Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
I am looking forward to a quiet month on the bee front; I have cleaned and treated all my supers with acetic acid; still have piles of frames to clean but dare not tackle them until my RSI improves; and at this time of year sowing and planting for pollinators is mostly the armchair planning sort. On the few warm days we had earlier this month, I had 3 Red Admirals sunning themselves on one hive, but also loads of wasps underneath. I don’t have much in flower at the moment but the Calendula and Wild wallflower are still attracting hoverflies.
wasps beneath the hive
The bees will not need any feeding yet awhile but I will need to keep an eye on the Apidea which being so small don't have room to store much, also my only colony on one box which had 7 frames of brood in September and is now stuffed full of bees may get through more stores than I allowed for initially or would have fitted in one shallow box, although it felt very heavy today when I hefted it. The rest - as I know from lifting the super off to dust - are extremely heavy; I think they did well on the Ivy. I have nearly finished removing the mite invasion which started mid to late October. Finished - not so much because I am down to my preferred low level of varroa (a couple are still dropping about 150 mites after dusting) - but because for the moment the weather is too cold and windy for regular dusting. The mite levels are much improved in most of them so I am happier but will try to rid the last 3-4 colonies of surplus mites as and when it is above 8°C. My colonies fall into two camps; half having dropped fewer than 350 mites in the last 6 weeks after dusting and half which have dropped between 1100-2400 total and without treatment would be small and sickly even if they made it through to spring. I have found no correlation between colony size, position (more isolated) or brood amount so it may be down to those more or less likely to repel drifters, or their propensity to rob dying colonies. Either way I know which ones I shall most likely be rearing queens from next year! I came across an item on varroa bombs this week reminding us that feral swarms often die off due to varroa in their second year. So all those people who have let their colonies swarm away uncaught, it may come back to bite them when drifters from these dying colonies bring in mites! Another good reason to clip queens.
Some people like to treat their colonies with oxalic acid at the end of December, either trickle or vapourisation. Do monitor beforehand to determine whether this treatment, which is potentially hazardous to us and the bees, is necessary, and follow instructions and safety protocol carefully.
We also need to check the entrance floors regularly (and security, weatherproofing, woodpecker damage etc). Mouseguards can easily become blocked as dead bees are difficult to drag through the holes and my 5.5mm high entrances too. Observe entrance activity on flying days; I spotted a single drone coming out of an entrance from one of my colonies at home and one at the divisional apiary on 18th November. This is a bit unusual and I shall need to keep an eye on them. One of these I mentioned above, on a single shallow with possibly not enough food, masses of brood and two queens so I don't really expect to have a drone laying queen situation. But I wish I could see what was going on in the middle, without disturbing them. When opening them for dusting they are all different, some in tight, sleepy clusters near the top, others open clusters and active and others deep down out of sight, yet all have been flying in the same conditions, mainly for water I think as I keep fishing them out of my water butt even though I have draped hay over the surface to prevent them from drowning.
3 Red Admirals
Bees evolved from carnivorous wasps and rapidly diversified about 120mya leading to the 20,000 species we have today. It was thought that the fact of pollen feeding helped them to diversify, but scientists now think that while this helped it was the shift from being specialists to generalists feeding on many plants which helped them to diversify to exploit new ecological niches.