Amanda's Beekeeping Notes November 2018

Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar

This October has been incredibly warm and bees have been very busy nearly every day, with a strong smell of Ivy honey emanating from the hives, the boxes are heavy and I was able to reduce the planned syrup feed as they seem to have gathered quite a bit themselves. 

Anenome japonica with hoverflies visiting 

Jobs for November:

There is not much to do in the apiary now. Mouse guards can be fitted as soon as it cools down and anti woodpecker netting put on soon, as frosts are forecast and temperatures will decline to normal. All feeding should be long finished by now as they will not be able to reduce the moisture of syrup in cool weather.  They are supposed to go into a cluster at outside temperatures below 14ºC, but mine have been busy flying on sunny mornings of 6-7º C in low wind. Check the entrances regularly that dead bees are not blocking the mouse guard holes or low entrances. I hope beginners have remembered to remove queen excluders so the bees and above all the queen, can move freely round to access stores. In mid October I monitored the mite levels in all the colonies and while one apiary had very low numbers ; 3 -5 after icing sugar dusting, and my home apiary mostly quite good 3 - 49 after dusting, the divisional apiary near Burgess Hill most of which had had a full Apiguard treatment in September was dropping more mites.  A repeat test 5 days later revealed double the mite drop, from 44 to 274 in just 15 minutes!  So it looks like the varroa bomb has struck again same time as last year. I had thought with the warm weather and from the huge strength of all my colonies there may be fewer or later collapses elsewhere from which mine have robbed and picked up varroa, but not the case. Even if you don't get an invasion, the colonies have been so busy and seem much larger than normal for the time of year with more brood so the varroa will have been busy too and their numbers will be rising so do keep an eye on them if you want your colonies to stay healthy over winter. In my experience any colony dropping over 300 at this time, after dusting, are in danger of dying over winter.

When I did all my health/queen/brood inspections in late September, I mentioned in the last notes that I was disappointed to find in what had been a very productive colony, only a small patch of sealed brood. A few days later I checked again and this time found the old queen and mainly sealed brood. So, in spite of having sufficient honey to last the winter I gave them 2lb syrup in the hope of kick starting her into laying again. The next day, which was an amazing 20ºC and sunny, I saw loads of pollen going in, as was the case with all the other colonies. Two weeks later in October, they still only had one frame of brood and few eggs. Compare this with a colony with two queens (old and supersedure daughter) on 10 seams of which 7 are brood! I predict this latter colony will be a good production one next year, and the first one will not be much good next year!

I often find a colony which has produced a lot of honey and been huge in the summer, often needs a bit more nursing and may be less healthy or smaller subsequently than new colonies and nucs on fresh comb, with new or rested queens. They have had lots of brood leading to dark comb, lots of hard work, mites breeding prodigiously etc. In early autumn they are exhausted and the summer workers all dying off, but it is too late to change comb then. I have left these with 3 boxes and in a couple of cases they had moved up into the top two boxes as the population shrank in late September and I have been able to remove the bottom empty box in October. All I can do is keep the mites as low as possible and earmark them for a forced move up unto clean super comb in early spring and hope they make it through the winter. Fingers crossed, mine look good so far; I only found one colony with two deformed Wing Virus bees, very little sacbrood and no sign of Chalkbrood; a warm autumn has probably helped keep these lurgies at bay. 

Bees have been doing their business for tens of millions of years and we have not changed them much (so far – but see article on Frankenbees!). So if I am not sure what is going on but they seem healthly etc, I step back and let them get on with it and nine times out of ten they sort themselves out. On a very warm 9th October one of my Apidea did something stupid though, which cost them their colony. I noticed a small swarm on the wing and watched them land under another colony on the other side of the garden. I assumed they had gone back to where they had come from as all my queens are clipped, however, when I rescued the queen from under the floor and put her in the colony they started to ball her. So I went through the colony, found their resident queen and rescued the balled queen. After a bit of investigation decided they had come from an Apidea which had eggs, larvae and sealed brood and no queen but no queen cells either. Next morning I returned the queen there and they started to ball her. I rescued her a second time and found one back leg was paralysed. But there was little future for them if they would not accept her being injured, as they could not replace her with no drones around. So I have moved it near another colony to join when I throw them out. I wonder why they swarmed so late in the year, how she managed to fly that far, why they balled her when they had been queenless for over 24 hours? With no swarm cells, or drone it is unlikely to be a reproductive swarm, possibly if her leg was damaged earlier, or because they only had a couple of frames of food it was a swarm of desperation, or maybe the unseasonable warmth. I had heard of a huge swarm the previous week, so maybe I should be thankful I have only lost a tiny Apidea and not a production colony as someone else obviously has!

apidea with a home-made mesh floor so it can be dusted for Varroa


There is some promising looking research on fungal extracts in America, which seem to reduce virus levels in honeybees, either by improving the bee immune system or fighting the viruses. There will however be several more years of work before this is available as a treatment.

Also another team found Bumblebees fed on sunflower pollen had lower incidences of the pathogen Crithidia bombi when fed both in the lab and in the field (as a monoculture). Honey bees fed on sunflower pollen had reduced Nosema ceranae, although overall mortality was the same as those not fed pollen and they died at four times the rate as those fed on Buckwheat pollen. So although there may be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties in sunflower pollen it comes at a cost. Any pesticide spray effect on sunflowers was eliminated as the result was seen on organically and conventionally grown sunflowers. However we all know that monocultures are bad for our bees and a balanced diet is better. I shall probably still grow one or two sunflowers again next year.

There is also worrying research into GM ‘Frankenbees’. Some mad scientists in Germany and Japan have produced a genetically modified queen bee, they swear they have no links with the big agricultural chemical companies like Bayer and Monsanto but the potential is for them to be patented and released into the environment to wreck our traditional bee breeding and improvement, and produce another Africanised bee or worse. Read more at:

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