from a local beekeeper –
The year started well, if slightly late. The flowers and the bees were about 3 weeks behind last year, but the rape flowered well and the bees collected some honey, though not a lot, as it was too cold to fly too far. I removed about 120lbs of rape honey, but then things went downhill.
All but 2 of my 13 colonies attempted to swarm and although I prevented the loss of a lot of bees, it resulted in over 17 colonies of some size or other. Then things deteriorated; the weather in May, June and early July might have been sunny, but it was dry and quite cold at times, so the flowers had little nectar and when the main forage plants came out, Bramble and Clover in July, there was precious little nectar. The result was that I only extracted 40 lbs of summer honey. This might also have been a result of my mismanagement, as I should have united some of the 17 hives using the new queens to produce large colonies capable of collecting lots of nectar. It requires removing the older weaker queens before putting the 2 boxes together. Owing to my lack of mobility this summer I wasn’t able to go through all the colonies in enough detail to do this, so I have learnt from my mistakes.
It also meant the colonies were starving, so when I opened them up in early September, I found one had died of starvation and most of the rest had precious few stores. Since then I have fed them 140kgs of sugar syrup which I hope will see them through the winter; now that the Ivy is flowering and we have settled weather, they are out collecting pollen and nectar to top up their stores. Some are also visiting the Charlock which is a weed in the brassica family that looks like rape, with yellow flowers and grows on the organic arable fields near the apiary. This gives lots of yellow pollen seen on the bees back legs and nectar much like rape. So I’m hoping the fine Indian summer will carry on for a while yet, to guarantee my remaining 13 colonies survive through the winter and thankful that last year’s bumper harvest will store forever and provide honey till the next harvest.
I have also treated them for Varroa, as I always do in September with an organic thymol based product that reduces their number to a minimum. I don’t think any beekeeper can entirely eradicate this nasty pest, but keeping their numbers in check reduces the chances of the bees succumbing to other viruses, notably DWV or deformed wing virus which always seems to appear in weak colonies with high levels of Varroa.
Apart from removing the sugar feeders in the next few days, I won’t open up the colonies now till next Spring when the first warm days in March/April arrive. If the winter is mild, then they will pop out to visit the Mahonia in my garden to collect pollen, or on cleansing flights, as a bee rarely defecates in the hive, they can hold it in for up to 6 weeks. Often they target my washing to suck up water and relieve themselves at the same time! (Brown spots on the sheets). Water is essential to dilute their honey stores to eat, they consume sugar/water in a ratio of 50:50, but honey is 80:20 sugars to water, so they need water in late winter and early spring. A cold winter is actually better as they go into a cluster and move very little, just pumping their wing muscles gently to generate enough heat to keep the queen and the cluster warm enough. If the queen is laying in the centre of the cluster then inside the temperature must be 30’C +, otherwise 18-20’C is fine no matter how cold the external temperature drops.
Next year for the bees, I hope for a wet winter, warm spring and a summer of mixed rain and heat.