Apiary visit 20th August.
Must be holiday time! It was a relief to get some warm dry weather at last, and a chance to go through the hives. Mandy, Claire and Shirley checked out the reduced number we have now (mostly due to relocation, and nucs going out to this year’s beginners), every colony different, so it turned out to be a useful teaching session.
The small nuc near the wall was coming on well, had filled 4 frames, so we put it into a proper hive. An empty hive was placed just in front of it, then Claire and Shirley transferred the frames. The bees were somewhat confused to start with, then settled down. They didn’t seem short of stores (given their size – they’d been fed generously until a fortnight ago) and with the weather forecast to improve, they were safe to forage for themselves without extra feeding.
Hive 1 had created a new queen in late June, after the queen and some frames of bees were removed to create a nuc. We hadn’t seen any brood on the last 2 inspections, and this time no brood again, but lots of drones and scattered drone brood, so we suspected a drone-laying worker (as some were above the queen excluder). In this situation, the colony is effectively a write-off without a queen, but the remaining bees can be used to boost another colony. A frame of eggs and brood was inserted from hive 3, to boost the worker numbers, and attract any remaining workers to a single frame, then the nuc was opened up again, and a “paper marriage” carried out. Paper was laid across the frames in the nuc’s brood box, holes made in the paper, and hive 1 was placed on top. The scent from the 2 colonies should slowly mingle, and the 2 lots of bees should combine without fighting.
This colony (next to the storage unit) will need re-assembling within a week, and fed syrup until the remaining combs in the brood box have been drawn out.
Hive 2 was in a sorry state – no brood was seen in the previous inspection (it needed to make a new queen after frames were removed to create a nuc): this week a full super of honey had gone, still no brood visible, but no drone brood either, so probably the queen is still here. This been a difficult summer, with some colonies running out of food. Hopefully this is what’s happened here – the queen is still present, but not laying due to lack of food. Easily remedied, we hope, with lots of feeding. Syrup was put on the hive – this will need checking within a week, and more syrup added as needed.
Hive 3: had had a very heavy varroa infestation: this had been treated about 3 weeks ago (MAQ strips) with spectacular results – heaviest mite fall I’ve ever seen. This week – with the MAQ strips still present – there was still a mite drop, but probably only a Daily Mite Drop (DMD) of about 4. The strips were left in place. The colony only had 3 frames of stores in the super, so a feeder and syrup was added, to let them get started and help boost the last of this summer’s foraging. The queen was laying well, with plenty of brood, larvae and eggs seen.
The last colony to check was a swarm collected this summer: it was very strong at the last inspection, and this time it had obviously outgrown its five-frame nuc box, so was swiftly transferred to a proper hive. A feeder and syrup was added to help them drawn out the additional 6 frames they now had. As there was only a small amount of syrup left, this colony (closest to the trees) will need feeding again before the weekend.
This visit – with so much variability between only 5 colonies – serves as a reminder not to take anything for granted, to check colonies for stores, look out for robbing by wasps of other bees, check the mite drop and work out the end-of-season varroa treatments.
The heather probably has only a week or so left (it opened 7-10 days early this year), so there will be little forage about except for rosebay willowherb, possibly dandelions if they get a chance of a second flowering, and Himalayan Balsam. The latter is an invasive alien, so probably its only fans are bees who relish the copious nectar, but don’t seem to like the white pollen. When they’ve been working the Himalayan Balsam they come back powdered with white pollen (“ghost bees”) that they don’t bother gathering onto their pollen baskets.
Winter bees: colonies are starting to raise the bees that will take them right through the winter, instead of having the 6-week lifespan of the summer bees. Make sure that all colonies have plenty of food at this stage, to secure the colony strength through the winter and into spring.
This year’s honey crop looks likely to be very poor: it will be interesting to see how much heather honey comes in.