Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
As I write this on 22nd September the long spell of dry warm weather has broken and we had our first much needed rain last night. We can expect temperatures to return to normal from early October (so says the forecast) so I hope everyone has completed their bee jobs for this time of year. This includes all varroa treatment and feeding. As I have now removed my feeders I can put insulation on. As soon as it cools down and the bees less active, you can put mouseguards on, but I recommend removing the entrance block before fitting to reduce the risk of the holes becoming blocked by dead bees. Netting against Woodpeckers can go on later in October along with straps in case of wind blowing the hives over. Queen excluders should most definitely be in the shed by now. My inspections have ceased.
I shall continue to monitor for mites. The usual post-treatment increase in mite levels from nearby dying colonies started early in September round me and I have been dusting to keep on top of it. My new, smaller colonies have not had much of a problem but the established colonies more likely to go robbing; slightly more so. However, a few sessions of dusting and the drop is reducing thankfully, however I must continue to be vigilant as last year mine seemed to continue to rob out these failing colonies well into October. With the deteriorating weather though it will be more difficult to do my treatments at 4 or 5 day intervals and I will have to take whatever dry opportunities present themselves.
I was able to complete my feeding early this year (for reasons given last month) but because it has been warm, my plants have continued to flower, bees have been very busy, and continued to produce a lot of brood, from a check of one and the quantity of pollen going in (orange ragwort, pale water balsam and an intermediate yellow I have not identified). So I should not have been surprised to find on the last dusting that two nucs have increased in size in September. One went from 8 seams to 12, and another from 5 seams to 9 seams. This may have implications on their stores which I calculated on the basis of their size at the last full inspection late August. It is complicated though; increased size and more brood (because of warmth and feeding) will have increased their food requirement; however, the warm weather and prolonged flowering may reduce their requirement and they may even have met part of their daily needs. However, I have seen more bees than usual round my leaky outside tap so I assume they are now consuming stores. I shall not disturb the frames again to check and they feel very heavy at the moment so I shall just heft them (lift either side of hive to assess the weight) on a regular basis. If we have a mild winter again, their needs will not be huge but the forecast ‘Beast from the East’ in Jan/Feb (which I shall believe when I see it) may increase their needs. The ivy buds are abundant at the moment although I have not yet seen any in flower; this will be visited by bees and other pollinators (and Asian Hornet queens!) during October when weather permits and produces good quality nectar.
Honey bees and solitary bee on Sedum
Other jobs I must do include treating the last of the drawn empty supers with acetic acid before storing them for winter and stripping a few more old frames from wax to keep the risk of wax moth down and then the tedious task of scraping the frames before boiling them up. A much more pleasant task is the bee garden improvement. Now we have had some rain to soften the soil I can plant some more bulbs e g allium, crocus, grape hyacinth and other seed saved from the spring and summer, and just before the rain came I cut part of my wild flower meadow where there is just rank grass so I can rake it and scrape it prior to planting more knapweed and sowing scabious seeds and yellow rattle seed which needs winter vernalisation to germinate and will weaken the grass. The rest of the meadow still has scabious flowering and much visited by bees so that will wait its haircut a bit longer. I had to cut it by hand shears to avoid harming the toads and slow-worms which we have found in there. The sedum is in its prime and the asters just starting so there is still much for bees to visit.
Bumblebee queen Bombus terrestris on Sedum