Amanda's Beekeeping Notes September 2021

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

So much for the honey harvest. Mine was half what I harvested the previous year. Taking it off in early August in what was a rather unsettled rainy period I found even frames which were 80% capped had a moisture content in the order of 19%. Above 19% there is a strong chance the honey will ferment after a bit, so I was forced to dehydrate it. It is much easier to dehydrate honey in open cells, by stacking the supers on their ends in a small room with a dehumidifier on for a couple of days. Once extracted and discovering it was higher than I wanted I was forced to divide the contents of a bucket into 3 or 4 buckets to increase the surface area and leave with the dehumidifier running. That brought it down to a reasonable level and a bit of judicious blending for example of a tub of 17% with one of 19.5%  resulted in one of just over 18%.

Having dealt with the honey the next urgent issue was mite monitoring. Fortunately most had a low drop; at least all those which had had artificial swarms and brood breaks, nuclei etc were, so they will be OK until I treat in response to the usual mite bomb in October from collapsing untreated colonies in the neighbourhood. The colonies which did not swarm, so did not have a brood break, had as anticipated, slightly higher daily drops although nothing too serious yet. As the forecast has been so unreliable, making it uncertain whether something like Apiguard would have been suitable and not liking to use strong non-organic chemicals, I have opted for a series of safer, if labour intensive 5-daily icing sugar dusting of those few colonies, as I did not wish to upset the queens if the weather should turn hot (it did not turn hot in the end, quite the opposite, so I could have used Apiguard!).

I have given them all a health check, by inspecting all the brood frames closely, shaking or moving the bees aside to do so. It is never too late to check for disease but the sooner you do it the sooner any problems can be rectified. I was disappointed to find a few cells of sacbrood virus in nearly every colony. One colony had a single frame with quite a few so I removed that frame as it was a source of infection and spread. The other frames were fine and remain fine still a few weeks later thankfully. It shows the importance of inspecting every frame, and doing something about it.  There is a video for beginners who are not sure what is involved, showing how to carry out an inspection. I suggest you download the National bee unit booklet mentioned so you know what you are looking for as this is not covered in the video


‘Bald brood’ (not to be confused with the bald brood caused by wax moth removing the cappings); when you can see a pupal head and the cell edges slightly raised, often means the bees recognize there is a problem with the pupa and if you remove it with a pair of tweezers you may see a pale varroa running around. So watch out for those too. It also means that your bees have some of the genes for hygienic behaviour, those which recognize. The full set of genes would result in them removing the offending pupa too. One colony with a new queen, had rather a lot of this bald brood. I was due to merge it with the other half of the artificial swarm but elected to keep the artificial swarm half with the old queen on new comb and shook the bees off the offending brood comb, destroying it and the queen who was clearly not up to scratch. While doing the disease check, in several colonies I was able to remove more dark brood boxes from the bottom for recycling, so they can go into winter and spring on relatively clean comb. I like to do this while the weather is still warm and before the feeding; so they can reorganize themselves.

So all my colonies are now in their winter configuration, some with substantial stores as I could not be bothered to deal with loads of half full, uncapped frames. In early September I shall go through them all again to assess exactly what weight of honey stores they have and calculate the sugar syrup they require according to the size of the colony. I also have a couple of frames of winter stores, removed in the Spring, to return to a few colonies before commencing feeding. I need to requeen 4 colonies and feeding before or during puts them in a good mood for accepting a new queen. I notice that many bees have the characteristic pollen pattern indicating they have been visiting water balsam, if the weather is half decent they may increase their stores that way before I get round to feeding, but that will just be a bonus; don’t delay any feeding necessary as they have to process it and reduce the moisture content to prevent it going mouldy or fermenting over winter. If the weather deteriorates it will be more difficult for them to process it sufficiently. Some of my colonies are still large but before the end of August, I shall return all their reduced entrances to help them defend their precious stores. Robbing will be more prevalent now the honey has been removed and nectar sources are diminishing.

Autumn flowers are developing; my Field Scabious are in full, if straggly, flower, and will go on until October, attracting many bees. My catnip plants are huge, I let some seedlings develop in the vegetable patch and they have now taken over but attracting many butterflies and other insects including a Small Copper Butterfly. Asters and Sedum will soon be in flower.


Viruses and particularly their variants are so much in the news but are just as applicable to bees as to us, especially in terms of moving them into new environments. The Apiarist blog of 25.7.21. explains if you import a nuc from Greece via Northern Ireland both the distance and number of bees (and hence number of viruses) is much greater,  most of this mixing with the local virus strains will just generate more mixtures of viruses and recombinants.

But there’s always the possibility it might throw up a highly virulent, highly transmissible variant (cf Delta variant of Covid). So once again, do not be tempted to import bees, stick to your local strains which are adapted to local strains of virus.

Also in The Apiarist on 6th August was a more positive item exploring whether beekeepers live longer. Actually it is beekeeping products which lengthen life, (gene telomeres) and being a beekeeper helps.




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