Amanda’s Beekeeping Notes – Varroa, Harsh Weather, Neonicotinoids, Bee Convention

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.

Bees collecting water
Bees collecting water

Varroa Update

The varroa ‘bomb’ has struck again, in about the second week of October. In August my mite levels were generally low and I got most of them down to single figures after a dusting. I usually check again mid October, but was a week later than planned as I hurt my back lifting a too heavy super. I dusted on 20th October and was horrified, but not surprised, to have drops of between 19 and 550, so whenever weather permits, I shall be dusting. In 2012 all those which dropped more than 300 after a dusting at the end of October, died. The weather was poor that year though, so they were probably more susceptible. It will be interesting to see if the two this year dropping 400 and 550 die over winter. I hope not as they were promising new colonies this year.

By now I have put mouse guards on the few colonies which do not have 5.5mm height entrances. I usually remove the entrance block so that they have plenty of holes available to prevent dead bees blocking the access. We still need to check regularly that the entrances are clear, and look in to ensure the floor is clear too otherwise any icing sugar dusting will not work. Insulation is on most of them and the wire netting against woodpeckers will go on soon. My out apiary hives are securely strapped.

Weather

October 16th and Storm Ophelia brought a red sun and dark, orange skies caused by Saharan dust and smoke from forest fires in Southern Europe. I was out near my bees and saw them rush home with traffic jams at the entrances; before long they were all quiet and indoors. They were a bit subdued next morning too as the light levels were still low. I write this with Storm Brian battering the garden, bright sun alternates with squalls of rain. In the sun there are lots of bees out collecting water (see photo) and several Red Admirals sunning themselves in spite of the wind.

Neonicotinoids

There has been a lot in the news these past few weeks, much of it depressing. Recent research shows neonicotinoids have been found in 75% of the world’s honey. Researchers in China have determined the components of the female Asian hornet sex pheromone and tested its attraction to male hornets seeking a mate. It could soon be available as a lure to warn of colonising hornets and act as a control strategy.

On 19th October the news was full of research from Germany, that overall total flying insect biomass has reduced 76% over the last 27 years. They found that in midsummer the decline was nearly 82%. This exceeds the estimated decline of vertebrate abundance in the last 42 years of 58%. Worse still was that this data was collected from nature reserves and protected areas. Dave Goulson was involved and has in past talks suggested this was happening, many of us have noticed this for a while but I have particularly with my involvement with bat rescue and the numbers of starving bats I have received in recent years.

It is not just the vulnerable species such as butterflies, wild bees and moths; the declines have been across the board. They believe from their recordings of landscape change and climate change around the study sites that these are not the major factors in this massive decline, however, untested factors such as agricultural intensification e.g. pesticides, fertilisers, increased tillage, prolonged droughts, which have been factors in the decline in biodiversity of plants, birds etc, may be possible factors. Dave Goulson in British Wildlife magazine, suggests that at this rate of decline there will be precious few insects left in a couple of decades and given their vital role in pollination, recycling and in the food chain, the environment may descend into chaos; ‘ecological Armageddon’ is probably not an overstatement. If only those responsible knew or cared more about the environment!

Bee on Aster
Bee on Aster

Plants

In October my bees made use of some Asters and Sedum which have done well this year and I shall divide them and will prepare a late summer flowering bed for next year for them, with Rudbeckia, Echinops and Alliums. Some Hollyhock and Echinacea seedlings are just up. I have also bought some wild flower seed to sow now and plant out as plug plants in my wild meadow (ex-lawn) next year: Red clover, Yellow Rattle, Ladies Bedstraw and Campanula among others. I need something to look forward to at the beginning of winter!

Bee on Sedum
Bee on Sedum

Sussex Beekeepers’ Association Annual Convention

The Annual convention will once again return to Uckfield Civic Centre in 2017. The programme is finalised. Hope to see you there! Here is the outline:

9:00am Registration and Coffee
9:30am Dr John Feltwell Dealing with the Asian Hornet
10:50am Roger Patterson My Simple Approach to Bee Improvement
11:50am Mike Williams The Bee Sting and its effect on Humans
2:00pm Nikki Gammans Gardening for Bees and other Insect Pollinators
3:20pm Bob Smith Managing the Workers

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