Amanda holds regular Training Courses at Mantel Farm and contributes regularly to our beekeeping newsletters. Our regular newsletter can be found here. 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.
In mid July, I was in the garage scraping some old frames and heard a hum. Rushing outside, I saw a medium sized swarm of bees in the middle of the garden which rapidly made off over the wall, across my neighbour’s garden and up and off far away at quite a speed as though they knew where they were going.
Oh heck! Was my first thought, but after checking all my colonies, and marking and clipping my only unclipped young queen, I realised it could not have been any of mine, phew! But if I had put a bait hive out, maybe they would have stayed. I have never had a swarm settle in one of my bait hives, and this year was the first for a long time I did not bother with one… ohh well, I have too many colonies anyway.
This July the flowers most attractive to my bees and other pollinators in the garden have been Goat’s Rue, Marjoram, also used by a good number of butterflies this year, and scabious. I was watching the bees on the Goat’s Rue (see picture above) and they stuffed their heads and tongues into the nectary, forcing down the lower wings and keel with front pair of legs and paddling like mad with the rear to release and pack the orange pollen. Useful having so many pairs of legs!
Beware of Wasps
I have already seen a lot of wasps bothering the bees in spite of dealing with 4 wasp nests I found in my garden, so must put my wasp traps up soon and reduce the entrances right down. I have also noticed a normal reduction in the populations as they wind down for winter, this might be more obvious in strains with some native genes rather than those with a lot of Italian genes. I don’t expect swarms now but will be on the lookout for supersedure cells.
The honey flow has nearly finished, the blackberries are over and although there are a few things still in flower and the Water Balsam has started, this unsettled weather has put the lid on any more serious nectar coming in now. I have removed all the honey that is capped and am just waiting and hoping that the rest will be capped very soon. With the supers off the bees can start storing honey in the boxes they will be wintering on, so I like to get all the supers off in the first week of August. I will be leaving each hive with about a super of their own honey and still have frames of stores to return to several colonies, which I removed in the spring before adding supers.
I hope your harvest was good; it has to be better than last year!
What to do in August
Once the honey has been extracted, I put the supers and frames back on the colonies they came off, over an open crownboard for a few days for them to lick clean. Then I can clean them up, either treating with Acetic acid or freezing to remove any wax moth eggs and stacking in my honey room. At this time of year I look at my colonies with a view to next year, making a note of those with dark comb which will need a shook swarm or Bailey next year, and move dark combs to the edges of the brood boxes for removal in the spring when they are empty. I run a lot of my colonies on several supers for brood, and often they move up in the winter to where the stores are and I can remove the bottom dark empty super in the spring.
As early as possible after removing the last of my supers, I like to get the varroa treatment underway. After the supers are off and before the varroa treatment goes on I give them a thorough health inspection. Be aware of the temperature though; last year August was very warm at times and Apiguard for instance is not advisable above 25 degrees or it can drive the bees out. Monitor before and after to check effectiveness of whichever treatment you use.
A last chance to re-queen
As soon as the honey has been removed it is the last chance to re-queen if you have a poor queen and you are starting with a queen cell or virgin, so there is still time for her to mate well. Hopefully, you are aware of the colonies involved and may have a mated queen already lined up which means you may prefer to re-queen after the varroa treatment when colonies are smaller, healthier, less robbing etc. I have a super productive colony which has a queen in her fourth summer; I doubt whether she will last until next year and don’t want to end up with them drone laying in the winter so am just debating whether to put her in a nucleus for safe keeping and let them rear a new one. It is not a good idea to treat for varroa while you have a queen cell or virgin waiting to mate. I have a couple of queens in my Apidea which show such promise that I plan to build them up rather than risk them in re-queening another colony. Normally I have to wait ages for them to move down reluctantly into a nucleus, but last week I wired their little frames into a shallow nucleus I made, just using a standard frame top bar. They are expanding much more willingly and if the weather deteriorates will manage much better in one (or two) shallow nucs than crowded in an Apidea where I am unable to treat them for varroa (see picture). I am very pleased with the result.