Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
As I write this the heatwave in July broke last night into thunderstorms. Thank goodness; I have found the heat debilitating and was reluctant to venture outside and certainly not to put a bee suit on. The bees have had to take their chance and I am thankful that it is at the end of the swarming period. I am hoping they have other things on their collective mind than swarming and are all still there. They don’t seem to have suffered in the heat since I took precautions to shade the hives removing the white sheets and cardboard shading before the rain.
I checked the nucs and apidea one evening last week, two of which have now moved entirely into nucs. The apidea brood has emerged and the apidea have been removed. They are all growing well, all the remaining virgins have mated and they are building up stores. I also just peeked under the crownboards of the rest of the colonies to see if they were congested at the top, and made up my last supers for a few. I have no more frames made up or wax foundation to put on. At this late stage of the flow, there is probably little point in putting more supers of foundation on, unless really congested, as it is unlikely they will fill and cap them. Normally I would remove fully capped frames during July and move nearly full ones to the sides of the supers so they can concentrate on finishing the rest. Instead this year I shall remove all fully capped frames in one go at the end of July, just leaving the frames not fully capped both as space for them and probably as winter stores for them too, depending on how much there is. Mainly because of the heat it would have been such an effort to go through all the frames as I now need a stool to reach top of 4 of them. I expect lots of people are in that ‘happy’ situation after this fine nectar collecting weather, although I am not sure what the crop this year will be as we did have that wet and windy weather at the beginning of the nectar flow when they seemed to eat more than they collected. As they are not as active now because of the rain and cooler temperatures it is likely they will have ‘finished’ their honey, ie processed the nectar to remove surplus water and even if not fully capped it may be at the correct concentration. I shall check with the refractometer. As so many of my frames are now started with foundation strips, I suspect the ‘shake test’ to see if any unfinished nectar flies out may be a bit risky!
I prefer to remove my honey for extraction at the end of July, or very early August depending on weather and how busy they still are, so that they can store any further honey for their own use, and also because the Ragwort is now in flower and this imparts a lurid yellow to honey and wax and an unpleasant flavour which I do not want to contaminate my mix of fragrant spring and blackberry honey. The Ragwort does not seem to harm the bees; they are welcome to it.
If all the supers are taken off it is important to leave a super or box of frames of some sort as space for the still-large colonies to cluster in at night. At that stage it might be an opportunity to get the colony to draw out some nice clean drawn comb for brood frames if there is still any nectar flow. Queen excluders can be removed with the honey supers. However, try not to leave the hive open for long and do be careful to prevent robbing, by reducing entrances and cover boxes to deter robbers. I have not seen many wasps yet, but they will probably appear as soon as we are dealing with honey.
I like to monitor mites before removing the honey so if any need it, I can make a quick start on varroa treatment, but it has been too hot to put inserts under and in any case I am not sure how reliable they would be under so many boxes. So I shall wait until the supers are removed and it is a little cooler in early August just in case there is another hot spell. Read carefully the ideal temperature range for your chosen treatment. Hot temperatures can cause volatile treatments like Apiguard to evaporate too quickly and could cause the colony to abscond or kill their queen. Unfortunately the long-range weather forecast is unable to give the details we need to plan for the coming month. I can see these temperature and weather extremes because of climate change are going to make certain aspects of beekeeping more challenging.
In the end I managed to merge all my artificial swarms except one, early in July, in the process requeening my really angry colony, thank goodness. Angry character can be due to genetics, in which case it might be weeks before their temper improves as the new queen’s brood comes through, or it could be queen character/pheromones in which case a rapid improvement might be seen as in this case, or if it is because of poor environment (lack of forage, disturbance, wasps, disease, damp etc) then no improvement will be forthcoming until the problems are corrected. The early autumn (late August to end September), after the honey has been removed and the colonies are reducing in size, is a good time to replace the queen if necessary, not least because she will be easier to find. Several of my nucs are intended to requeen a few colonies of dubious temperament and achievement. If any of mine need Apiguard or other strong treatments then I will delay requeening until the treatment is finished as such treatments frequently put queens off lay and may cause them to reject a new queen at that time.
I have noticed a change in the flowers to the late summer/autumn bee flowers such as Echinops, Echinacea and Marjoram. Still going strong and visited by lots of honeybees and bumblebees are Vipers Bugloss, Knapweed, Echium Blue Bedder which has had a long flowering, and some plants of chicory which bolted before I could eat them have a profusion of beautiful blue flowers which all close up at midday. Bolted leeks are also flowering now with huge mauve flower heads.