Planting for Bees
In late June I went to RHS Wisley on a sunny day. Salvias and Nepeta were very popular with the bees for nectar and I came home with two varieties from the plant shop, which had the most bees on. Lots of bees were collecting pollen from the yellow pompoms of Thalictrum flavum; Meadow Rue so it looks like I shall have to locate a plant or seed of that too. Of course, the ‘drifts’ at Wisley are spectacular but my pots look good on my patio.
I have a mass of Meadow Cranesbill in my wild meadow patch at the moment, much visited by all sorts of bee. Now is the time to check out what is popular with bees, to plant for next year. I have a male Wool Carder solitary bee (Anthidium maniculatum) defending a small plant of Lamb’s Ears in my garden, for his females to gather wool from to line their nests. He is very attractive and even comes up to investigate me; hovering in front of the plant. It is supposed to have very rich nectar as is certainly attractive to all sorts of bees… when his back is turned.
The Honey Flow
I got all my mites monitored and treated in May /June as it becomes so complicated when you have lots of supers on during the honey flow. So my treatment is over now until early August, unless I collect a swarm, or have one with a brood break which can be easily dusted. The blackberry flowers were open in the first few days of June, which is very early. So I have not had to worry about a June gap this year although I understand some parts of the country were warning of it. Already, before the end of June I have seen blackberry fruit, so I suspect the flow may end early and we can probably take off the honey at the end of July, leaving more time for treatment, and preparing for winter.
What To Do This Month
If we get some really hot days forecast; and we have already had a 20 year record high, it is a good idea to shade the hives from the direct midday sun. A couple of battens underneath a sheet of plywood or pallet material, tied or weighted down, should shade and reduce any heat conducted down from the roof. I keep a bird bath topped up for the bees to drink from; they will use the water to cool the comb.
Keep ventilation to a maximum
Avoid leaving the mite monitoring insert in for any length of time. The warm weather in June meant the majority of my virgin queens mated very quickly and hopefully mated well, so I do not expect to see drone laying queens next spring. So much better than last year, so far, touch wood.
I keep an empty space between the crown board and roof on all my hives by adding either deep home-made ekes or old supers. This provides a useful space for feeders in the autumn, insulation in the winter and spring, somewhere to store the cover cloths for use on that hive, and above all at this time of year a space to allow hot air from the hive to escape up in very hot weather. This space also keeps the hot metal roofs further from the bees.
We still need to keep an eye out for swarm preparations, but it is less likely in July. I have had enough of artificial swarms by end of June, so if one is making swarm cells (as opposed to supersedure) at this time of year, I pop the queen in an Apidea as insurance and keep thinning the queen cells and let them produce a new queen. They get a useful brood break and all those bees who would have been nurse bees become foragers so a good crop can ensue. Those colonies preferring to supersede, like several of mine, or swarms you have collected or even the old queen part of an artificial swarm might well be superseding this month or next. So don’t do anything rash if you find just one or two queen cells, let them get in with it. Having a clipped queen saves a lot of unnecessary worry.
Provide plenty of space
We need to make sure the bees have plenty of space as nectar takes up three times the volume of the resulting honey. If the sun shines they could need a super a week, so in the first half of the month, don’t worry about putting lots of supers on in case they need them. However, later on it is worth moving full frames to the side of the supers to achieve evenly full supers and avoid them feeling ‘full’ which can trigger swarming. I will put full, sealed frames together in one box at the top and as soon as it is fully capped will take it off to save regular lifting. I am already using a stool on some of my huge, queen excluder-free colonies though, so I may have to take it off a few sealed frames at a time as I will not be able to lift a heavy super from height.
Always ensure there is space left for the bees when you take off supers as their population is at a maximum. I suppose I tend to ‘middle super’ rather than putting empty drawn supers on the top (over super) or at the bottom of the stack of supers (under super). I don’t like putting foundation right at the bottom over the brood area, as it can act as a temporary barrier until they have drawn it, forcing them to dump nectar where the queen should be laying, a fairly full super can also act as a barrier. Once you have loads of drawn empty supers you can put them anywhere and even try ‘checkerboarding’ which also is supposed to reduce swarming. However, I have used up all my drawn comb now and foundation is the problem, but a good flow, as at the time of writing, is the time to get it drawn well. If, at the end of the flow, you end up with drawn comb with unsealed, unfinished honey/nectar in it, just spin it off and give it back to the colony it came off, for their winter stores and you end up with lots of lovely drawn comb for next year.
So pile on those supers! Fingers crossed for a decent crop this year for a change.
Last week, I heard that following a vote in the European Parliament, neonicotinoid pesticides will remain banned in the EU, including the UK.
Amanda holds regular Training Courses at Mantel Farm and contributes regularly to our newsletters. Amanda is a professional ecologist who has been keeping up to 25 colonies of bees for about fifteen years. She has attained BBKA theory modules 1-7 with credits & distinctions and has also won prizes at the National Honey Show for honey & other products.