Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
How different this year is to this time last year when I had been suffering with rainy weather, poor queen mating, slow nectar flow or the bees not wanting to go out to collect it. This year, touch wood, is going to be one I will remember for a while with a smile, and that includes being at home more to look after them. I was talking to a beekeeper in Cambridge yesterday (22nd June) and he was having a June Gap, his bees eating all their stores, with Blackberries just starting, we must be a clear two weeks ahead of them, and I did not notice a Gap this summer, so we must count ourselves lucky.
I have never run out of supers before and am mending old ones I have been using as ekes, and still making frames and foundation. My colonies got their swarming over in April and are well behaved and busy now. I have suffered from Chronic Bee Paralysis virus in 4 colonies in May/June, but they have all got over it and the numbers seem only moderately reduced, the queens are laying like mad and might yet bring in some honey. As for several others, they have never been so tall and I need steps to reach them and one has filled 8 boxes with brood and honey – but unfortunately not quite capped yet so I cannot take them off, but I don’t see how I will be able to lift another box off if I put any more boxes on. One colony on 8 commercial supers, in most respects is all I wish from a colony; healthy, vigorous, productive, BUT it has a temper, and as I was struggling with a nearly full super from the top it slipped as I was putting it down (must weigh nearly 30lbs) and it came down with a bit of a bang, they were furious and I got a good stinging. I only had T-shirt and shorts underneath my suit and I am afraid I threw them back together again and ran and will leave them alone for a couple of weeks. The queen is clipped and I hope they will be more interested in gathering honey than swarming. They had an artificial swarm in the spring; the new queen failed so I merged them back with the old queen. I can hardly believe they were just a small caste with a virgin I collected from Burgess Hill last year! My hope is they will supersede her and the new one will become better tempered as my other colonies are. I have been putting my new supers on the top as I cannot face lifting all the others again.
Bees feeling hot in full sun at 10am, head down, fanning to increase ventilation, especially top left of picture; not that those will have much effect, they would be better with those just above the entrance.
(don't worry, they will soon be in the shade of a tree for the rest of the day)
So my recommendations for this month are; do have something a reasonable height to rest your heavy supers on, or a partner to help, to avoid straining your backs. Keep up with putting supers of foundation or recently extracted back on, as I have a feeling it is going to just keep coming in. They need 3 times the space to process the nectar as will become honey. If you want foundation drawn or even frames with starter strips, I think you might manage it in the first half of July. If your colonies are not too high, you could use a brood box as a honey super and get a supply of clean comb for use next year after it is extracted. With such an early start I believe the flow will ease off in the second half of July and then I shall be shuffling full frames to the outside and uncapped ones to the middle of boxes to get them all filled and capped. Be careful to avoid anything which might trigger robbing, especially as the flow eases off; so return wet supers in the evening for example and try not to leave drips of nectar or bits of comb lying around. I take a plastic pot for fresh brace comb, which they have been building between and on top bars as they are finding space to put nectar. When this is damaged it leaks honey, which they immediately try to lick up and putting the super back on would squash them. So I scrape it off carefully, then munch it myself when I get indoors.
The weather has been so good and I am so impressed with the performance of the previous year’s nucs, it might not be too late to get a last nuc or two established in the next week or so if you need more colonies. Thriving colonies can easily spare some of their abundant brood, and there are still drone about but they will decline by mid July. I am having a last fling with one, its virgin was lost on her mating flight I presume (swallows?) so put in a frame of brood yesterday from my best colony which only supersedes so is very difficult to get queens from. Fingers crossed for a couple of nice emergency cells, might be able to get a second nuc going.
I had wondered where my leafcutter bees were then almost overnight two tunnels filled up this week, I have not seen the females yet they are more discrete
than my exuberant Red and Blue mason bees in the adjacent tunnels filled with mud.
I have started seeing wasps around, mainly attacking my gooseberries but they will soon find the bees and honey. Prepare your wasp traps. Protect your hive from over heating if it is hot, as suggested last month. Finally, I remove my surplus honey end of July and certainly by the first few days of August for several reasons; Ragwort flowers in August and makes unpleasant tasting lurid yellow honey, this is best left for the bees. Any further honey they collect is for them; it saves lots of syrup feeding. Monitoring the varroa drop by putting an insert under towards the end of July gives an indication whether you need to get on with varroa treatment. After a good season with abundant bee brood the varroa needs to be reduced before September. Actually since using oxalic acid vapourisation in October/November my mite levels seem to be so low I generally don’t need to do an Apiguard in August, but it is worth checking, and the supers need to be off before treating.
Here’s to a good harvest for you!
a solitary bee in a fragrant, thornless white rose 'Iceburg', collecting pollen