Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
Bees’ behaviour is fascinating, even after nearly 20 years with them, they frequently cause me to wonder. The latest being last week (20th November), when I finally decided to bump off a nucleus which was too sensitive to me passing nearby and raking leaves and would go for the head without warning. I could not tolerate a larger colony with that trait. The colony the queen cell came from, obtained elsewhere, was also touchy and now requeened, but I had been curious to see if the virgin mating in my area would result in a better-behaved colony – it did not. Anyway, after I had drowned them I examined the comb and was surprised to find no brood (apart from the last 3 sealed cells just emerging). There were loads of bees and syrup stores open and sealed but hardly any pollen – 34 cells all less than half full of bee bread.
the frame of the culled nuc showing clean, disease free but empty brood cells, open and capped stores and a few cells of beebread.
In spite of many beekeepers habitually recommending treating with oxalic acid late December or January, the low point for brood is considered by experts and scientists to be more like mid December, so this would be a better time to use a varroa treatment which is less effective when brood is present. But I was surprised that my nuc was indicating there had been no egg laying since about 1st November. Concerned, I quickly checked the nuc it was sharing the roof with, pointing the opposite way. It was the same. How normal this is with nucs I cannot say, as I am not in the habit of opening my colonies after mid October. I know the remaining nuc dropped zero mites at the last check so all the bees should be healthy long lived winter bees. As the clusters in both nucs were against the warmer side shared with the other, I have tied thick Cellotex insulation around the sides of the remaining nuc. I am not too worried about the lack of pollen at the moment as there is no brood and winter bees eat a lot of pollen in autumn which is converted to Vitellogenin stored in their fat bodies, but will probably give it a lump of pollen substitute over the crown board hole in a few weeks as the queen will, I hope, be thinking of recommencing laying around Christmas time. The other colonies were observed storing huge amounts of pollen in early October so they should be OK.
I have written before how useful the insert is at this time to see what your colonies are up to. It needs to be in for 7 days for any results to be meaningful as the cluster will be less active in cold weather. I shall put mine under in a couple of weeks to see how the mite drop is after my Oxalic Acid vapourisation last month. But will probably avoid very wet or very windy weather as they will not appreciate a damp fug in the former and the mites and debris may be blown off in the latter. It would be informative to put the insert in for a week before you do treatment. No point in disturbing them if they are dropping no mites! Things to look for on the insert are: mites, spots of brown dysentery (Nosema apis, virus, fermenting stores), half eaten pupae bits (disease, varroa), wax moth droppings or no debris at all; indicating problems. Lines of brown debris indicate size and lateral location of the cluster; pale wax crumbs or dry crystals of ivy stores indicate use of stores. If a small cluster is hard up against one side, it may not be able to move over to the remaining stores in a cold spell.
With warnings of a slightly wetter than normal winter this year, possibly linked to La Nina, and cold weather and strong winds for later this week, it is time we all had our hives strapped down or at least with weights on the roofs. Continue to check entrances are clear and after we have a bit of heavy rain I shall check under all the roofs for signs of damp or leaks. I did seal up the roof leaks I found in the summer with silicone sealer but they have not really been tested yet as it seems to have been dry for ages. I know mine have plenty of stores so don’t need to start hefting until the New Year, but will keep an eye on my nucleus. Perhaps I shall have time to get started on that pile of frames, which need sterilizing, and make some foundation sheets, ready for the spring.
Research: First some good news for a change. Fifty colonies of near native wild bees have been found in the closed environment of the 400 acres Blenheim Palace estate: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/07/no-one-knew-they-existed-wild-heirs-of-lost-british-honeybee-found-at-blenheim?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other
Elsewhere climatic drivers of honey bee disease, such as increased temperature and wet weather, have been revealed. Summary: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211109080729.htm and scientific paper https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-01495-w.pdf
Varroa was found to increase by 39% per degree temperature increase and sacbrood also increases by a lesser amount per degree.
A study, published in Science Advances, indicates about 175,000 plant species - half of all flowering plants - mostly or completely, rely on animal pollinators to make seeds and so to reproduce. Declines in pollinators could therefore cause major disruptions in natural ecosystems, including loss of biodiversity. Apparently this is the first global study of the importance of pollinators to natural ecosystems. We must look after our pollinators and environment better!
Nearer to home it has been found that town bees prefer residential areas to forage in (think pollinator friendly gardens) and don’t have to travel as far as rural bees, it is a variation on the work Sussex University have been doing for a while. https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1365-2664.14011
Nuc after the deed Nucs before