Amanda's Beekeeping Notes August 2020

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

I was disappointed to see my nectar flow had practically stopped by 20th July from the much reduced activity (but I have lots of borage and marjoram flowering in the garden they are still using).  When the flow ceases the bees can become grumpy.  I was able to take probably half my surplus off in early July and up to now have been able to shake the bees off each frame I removed and even my angry colony accepted this but when the flow stops they can become frustrated, looking around for more and become defensive of what they have, so a Porter bee escape in a spare crownboard placed under the supers you wish to remove, may be necessary. Wasps too may be bothering them and robbing is easily triggered if supers are exposed for more than a few minutes so keep plenty of spare crown boards and cloths to cover them. You may wish to reduce the entrances, especially of small colonies and nucs to help them to repel potential robbers. By the time you read this I shall have most of my supers off, apart from those I shall leave with them for their winter stores. We now have a busy few weeks to prepare them for the winter.

Before removing the supers or putting Porter escapes under them, consider the bee population and whether they need some space for the bees to occupy when forced out of the supers. When the supers have been extracted return as soon as possible for the bees to lick clean. Put them back in the evening to minimise robbing brought on by the excitement this will cause and put them over an open crown board. This encourages them to take any remaining honey down rather than just storing it still in the supers. Try to put the supers back onto the colony they came off to avoid any risk of disease transfer. Whatever you do don't leave them out in the open to be licked clean, or it will result in a mad robbing spree attracting bees and wasps from far around, which could lead to the loss of small colonies and disease spread. I have already heard this week of someone’s apiary became frantically active for just one day, clearly robbing something. Make sure there are no gaps when you put wet supers back

The same goes for when you put feeders on in September make sure no wasps or bees can get in from outside.  In the US they use open feeding stations where any bees can feed, they don't seem to understand the risks, but look at the disease problems they have (bee and human!). With the lack of meetings because of Covid 19 there must be the temptation for beginners to look on forums without realising they are American sites or that there is so much unqualified rubbish on them. Please know that your committee and experienced members of your local Bee Division will be happy to advise if you have a query. Also check on the members section of BBKA and Information sheets on our local beekeepers’ website.

The drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon, is very popular with honey and bumblebees and is in flower July/August

It often happens that if the flow stops suddenly or towards the end of the flow, some of the honey in the frames is not fully capped. If none flies out when you shake the frame over the other frames then it is probably ‘finished’ of low moisture content and can be removed. Or you could extract half finished frames and keep that honey separated from the rest of your honey crop, eat it first or use for cooking or mead making, in case the higher moisture content encourages fermentation. A refractometer is a handy gadget to be sure your honey is below 19% moisture, and ideally below 18%.

Marjoram, also in flower now is loved by bees and butterflies, here is a Meadow Brown

Winter preparations start now that the supers are off. Varroa mite levels need to be checked by putting the insert under the mesh floor for 5-7 days. If there are a lot of wasps around they can go onto the insert and mess up the count so I put a piece of cloth or very fine mesh in the gap at the back to prevent them getting in. More than 2 mites a day and I would treat. The winter bees start being produced in August and it is vital that the mite levels are reduced ASAP, start treatment by mid Aug latest, if they need it. Actually, since using Oxalic Acid vapourisation I have rarely needed to do a treatment in August, waiting until my usual influx of mites in October and November from colonies nearby which have not been treated, start to collapse and their bug-ridden bees invade my nice clean colonies. This treatment seems to last me a full year.

Before putting on Apiguard or your chosen treatment, all supers must be off first, including those you intend to leave them with for winter stores; these can be returned after the treatment. You don’t want your honey supers to be exposed to anything so strong smelling. Store empty supers in a bee- and mouse-proof place with a board top and bottom labelled which colony they came off. They can be put in the freezer for a few days to kill wax moth.  It is a good opportunity at this point when the colonies are probably now in their winter configuration to check several things. Firstly that you have removed the queen excluder which is no longer required. Secondly that the brood looks healthy with no sign of disease (and that you have a laying queen).  You will probably find a reduction in the brood area now. Thirdly if the colony was a swarm, or the queen is old they might think about superseding her around now. If you see one or two queen cells leave them to get on with it. This will influence the type of varroa treatment you might use as Apiguard can upset the bees and the queen cell might be neglected, also if you have a virgin in there waiting to mate I would delay Apiguard. Finally, make sure they have enough stores to last the period of the treatment such as Apiguard as it often makes the bees grumpy and I rarely disturb them during the treatment. I like to leave at least 50% of their stores as honey in a super but if they have none in the remaining brood area then feed before treating. Be aware of the temperature; for Apiguard the limits of effectiveness are between 15 and 25°C. High temperatures can drive bees out of hive and put the queen off lay. If too hot I usually make a start with icing sugar.  Formic acid is effective to 30°C, but comes with a risk of queen loss so I do not use it.

I hope all your bees are healthy and you had a reasonable surplus.

Fennel flowers attract some interesting and unusual hoverflies and wasps, this is Gasteruption jaculator with a very long ovipositor, thought to parasitise certain stem nesting solitary bees

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