Amanda's Beekeeping Notes July 2021

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

The weather in the early part of June was ideal for queen mating.  My puzzle cluster now has brood. Two of my three apidea mated very quickly and had eggs when I looked 7 days after making them up. They now have the most beautiful slabs of even capped brood and I am delighted with them. I had seen a lot of fanning and then pollen going it. In fact I had expected all three to have a mated queen, as the weather had been so good, but was a little disappointed that only two had eggs. A couple of days later, two had more bees than would fit inside and were clustered round the entrance. Removing the sliding floor I sat them on a nuc with one drawn frame and 4 frames with foundation strips. Within minutes they were fanning and all disappeared inside. I had stocked the three apidea from the same colony so they must all smell the same. So at this early stage the three apidea probably felt like one colony even though they are pointing in different directions. The two queens which had mated early clearly had a more desirable smell than the slower one which may have lost its queen on a mating flight and I found the bees had decamped from that one to join the other two queenright apidea. Recent research has shown that the unique ’colony smell’ is a result of sharing the same gut microbiome, which affects the cuticular hydrocarbons.

Then came the rain and cold weather. Inspections were delayed, artificial swarms and a nuc could not mate. Fortunately it has only lasted a week or so and there was plenty of time for the queens to go out in the better weather promised for the end of the month and into July, as virgins can last a good 3 weeks before giving up and becoming drone layers. If you have a virgin in waiting, it is usually possible to tell from the bees’ behaviour whether she is still there. I like to check weekly, just a quick look to make sure they have stores and providing I see calm bees with areas of prepared polished cells ready for a queen to lay in then I am content for a bit longer. If you see no eggs, no prepared areas and the bees running and roaring a bit, then put a frame of young brood in from another colony as soon as you can; the smell of young brood should prevent drone laying workers from developing, and will test whether a queen is present (if they make queen cells or not) and may save the colony.

My best colony, with a 2018 queen decided to produce queen cells just before the most recent bad weather so all the rest of my nucs and apidea are filled with her daughters which emerged from my incubator.  So I now have a further 6 apidea/nucs and one artificial swarm waiting for some decent mating weather, as I discovered yesterday that two earlier artificial swarm parent colonies now have a mated queen with eggs and larvae. I don’t expect they will all mate but should have enough to requeen a couple of angry colonies and one which is not doing anything much and with a bit of luck a spare or two to overwinter. That is the end of my queen rearing for the year; I have no more equipment or space for more colonies.

a busy apidea

I had hoped to be able to merge the artificial swarms back to form big colonies ready for the nectar flow, but the bramble round me started to flower (about 22nd June) and I have not had a chance to assess the new queen’s sealed brood and temper, so will have to hope my intact colonies can make up for the reduced collection from smaller artificial swarm pairs. Although I am sorely tempted to cull the old queens and merge anyway seeing as I probably have a spare queen or two now. By July, with the bees concentrating on gathering nectar I hope thoughts of swarming will reduce and I can leave them to get on with it; just checking occasionally that they have enough space to store all the hoped-for nectar, and removing capped frames to reduce the weight when lifting. In fact the forecast is not looking too bad for the next 3 weeks, not uniformly dry but warmer than average. They are even threatening some hot spells. To help bees cope with these hot spells I have an empty super between crownboard and roof, to take the rising heat. Some of my colonies are lucky enough to receive midday shade from trees. Last year I had to drape white sheets over the hives in full sun all day to keep the heat off and put boards to shade the roofs which can get very hot in the sun. Make sure they have access to plenty of clean water nearby to help regulate the in-hive temperature. After all the rain, the plants should be in a good position to produce plenty of nectar – all we need is a bit of sun now!

soggy bumblebees sheltering in an iris after rain

Bumblebees often spend the night out and I have found several soggy specimens caught out by the rain. As soon as they dry out they are off foraging again. Smaller honey bees don’t do so well away from the hive. I found several dead behind a hive having been under the mesh floor by mistake and succumbed after consecutive wet days. Red clover is supposed to be most attractive to long-tongued bumblebees so I was surprised to see one of my honey bees very busy on some red clover in my un-mown lawn recentlty. However, I discover that they can make use of it when the conditions are right for abundant nectar production and the nectar rises up the long tubular flowers to a level the honey bee tongue can reach. I am reading Dave Goulson’s latest book Gardening for Bumblebees, A practical Guide to Creating a Paradise for Pollinators. It is excellent and fascinating as are all his books. If I have a comment it is that there is no index, so I shall have to make one so I can refer back to details about certain plants etc.

Honey bee on Red Clover


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