So I am guessing the honey flow will be all over by the end of July.
In the May notes I mentioned the hygienic pin and card test comparison I was going to do. I did this on colonies 9 and 10 and a few days later in colony 4 using a toothpick. After 24 hours all the damaged larvae had been removed and one had filled the holes with nectar too - but they had also removed the entire card and the metal frame pin used to hold it in place. In colony 4 I found it on the floor 24 hours later much reduced in size and still being attacked by bees, I found the one from 9 a week later still nearly intact. In 9 there were still scales in the cells and there was an uncapped sacbrood next to the pin test site. (See photos) Not a hygienic colony. Next time I will try fixing the card with a drawing pin in the hope it will be easier to relocate.
Good removal of 7 damaged larvae beneath the yellow spot of paint after 24 hours
After 24 hours uncapped and sucked dry but scales remain and a sacbrood adjacent - not hygienic
The card removal test, 4 = hygienic, 9 = not very hygienic and an unused card for comparison
Jobs for July
Keep piling on the supers if they need space, but only until mid-July and then shuffle full frames to the edge rather than put on new boxes, if you want full frames for extraction. If you don't mind some 'unfinished' honey but want drawn comb for next year then, just put on more supers. I did not take any off in May but will have to think about doing an extraction before too long as the boxes are becoming too high and heavy to lift off from a stack of 5 or 6. Keep an eye on the temperature if it becomes hot this month be prepared to shade the hive at midday, and make sure they have access to water nearby. Colonies which have had an artificial swarm or an actual swarm collected often replace/supersede their old queens in the late summer so don’t be surprised if you see just one (rarely two) queen cells, let them get on with it.
I take off most of my supers (in stages with due consideration for space for bees to rest in at night) at the end of July as the Ragwort seems to flower in early August and I don't like it contaminating my honey. I monitor for mites using the insert towards the end of July, as it is too difficult to dust with all the supers on. This helps me decide the method of mite treatment which I will have ready to put on as soon as the supers are removed, extracted, returned for licking dry and finally removed for the season. Most of them I shall leave with a super of honey for the winter. If I treat with Apiguard I shall probably remove this super for the duration of the treatment just in case there is any honey left in the spring I might want to use, as it does rather taint it.
It seems honeybees can understand the concept of zero, quite advanced philosophy for one so small!