It is time to start a new bee year. The last few months have been intense, involving weekly inspections and plenty of queen cell discovery, all leading up to the great honey harvest. Beekeepers at the apiary are asking “How much did you get?” – the most I’ve heard anyone say is an incredible five supers from one hive!
Now our focus must change to getting our hives ready for winter. I have a great determination to lose no colonies over the bitter months – ambitious I know, but I’ve not lost any bees in seven years and will fight as hard as I can to keep it that way. Apiguard, oxalic acid, dummy boards, insulation, fondant – whatever it takes.
Entrance reducers help the bees defend the entrance now that wasps are hanging around. The wasps look for any little gaps in the hive where they can get in and steal honey. They are nature’s cleaners too, finishing off any dying bees lying on the ground.
There are few drones left now. John Chapple was going around with a bottle – he collects them to sell to a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant wants 500 drones a week, but John is struggling to find that many at this time of the year. After visiting all the hive entrances, he told us he’d collected 109.
Here’s one John missed. He’s light and fluffy looking, making me think he may be a young drone. All his magnificent muscles are probably for nothing, as there will be few virgins flying now.
I tried something new this week and inspected all four hives without any smoke at all. I find keeping the smoker lit one of the most frustrating elements of beekeeping. I also worry about the effect of the smoke on the bees – after all, it makes my eyes sting, so how does it feel to tiny compound eyes?
The afternoon’s equipment.
The bees were absolutely fine without smoke. I was wearing thin latex gloves, so they could have stung me if they wanted to. There was a hairy moment when one started crawling up under my sleeve, but I got her out in time. Rather than smoking before putting the boxes back together I used a brush to clear the bees out of the way.
Apiguard time for the bees. I taped up the varroa boards under the floors so that the vapour circulates round the hives.
“What is Apiguard and how does it work?” – you may or may not be thinking. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a natural thymol (derived from thyme) based treatment that kills varroa mites. The bees remove the gel from the tray to clean the hive and remove the strong thymol smell. The Apiguard gel sticks to their body hairs and becomes distributed around the hive, killing an average of 93% of the mites under normal conditions.
Apiguard’s manufacturers, Vita, explain in their FAQs section the way that Apigard works on the mites: “As a protein denaturant it disrupts cell membranes and affects all cellular processes. It is a very general mode of action rather than being highly specific. It should be more difficult for the varroa mite to change all of its body functions to become resistant to thymol” (compared to Pryrethroid varroa treatments).
For Apiguard to be most effective, the external temperature should be above 15°C (60°F). At the moment the forecast is just above that for the next week, hovering between 17-19°C. In an ideal world we would have begun treatment earlier in August, but in an ideal world the bees would be in my massive back garden within view of my deckchair, pizza oven and mini-bar, rather than two bus rides away.
This little one broke my heart. I found her in one of the roofs – she seems to have got lost up there and not found her way back down. She had worked so hard collecting her huge bags of pollen yet never managed to unload them.
More top-bar action – John Chapple felt the bees at Brian’s entrance looked listless and that there wasn’t as much activity as he’d have expected for a sunny day. Brian went looking for brood but sadly two of his combs broke off while inspecting, so he called it a day before finding any.
Tom has seen some ivy out in flower along the canals already, so the seasons really are ahead this year. How are your autumn/winter preparations going?