Today one of our local super-duper experienced beekeepers, John Chapple, gave a group of us Ealing beekeepers a talk on varroa control and general hive management techniques throughout the year. John has a big beard, several hives around London and is even the Queen’s beekeeper.
Here are my notes on what he had to say…
Believe it or not, despite the current odd situation of a hot British summer, autumn is coming and the bees know it. They observe the days getting shorter and the Queen responds by laying fewer eggs. However for now, the bees are still pinging in and out of the hive entrance frantically bringing lots in. You should be aiming to get your honey off by the end of July, when the main nectar flow will be over. Once the flow stops the bees become aggressive. Don’t touch your bees in August!
Once your honey is taken off, put your varroa monitoring board on the bottom of the hive and tape it up so it’s airtight. You can now treat for varroa with Apiguard, a natural thymol (from the plant thyme) based gel product which comes in trays. The worker bees will try to remove the foreign smelling Apiguard from the hive, in the process distributing it throughout the colony and disrupting the varroa mite’s cell membranes. Put one Apiguard tray on your crown board, leave for a fortnight, then put another in for a further fortnight. You should aim to do this in the first-second week of August. Don’t use Apiguard while your honey supers are still on unless you want thymol flavoured honey!
In our last feed of the year, beekeepers at the Perivale apiary treat against nosema using Fumadil B. Nosema is a parasite that multiples in the gut of adult bees and has been found in hives within the apiary previously. It is linked with dysentery, so brown smears of bee poop on a hive are a tell-tale sign. Nosema spores can withstand temperature extremes and persist on contaminated comb, another good reason to change brood comb each year. Fumadil B is a naturally occurring antibiotic which is dissolved into sugar syrup and fed to the colony.
During winter beekeepers at the apiary treat for varroa with oxalic acid. You take the crownboard off, squirt 5ml down each frame you can see bees on and quickly replace the lid before they get too cold. Warning: even though this is a quick visit the bees may not be happy, wear your beesuit! One of the local beekeepers didn’t bother with a suit last year and got stung right on the nose.
A subject very dear to every beekeepers’ heart…
- Entrances: entrances can be reduced (to help prevent robbing) using strips of rubber foam found in skips – though someone pointed out that the foam may have been used for construction purposes and sprayed with all sorts of nasty chemicals
- Varroa monitoring boards: cut up estate agent’s boards
- Swan/goose feathers: perfect for brushing bees off frames. Someone reported that using a turkey feather made his bees angry! At Christmas time your butcher may be able to give you a feather, or a trip to the local park, poking around by the duck pond, might pay off.
Edit: recommend this blog post – 25 really simple beekeeping tips – for further money saving advice.
From left to right: John (holding the smoker), Andy, Don, Cliff. Beekeepers in the snow!
Are there any other signs of Nosema? There’s a ton of brown smears on the front of the hive and the inside of the hive isn’t in much better shape. Do you know what causes it? And can it be cured during spring?
Without a microscope inspection of the smears, you won’t know for sure whether you have nosema or not. The smears show that your bees have dysentery, but that isn’t caused by nosema, although the dysentery will help spread the nosema should your bees have it.
Nosema is a type of fungus which reproduces in the form of spores in adult bees guts. It seems to be quite a common disease which has been identified in several hives in my local apiary. At times when bees are unable to fly, for example when it’s too cold, eventually they can’t hold their poop in any more and go in and around the hive. Bees heavily infected with nosema will contain 100,000 spores in their gut cells, which are released in their faeces and infect other bees.
The main effect of nosema is to shorten a bee’s life by about 50%. So if a colony is being slow building up and you can’t work out why, nosema could be to blame. We usually treat against it at the apiary using an antibiotic called Fumadil B each autumn. The Fumadil is mixed into their autumn sugar syrup. In Spring you could try a Bailey comb exchange, where you gradually remove all infected comb and replace it with new comb.
You may not have nosema though, it could just be that with the cold weather you’ve been having the bees have been unable to fly and their faeces have built up in their guts (what a lovely topic of conversation this is!)
Ok. There has been a noticeable increase in the amount of feces on the inside of the hive. The last thing they need is an intestinal problem right now. Honestly, if they can survive mites, having starved and half frozen to death, and possibly a fungal problem, I will be amazed. And they’ll definitely get to swarm. I know it’s something you’re not ‘supposed’ to do, but I really don’t see why it’s so bad. The bees will loose their queen for a while, yes, but it’s a short period and it ensures that the species continues and allows for more diversity. I don’t know about what’s going on in Europe but the diversity of honeybees is dropping dramatically here because all of the honeybees are coming from a few select large beekeeping companies. All of the bees are relatively closely related to one another and thus any swarm offspring are more prone to disease and the like. I think the more wild hives that are out there, the better. Of course, we get in trouble with the city here if we allow a swarm to happen. The city can even come and take the hive away if they swarm too much. Which is ridiculous, but there it is.
And this conversation is marvelous!
I’m all for letting them make their own queen instead of ordering one in. My bees have made two queens before and they were both ace layers who produced lovely tempered bees, so why pay for one from New Zealand?
The main reason I try to stop mine swarming is I don’t want to lose half of them…if you do an artificial swarm and split them into two colonies they still get to reproduce and produce a new queen, so I think that’s better than destroying all their queen cells.
Hope yours can pull through, fingers crossed for you.
Mine requeened themselves right before the winter/ right after I transported them here. I don’t know why they did, but they did. I miss her lol. They’ve all died off now. It’s weird how different all the colors of the bees are, but she was by far the prettiest. She had an evenly brown body with gold legs. I don’t know why anyone would buy a queen when they’ve got a colony with plenty of eggs in it. Let the bees do their jobs and raise their own queen. Unless she starts laying crazy killer bees then there’s no reason to replace her.
I agree with not wanting to loose half of them, but I figure if I let them swarm once then the next year I can split them and the wild colony will also split, increasing the diversity of the area. And it lets me be lazy for a year, as well as allowing me to observe the hive in all of it’s various stages.