The current situation with lockdown as a consequence of the pandemic COVID19 has seen the use of online technology come into its own. There have been some excellent webinars on beekeeping given by experienced beekeepers, and I take a lot from these, but often there’s something missing in the communication, the empathy, and the attitude much as I love them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s nothing like experiencing it yourself, doing it, trying it out, and importantly reflecting on the experience. This period of time has allowed me to spend almost everyday with the bees and with the nature that surrounds me. Although I have been keeping bees for many years, it is my continual learning by doing that keeps my interest, my obsession. As well as doing many things, I also observe the bees, having a chair in each of my apiaries just to sit and watch whats going on. I also love reading related books and recently read Ken Pickles book ‘Buckets of honey from boxes of bees‘ in which he writes about his experiences as a beekeeper in Wharfedale. ‘Don’t believe what you read in the books’ is the mantra…well of course who does? Its about reference and comparison to your own experiences…..
A visit from the bee inspector
Keeping an eye on the health of the bees is important not only for the bees that we care for but for bees nationwide. In the UK the government pays for bee inpectors to periodically check the bees within a certain area. I’m not going to list all bee diseases but to mention the two ‘foulbroods’ that affect the larvae of the honeybee; namely European and American foulbrood. Both are bacterial, American foulbrood affecting pre-pupal or the pupal stage and European foulbrood the larval stage. In the UK the bee inspector inspects the beekeepers bee colonies primarily to check for the health and wellbeing; with the foulbroods being notifiable and in the case of American foulbrood being detected the colony must be destroyed and the frames burnt.
The inspector contacted me in late July 2020 and we set up a date for him to visit in early August 2020. I’ve known him a long time and we get on well. He looked at each of my colonies with me assiting along the way. We found some Chalkbrood and Sacbrood but nothing to be too worried about. He also pointed out the Varroa feaces as a way of detecting the presence of Varroa. Great to get an independent check, he complimented me on the quality of my nucs ;-).
Inspecting the bees. Note the double nuc brood boxes for ovewintering
Steaming old brood frames
I’d removed quite a few old brood frames early on in the season to let the colonies draw new comb as they build up. I use a wall paper removing steamer modified to fit a beehive roof to let the steam in as a way of sterilising the frames and brood boxes as well as melting the wax:
Its around this time of year that the worker wasps start to pester the bee colonies as they no longer have to look after the wasp larvae in their own colonies. Over the summer I have opened up most of the beehive entrances, but once the wasps arrive I close them up to a small entrance to make it easier for the bees to defend it. Its interesting how well some colonies defend yet others, even large colonies seem to just let the wasps in.
The wasps seem to have the knack of knowing which is the weakest colony and targetting it. Once this happens in my esperience the colony will die out unless evasive action is taken by the beekeeper. I make some beehive entrances just the width of a peice of garden pipe such that a bee in the pipe is enough to ward off a wasp. In a one to one fight a wasp will usually come off best, so the bees need to defend mob handed.
Even with an entrance that is as small as a length of pipe the wasps can takeover, so sometimes I close the entrance off for a while and move the hive away somewhere else.
I have a theory that the wasps target the queen and once dead the bees become demoralised and virtually give up. This time of year making a new queen would be almost impossible.
In the first video below the bees are very good at defending the colony. This is a queen mating nuc so only has a small number of bees in it, yet it defends it well. In the video a bee defends against a wasp but quickly succumbs to it. The wasp then takes on the group at the front of the hive before eventually flying off.
Earlier in the season I had requeened a colony of unpleasant bees and I used this queen and a few bees to create some mating nucs for use later in the season and for next year. The bees are unpleasant because they are strongly defending the colony and I find this type of bee is also quite hardy, perfect for a role like this. Later on I’d used the queen mating nuc to get some queens mated which worked really well. The bees are some of the workers from the original queen so they defend well against the wasps.
The start of August saw me taking off supers to extract honey. In previous years I’ve taken Spring honey off, but not this year. June, July and August have been wet and cold this year so the bees relied on the honey from Spring, but they did manage to get some honey from the summer flowers; bramble, Willowherb and maybe some clover too. I stack the supers away from the bees and then extract it in one go. I’ll then put the wet supers back onto the colonies to let them clean them out.
There have been some really good webinars this summer and I have really enjoyed those from BIBBA, Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association.
In one of these, feeding bees was talked about. We’re often told to feed in one go so that the bees can get the hive full before the cold weather arrives, very good advice. But, it’s also important for the bees to get pollen stores in for winter as well. Feeding smaller amounts of syrup over a few weeks is great for doing this because when fed syrup the bees think there is a nectar flow on and go out foraging. This is something I’ve done with my nucs for a few years and its working well this season too
Update on association apiary
In late August we took all the supers off the Brecon and Radnor Association beehives and treated them for Varroa. We noticed that WBC2 had successfully requeened following a supercedure. The old queen was marked red the colour of 2018, so she had had a pretty good life and interestingly the colony hadn’t attempted to swarm (even though she had a wing clipped). We have had two supers of honey from WBC2 this year as well. Maybe this is a good colony to breed from??
If you’re a member of the Brecon and Radnor Beekeepers’ Association then you see the details of all colonies over the season here
WBC2 new queen
Flowers in August
There have been plenty of flowers for the bees to forage from in August, but I feel that the main honey producing flowers; bramble, Rosebay Willowherb and clover were slowing down after providing nectar in July. The bees did get some heather nectar in early August, but only for a few days.
I posted photos of bees on flowers throughout August on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/breconshirebeekeeping/