Amanda's Beekeeping Notes September 2020

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

So, the end of another bee year and the start of the new. How was 2020 for you? For my part I had my third largest honey crop, but the more extreme weather definitely made beekeeping more challenging, a foretaste of what climate change will bring. Queen mating was somewhat hit and miss; I had a queen emerge at about the same time as the first storm of autumn started battering England. And my very last one will emerge mid week, so I hope we get some decent weather at the end of August for them to mate. I know there are drones still in my colonies and on the plus side the swallows should have migrated by now so will not be a threat. Many colonies supersede at about this time so the weather now will determine whether we have well mated queens or drone laying queens by spring. 

The bees love late flowering Echinacea

Stormy, wet or windy weather puts beekeeping activity on hold, both from the inspection/treatment side but also not a single bee is on the wing. While they are all indoors, they are eating their stores, but the colonies are still quite large. I urge you to heft the hives (lift each side to assess the weight and hence stores available) if you have not been routinely keeping an eye on their food stores. I was a little surprised to get a warning from the NBU about food stores or rather lack of them, but have also heard that other beekeepers’ colonies are short of food. This happens when people who run a conventional brood and supers; take all the honey supers off. A single National brood is barely big enough for a colony to fill with the brood it wants and I find they frequently do not have stores in the lower brood areas.  Stores should have been checked and prior to the honey removal and mite treatment, which we normally carry out before feeding. We have become complacent with weeks or months of hot dry weather. Outside the few weeks of the real nectar flow in June/July, if we are lucky there may only be enough to keep them ticking over and we should have planned for the inevitable storms and days of rain such as we are getting as I write.

For my part I had lots of supers on and inevitable when taking the final honey off, I found many frames which were not fully capped, also when returning the wet supers which I took off earlier in July, some colonies decided to put more nectar in even though I had returned them over an open crown. It is all too much effort to deal with so I have left some with a couple of extra supers part full, and fully expect from the weight of some not to have to feed at all in September, saving more time and effort. I like to leave them with at least 50% of their own honey but it depends how much they eat in this unsettled weather now. I shall shortly do my full stores check, assessing what they have to the nearest couple of pounds and then feed only what they need, of the strongest sugar solution (2:1 of water). Based on the colony size they should have between 20lb (4 seam nuc) and 50lb (double brood) to last until spring. I have already returned the frames of winter stores I had removed in the spring before adding the honey supers, which were stored in the deepfreeze.

On the hottest August days at 35 degrees, the bees were not happy

Be aware of them at all times, both in terms of food, and mite levels. Mite treatment should be completed by the time you read this, to get rid of the mite build up after a summer of brood rearing. Do keep monitoring though and be aware of the potentially lethal influx of mites starting early October from neglected or ‘treatment free’ colonies up to 1km away which die around this time. But more about that next month. My last thorough inspection some time in September includes a full disease inspection of the brood (shaking the bees off the frame to see the brood), assessment of the frame colour and condition in order to plan for a spring frame change if necessary, and a note of the size of the cluster area for comparison with next spring and sometimes in the winter if the opportunity arises. I can then get a feel of their health. If they have disease now eg Deformed wing virus, very patchy brood etc, there is little one can do, having already treated for varroa, certainly not merge it with others. Accept it will probably dwindle over winter and die.

I like to scrape the excess wax and propolis off my supers and frames before storing them away for the winter. I am putting them in the freezer for a week to kill wax moth stages. I also go through the frames and recycle any in bad condition. I used foundation strips this year and initially when extracting, some of those not fully drawn out and attached to the bottom bars, blew out in the extractor, until I remembered the tip of putting three elastic bands round the frame to give it support while extracting. After that I had no blow-outs. But the bees will still rebuild blowouts if some comb remains in the frame. I have got some mead bubbling away; using the rinsing from the cappings, or use honey of high moisture content or cooking honey. I like to add some grapejuice but could only find red grape, courtesy Covid I presume, so looks a bit different. I am sure it will taste just as good!

Methyglin on the go, with red grape juice

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