Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
A Broodless Colony
One very useful technique for checking for the presence - or rather absence of - a queen and preventing drone laying workers is to put a frame with eggs/young larvae from a healthy colony in as soon as the brood in the colony in question has all hatched out (but there is still no sign of eggs from your virgin-in-waiting). Being without a queen or brood for a week can lead to drone laying workers as brood emits a pheromone which prevents workers' ovaries from developing and laying. Also if they do not have a queen of some sort in there, then by giving them a frame of brood, they have the material to create a new queen, providing the bees are young enough to produce Royal jelly. Up to now, this has been foolproof for me and prevented many a loss of colony when the virgin from an artificial swarm, for example, has been lost on her mating flight. But in July I put a frame of young brood in a brood-less colony and was surprised to find 6 days later all the brood had been removed and in its place some nectar although they were not short of space overall. I immediately put another frame of brood in, again laid by their earlier queen mum, as I did not want to lose this large, good colony and a few days later they had made queen cells on it. I heard recently that another beekeeper had experienced this clearing out of brood from a frame given to a broodless colony. Why have they done this I wonder?
A Dry July
I noticed around me by mid-July that all the Blackberry flowers, which I believe produce the bulk of my main crop, were over. This did not surprise me as it started to flower very early this year. There is some ragwort in flower, which produces unpleasant honey and wax of lurid yellow. I also noticed a stand of Rosebay Willowherb in flower at the same time, on my way to my out apiary. It is supposed to be a good bee plant, it might be just within reach of some of my bees I hope, as the flow seems to have dried up and little progress was made on the supers when I looked on the 18th July. I have taken off a super of honey from each of my production colonies and anticipate taking off the rest at the end of the month by which time I hope it will be capped. It should be good quality this year as being so hot and dry with low humidity; they should have been able to lower the water content well. So far mine has been mostly in the order of 17-17.5%. Unfortunately, the dry conditions which although allowing the bees to fly every day and queens to mate well, will probably have dried up the nectar from the drought-stressed plants. I saw a satellite image showing England all brown. I pray for a thunderstorm! Make sure the bees have access to some water nearby. Mine are visiting my watered pot plants instead of the (dark coloured) birdbath they used to use but where the water may now be too hot in the sun. I have also put a white sheet over the two hives in the sun at midday, the rest get shade then thankfully.
Jobs For August
So jobs coming up, get all the spare supers off ASAP, extracted, returned for licking and final removal. When turning wet supers for licking putting an open crownboard between them and the rest of the colony will usually prevent the bees leaving nectar or honey in them, but they should consolidate it below instead. Something I foolishly forgot to do in my hurry after extracting the first supers, now I must wait a further week (with crownboards in place this time to encourage them to take it down!) before removing them for cleaning and storage. Check the varroa drop and get your chosen treatment ready, but do be aware of the temperature. Many treatments (Apiguard, Apilifevar, possible formic acid, check the labels) have an upper limit, commonly 25 degrees, and near this temperature the fumes may aggravate the bees and drive them out, possibly losing the queen in the disturbance. August is looking as though it may be warmer than usual, so until it cools down I will probably bide my time and get the mites down with icing sugar which is not temperature dependent.
The wasps are making their presence felt now, and it may be easier to spot nests as they are very active. I found one down a vole hole in the ground last week and treated it, but there still seem to be some around the hives. If you felt like using an Apishield floor (one per apiary, and I used it under their normal floor) August is the time, after your supers are off, but I tried it last year and it caught more bees (465) than wasps (375) and was a breeding ground for wax moth, so I will probably not use it this year.
A wasp nest entrance
Don't forget not to waste the first rinsings after the cappings have drained of honey - my first batch from last week is already bubbling away. I mix 1 litre apple juice, 1 litre grape juice and l litre of rinsings, it usually starts as Specific Gravity of 1.11. Plus various acids, tannin and wine yeast to make cyment. Adding herbs and spices, orange peel etc makes a lovely Methyglin.
We are being warned to be vigilant against the Asian hornet. But apparently they are going to use tiny electronic trackers to help find the nest; that should save some manpower and time locating nests.
Reassuring to know from recent research too, that when raising emergency queens, they tend to choose a larva based on its nutritional status, ie a well-fed larva rather than a deprived one. There was no indication that they selected a related larva (sister) as was previously thought.