Amanda's Beekeeping Notes October 2020

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

I have seen a few European hornets around, cruising up and down my flowerbeds looking for unwary insects, but more on my apples and having picked all the good ones I have left the damaged ones in the hope the hornets and wasps stay there and leave my bees alone. I have also had a hornet-mimic hoverfly try for several minutes to get into a nuc but the bees shooed it off. This nuc, on which I have already reduced the entrance to 1” using sponge, has had a dozen or so bees clustering round this reduced entrance and when anything passes they sit up and wave their front legs. Excellent guards; essential for small colonies which are more easily damaged by wasps. It is worth further reducing entrances if the wasps are bothering them.

a hornet mimic hoverfly Volucella inanis, resting after trying to enter a hive

August was a bad month for mating queens. In September I had to throw out a colony which was queenless. I expected to throw another out when I did its final inspection having found grumpy bees and no brood whatsoever. I found the old remains of a hatched supersedure cell. Mine usually have perfect supersedure (when a replacement queen is produced and lays alongside her queen Mum, sometimes until the spring), so given the weather in August and no brood in this one I feared that the new queen had been lost and the old one already deceased possibly because of injury or illness. However, as I was too busy to do anything about them for a few days, I gave them a frame of open brood to make sure. Last week, I was delighted to find eggs and saw a fat unmarked queen, so they had had an imperfect supersedure (old queen is lost before the new one takes over, sometimes resulting in a brood break), which is much more risky. However, I was not yet in the clear because if she had waited too long because of bad weather, they may have been unfertilized eggs and drone brood, but today I   found several frames with solid slabs of worker brood from edge to edge, so all is well.

I also noticed the smell of ivy nectar being processed on 21st Sept and the bees were busy and relatively content in the 24°C, probably the last really decent day, as it is going to be 10°C less for the rest of the week. This is the last chance of a bit of surplus nectar gathering; from the ivy.  The warmth will be good but the soil is so dry that I doubt whether there will be much unless we have some rain soon. The bees are still visiting a variety of flowers in my garden and bringing lots of pollen in; Verbena bonariensis, Aster, Sedum, lots of wild Scabious, Caryopteris and prairie flowers like Echinacea and Rudbeckia.

Verbena bonariensis, popular with bees and this Brown Argus

a bee on Asters

October is a month of tidying loose ends, cleaning feeders and other equipment, planting next year’s bee bulbs. Insulation, straps and mouseguards can go on later this month (having removed the entrance block to avoid blockage of the few holes by dead bees) unless you have 5.5mm high entrances as I have, which mice cannot get through. I will be monitoring the mite levels carefully in the second half of October in anticipation of a varroa influx from failing colonies elsewhere. Having been dusting the few colonies which were dropping more than 2 per day, I noticed the drop after dusting was declining through September but this week at the end of September it seems to be on the increase again reflecting the start of an influx of mites. So I expect to do my Oxalic Acid Vapourisation (OAV) starting end of October depending upon the trend in mite drop. I don’t want to start too soon as the influx occurs over several weeks. Because there will be brood in the colonies, I will need to do several treatments to catch the mites as they hatch out with the brood. Last autumn I treated all my colonies with OAV and have been very pleased with their health and low mites all year.


I use a home made wooden board with the heat wand fitted into it, inserted under the mesh floor after blocking the entrance with foam.  The board was made to fit my narrowest floors and I use a strip of thin ply to slide over the gap left in wider floors. A towel is wedged into the rear gap before connecting to the battery and in this way hardly any vapour escapes so it is safer for me. The bees are not in contact with the hot dispenser and don’t get their feet burnt. The amount of Oxalic Acid (Apibioxal) is related to the volume of the hive not the number of bees, so I use 2g for the equivalent of a standard brood box, and 2.1-2.2g for a brood and a super, for a double brood equivalent, which several of mine have this year, I shall use 2.3g. This is all set up and heated for 2.5mins, then it is left sealed up to cool until 10 mins have passed. Remove the OAV board and replace with the insert, blocked at the back by a cloth, do not release the bees for a further 15 mins. I only do this if the ambient temperature is over 6°C otherwise they will be too tightly clustered and it seems it is best not to do it when there is a lot of flying either. The mite drop, often highest on the second day, continues for 3-4 days then tails off, if more than 50-100 drop over this time then I repeat OAV on the 5th day. My colonies varied between 2 and 5 treatments required last year. This treatment is fine for wooden hives but not recommended for polystyrene ones as the wand gets to 400°C!

my Oxalic Acid Vapourisation board


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