Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
Jobs for September:
I trust everyone is well on with varroa treatment if monitoring indicated it is necessary. The reason I get my varroa low at this time is to ensure the essential winter bees develop healthy and fat to survive the winter. Research at Sussex University indicates a single mid winter treatment of oxalic acid may be sufficient for the following 12 months (handle carefully with protective clothing etc.), but for the last 6 years I have had a large influx of varroa from collapsing colonies of feral or neglected bees in my neighbourhood in late Autumn so I have to get the varroa levels down again then; if I wait until December I risk losing some colonies in late winter as the viruses take their toll. I can only assume my strong colonies are prone to a bit of robbing on the side and reap the consequences. As the wasps are also becoming a nuisance and the populations are declining, it is time to reduce the entrances considerably if not already done so to help them defend their stores.
As it was a fairly mild last winter, I rescued some sealed frames of mixed stores in the spring which they had not touched and which I can give back to my colonies as soon as my Apiguard treatment is off in the two colonies concerned. There are empty frames I can replace with their own full ones which I have been storing in my deepfreeze. Where I had no space in the hive, last year I scratched the worst frame and left it over the crownboard with a spacer, in the late evening to avoid excitement among bees and wasps, and the bees successfully took the food down. It will save me a bit of feeding. Talking of freezing, I have also started to freeze all my extracted, licked supers, for about a week each to kill wax moth, one or two of which I have already seen fluttering around them. My little deepfreeze will only take 5 supers at a time so it will be a while before I can get through them all. I am reluctant to put them in my food deepfreezers.
soggy bee caught out in the rain
Feeding your Bees:
Half my colonies have such low varroa counts that they need no treatment at present so there is no reason why I cannot check the food levels and start feeding them now while the weather is mild. I will use the strongest syrup concentration of 2 parts granulated sugar to1 part boiling water, and start the first feed using rapid feeders, late in the evening to avoid excitement and robbing. I aim to have all the feeding completed by the end of September as they cannot easily process it if the weather turns cool. The amount I feed depends on the colony size and how much they already have. I always aim that they should have half their stores in the form of their own honey, but it depends how much they use in the autumn. Last year it was not good and they ate a lot of their honey so I had to feed more. This autumn the forecast suggests it will be mild, but they don’t always get it right. The largest colonies on a brood and two supers will need about 50lbs total, a couple of small colonies on 2 supers about 35lb, 25lb for a nuc but they are often slow to take sufficient down and need monitoring carefully. This year I have ended up with 4 Apidea to overwinter (unless a colony goes queenless before then) each with a little super and I will be lucky if I can get a couple of pounds in them. A full national super frame holds about 2.5lb (11 frame spacing) and a full National brood frame about 5lb and I go through every frame to work out how much they have and therefore need.
It is important not to overfeed, or they will put it in the area the queen should be laying in and may restrict the production of winter bees, and any surplus left in the spring will be moved up into the supers and will contaminate the honey crop. Of course if you underfeed they may starve. It is far better that they have stores which they can arrange around them as they wish before October, than relying on over-winter emergency feeding of fondant, which they have to break the cluster to access and risk hazardous flights outside to gather water to process it. Honey/syrup stored around and above the cluster also acts as insulation. Mine have all got their over-crownboard insulation on. I am not checking mine much now, just fortnightly for eggs. When I do my stores assessment of each, I shall also do a health check of the brood, checking the colour of the combs noting which need a comb change next year. Where possible I put dark combs to the edges for easy removal in the spring, or in the bottom box which they will probably have vacated by spring and I can remove the whole box before giving them a clean box on top.
Plating for spring blossom:
The spring bulbs have been in the shops for a week or two, don’t forget to plant more specie crocus and snowdrops for them and order seed for forage plants next year.
All rather depressing at the moment, with worries about extreme temperatures and events for the next four years, more research showing fungicides are more harmful to bees than people are aware of and that the Sulfoximine-based treatments to replace the banned neonics may be just as harmful to bees.