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!