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.
How quickly the seasons turn
It is now damp and cloudy and some leaves are turning brown; bee populations are reducing brood although still active in the warmth. All seem to be in robbing mode and as soon as I open my honey shed door or garage where my licked supers are stored they are in there sniffing around. I am careful to cover the frames with cover cloths when opening hives and when I do icing sugar treatments I stuff a cloth at the back to prevent the wasps and robbers messing up the insert drop. Be especially careful not to drop any wax or syrup on the ground. If you start feeding, do the first one in the evening and try to do them all at the same time to minimise the excitement it causes. I must put my wasp traps up.
I had several frames of stores with honey/syrup which I removed in the spring before putting on the honey supers. Unfortunately, last month the wax moth found them so I decided rather than give them back whole to the colonies they came off, (which did not have suitable frames to remove to make space in any case) I would scratch the cappings and put them over an open crownboard for them to clean up and take the stores down, they made short work of them, less feeding for me to do. Bees and wasps could smell it though and lots clustered round the top super, fortunately well away from the entrance until it got dark, (the colony was on a brood and a half plus a super of honey). All my entrances are 5.5mm high and less than 10cm long so I think they can all defend themselves from other bees but having seen a hornet hovering in front of a hive today, so many wasps and with unsettled weather and reduced traffic, I will probably put a bit of sponge in to reduce them to 5cm.
An end of summer review of my hives
Most of my colonies have fairly heavy supers, except swarms and nucs. My angry colony was as good as gold the next time I looked; they must have heard me threatening to requeen them, so I did not have to. My four year old queen has been superseded without any reduction in brood. Perfect! The feral swarm I collected last October has built up well, and is now on three supers, (the rescued comb was a better size for shallow frames) but has collected no surplus honey and will need feeding, but it looks very healthy and is dropping virtually no mites. But two other colonies have been messing around losing their queens, replacing introduced queens, queen cells failing, virgins not laying or lost on mating flight and now have no brood. When I looked yesterday one had become drone laying workers so I threw them out on the ground but today they were still clustering on the hive stand so I had to drown them and the other I will merge with a queen-right apidea this week before it goes the same way.
So a bit of a mixed year but generally I am happy with the results; lots of honey, no virus outbreaks, queens mated well and the quality of my stock is improving through selection, and most are reasonably good tempered, given that it is a compromise between health and temper, and I seem to have ended up with more colonies than I started with – again!
What to do this Month…
Feed if required
In September the varroa treatment should be completed and feeding, if necessary, completed by the end of the month. It is best to use full strength syrup (2:1) in rapid feeders, to top up to the amount they need for winter, 30-50lb depending on colony size, having thoroughly assessed how much they already have. Over-feeding will cause them to fill the space the queen needs for laying.
Inspect, insulate and treat
I shall put on the insulation I use over the crownboard shortly and will give them all a final health inspection. Currently my colonies are low in mites; those which had brood breaks in the summer benefitting from a few dusting sessions then, two or three needed about three weeks of dusting and only the four largest intact colonies, required Apiguard. They seem so distressed with Apiguard, clustering at the entrance – see photos with and without Apiguard – that I only gave it to those dropping more than about 150 at the first assessment dust in August. The ones with Apiguard dropped about 1000 mites in the first week, it is easier than dusting but in addition to their visible distress, I cannot rescue any of the stores for cooking at any future point.
The honey crop, used supers: propolis and wax moth
I was pleased to have got all my supers off before the bulk of the Ragwort came into flower, there seems to be a lot round me at the moment. The ones with bright orange pollen have probably been visiting Ragwort. It makes unpleasant honey but the bees don’t seem to mind. I trust you all got a decent honey crop, better than the last two years. I must now check though all the supers, clean off excess propolis, and put them a few at a time in an old deepfreeze as I spotted some wretched wax moth flying in my garage this week. Then they will be stored in a beeproof stack, checked every month that there is no sign of wax moth. I have several supers of foundation which they did not draw in the end, so will probably stack with acetic acid for a week and after ventilating, wrap in polythene to keep fresh for next year.
Planting for bees
Something else we can do early this month to help the bees is to plant a load of crocus bulbs and look round the garden to see what is in flower to encourage for next year, to provide a bit of late pollen. I have wild scabious, borage, Verbena bonariensis and echinacea still in flower, the sedum and asters will be in flower before long. Pruning back my salvias and nepeta should produce a second flush of flower.