August, unlike July, can be a busy month for beekeepers. Generally, the bees no longer want to swarm (unless they are kept really short of space). The queen’s laying rate is reducing (releasing storage space for nectar) with the shortening days (maybe not noticeable to you and me but certainly so to the queen) and the nectar flow has more or less finished (until the golden rod, asters, chrysanths and ivy come into flower to provide the bees with their winter stores). This is likely to be the case this year (the previous three years were disastrous in July because of the rains that were almost incessant, so the pattern was different in those years).
What the bees are busy doing now, however, is collecting the nectar on any clover that is still flowering and evaporating off the excess moisture that it contains. Bees can often be seen on the alighting board at the entrance, either just hanging in clumps or with their heads facing the entrance and their bottoms in the air, fanning like mad. This is to remove the excess moisture in the hive resulting from their evaporation activities or because they (like us) are just too hot.
If nuclei were made in June, then July is when the emerging virgin queens will have beenready to mate, so good weather would have been paramount, resulting in August being a time of frantic egg-laying by the new queen to build up the colony enough to survive the winter. Feeding of such nuclei is therefore very important to give them a head start, but they won’t take any feed until the queen is mated and laying – a good indicator (Nuclei are normally held in a box about half the size of a standard hive box (to retain the warmth) and do not have any honey boxes on them, so there is no danger of sugar syrup (the feed we give) contaminating honey).
So what are we doing? Well, hopefully extracting all the honey brought in during July and then treating the colonies for Varroa so that the infestation levels are brought down to manageable numbers for the bees. The bees, however, will quite often resent this removal of their honey from the hive, not because they think of it as theirs, but rather because they have been so busy over the previous few weeks that they are frustrated by having so much less to do now. They are therefore sniffing around looking for other sources of food – such as other beehives!
And it’s not only we beekeepers and other bees who want that honey – our enemy the wasps also want their share! Why enemy? Well, young wasps are basically carnivores, so the adults kill lesser insects and carry these back to the nest to feed to their young. However, at this time of year, the queen wasp, like the queen bee, is also reducing her egg-laying rate. This means that when these foraging wasps return with meat, there is no (or certainly less) brood to feed it to. Consequently, the sweet liquid the brood exudes after being fed is no longer available to the adults – so they go looking for it in beehives.
Beekeepers have been known to lose whole colonies of bees – and whole apiaries – due to the predations of desperate wasps, so it is common practice to place wasp traps around the apiary site to divert, attract and kill these predators. Such traps can become full in 24 hours, such is the concentration of forces and desperation of the wasps.
So, yes, a busy month ahead – except, like eggs and chickens, we must not count our honey crop until it’s extracted and in the jar!
Colin Rees firstname.lastname@example.org 01872 501313