Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
Unsettled weather, spread of viruses, honey and research:
At last it looks as though the weather is improving; not a minute too soon. The first blackberries were in flower on 30th May, however, I have noticed no significant nectar coming in so far, on the rainy days they were probably eating it all. On one occasion I went around the garden early in the morning after a rainy day and night and found my Lamb’s Ears had several really soggy bumblebees which had obviously been there all night. They were moving and had access to good quality nectar and the sun was shining so I was not worried about them. Bumblebees sometimes spend the night away from the nest, honey bees are less willing and being smaller probably would not survive so well. One problem with this protracted unsettled period is that my virgin queens have been reluctant to go out and mate. Some have taken three weeks to mate. I have had several virgin losses in recent Apidea and artificial swarms; requiring rapid merging back to the parent, nucs have been without queens for two brood cycles and I had to give them another frame of brood to keep them going, so their populations have reduced and the bees have aged. I have used up most of my successfully mated earlier Apidea to rescue larger colonies. I have lost one Apidea and one split to drone laying workers at the out apiary where I lost track of how long they had been broodless. Apidea are always more vulnerable to becoming drone layers, which can happen as soon as a week of broodlessness and queenlessness, as they don’t have brood to start with.
Soggy bee out all night in the rain
Dry bee on Lamb's Ears
The other problem often experienced in poor summers when large colonies are confined indoors is the rapid spread of viruses such as Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus. By the time you read this I will have been forced to cull two of my largest and decided on a third. I had hoped they might linger on to bring in a bit of honey but the populations dwindled and one lost their queen so they were doomed. Two years ago a large one stopped showing signs of CBPV as soon as the weather improved, hence the delay in deciding whether to cull the last one.
Chronic Bee Paralysis virus
If you are lucky enough to have colonies large enough to collect serious honey and if we get a spell of settled warm weather then add empty supers as required, remembering that they need three times as much space to process the nectar as the final honey will require. From the middle of July, rather than adding more boxes, try to consolidate the honey by moving full frames to the edges of the boxes to encourage them to be filled rather than putting a little in new frames and not being able to finish them when the flow stops at the end of the month. Around me the Ragwort flowers from end July and into August so I try to take the honey off before it has a chance to contaminate the honey; turning it and the wax a lurid yellow and tasting unpleasant.
We know bees can recognise zero, it has now been found they can link symbols to numbers so they can recognise that 'two' can represent two bananas or two trees etc. Apparently this is a complicated idea only grasped by humans, primates and birds, but the first time in insects.
Tree Bumblebee on Cotoneaster franchetii, popular with bees