September 2011

What an unusual month! The nectar flow carried on after the end of July (this hasn’t happened for about 5 years now), albeit somewhat reduced compared to previous weeks, but it was still there. The past couple of weeks have seen a distinct fall-off, however, and some smaller colonies in particular are struggling to get by on their reserves. This is where the attentive beekeeper wins hands down over less attentive ones.

Feeding of a colony short of stores is paramount, in the absence of which starvation will surely ensue with the resultant loss of the colony, especially during the weeks between the main flow (July, usually) and the start of the ivy flowering (September-ish). I have had to feed a small colony and a nucleus of mine in the past week. But this poses problems of another sort – robbing! Since the nectar flow has diminished somewhat, the foraging bees (as well as the redundant wasps!) are looking for alternative sources of food or at least for something interesting to do – they’ve been working their socks off for the previous weeks and are not used to being idle.

Smaller colonies (like nuclei or weaker stocks) are easy game for such predators and can be robbed of all their stores, resulting in starvation of their developing brood – as well as, eventually, themselves. It’s normally quite easy to recognise as the robbing bees are darting from side to side, in front of the hive, looking to get past the guard bees, whereas the rightful residents of the hive are either flying straight in and straight out, with work to do, or the young ones might be flying around the hive getting their bearings. There is no simple answer to this dilemma, other than feeding all colonies at the same time – but if you are letting the bees gather nectar into the supers you can’t feed them, otherwise the sugar feed will adulterate the honey. And it’s amazing how quickly foraging bees can find a weak colony and start to test its defensiveness!

Isolation is one solution, placing the smaller nuclei or colonies in an apiary not populated by strong colonies (easier said than done for some people). What I did with one weak nucleus of mine was to close it up and feed it for 3 days. I then moved it to another apiary where the bees appear to be holding their own – at the moment. The weaker colony was treated to sugar syrup poured into the empty combs and is back to normal again. But vigilance is the watchword!

On to more positive topics – Country Shows. August is traditionally the month for these horticultural events. We at the Roseland Beekeeping Group attended the Tregony Horse Show and Country Fair and also the St Ewe Country Fair. Both days were highly successful and the weather was glorious! I set up an observation hive so that members of the public could see honeybees in their “natural” environment, i.e. on frames of comb, with a queen who had been given a white mark on her thorax (by me) so she could be spotted (pardon the pun!) easily.

The children in particular love this opportunity to get close to honeybees with no danger whatsoever of them meeting too closely! The joy when they see the queen with her “white crown” and when regaling their parents with all they’ve learned from watching and listening to the attendant beekeeper describe what’s going on inside the hive. My young grandchildren were staying with us at the time of the St Ewe event and my 6 year-old grand-daughter helped me put the bees back into their proper hive after the show was finished. She loved spotting the queen and being so close to the bees (suitable garbed and protected in a full beekeeper’s suit, veil and gloves – all about 5 sizes too large and therefore rolled up where appropriate to give even more protection!).

The honey sold well, there was a lot of interest in and questioning about the plight of the honeybees and several people took away course dates to decide in the cold light of reality when they arrived home as to whether or not they would come on my course being run at Probus next month and onwards.

Swarms this year, as reported previously, have been more frequent than in recent years (maybe a reflection of the number of new beekeepers who haven’t quite got the hang of it yet?). I am still trying to retrieve a swarm from behind a soffit board in a house – whenever I stop up their entrances (apart from the main one), they make another and I am chasing them around the soffit trying to get them to occupy a hive alongside (the soffit is conveniently just over a flat roof, so access is easy (though up a 3-part ladder!) but the bees are so ingenious! Never mind! I’ll get them eventually.

Then another one was just inside a small meter-box. I simply cut out the comb, wired it into some empty frames inserted into an empty hive, placed the hive on top of the meter box and the bees were all in by the evening and re-sited that night – easy-peasy! But there are some…!

I still haven’t had chance to remove my honey crop this season. Maybe it has been just as well, since there has been a fall-off in nectar flow just now, so the bees are most likely eating my honey! But at least they are alive and haven’t starved, so a small price to pay really. Treating the bees for Varroa and ensuring they have plenty of stores to see them through the winter are the next jobs lined up to do – all I need is time! Does anyone know where it all goes? And why does it not seem to last as long as it used to when I was a child, when the days seemed to go on for weeks?! I guess it must be as a result of all the cut-backs!

Colin Rees – 01872 501313 – colinbeeman@aol.com

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