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September Notes

Posted on 18 September, 2016 at 15:25

Austen’s September Notes

To some beekeepers we are now at the start of the’ bee year’ with today’s hatching brood being the bees which will hopefully take the colony into next spring. Therefore it is important to have colonies which currently have young and vigorous queens and have several frames of brood. Old bees will die off before Christmas and it’s the current batch of young ones which will determine whether the colony survives whatever the winter might throw at us.

The heather blooms are now almost over and our only main sources of nectar and pollen are the Balsam and shortly Ivy. The weather has been kinder this August than in some previous years and those of you in close proximity to a Heather moor may have obtained some surplus honey from this source. Certainly, the colonies have had stimulation to rear brood and perhaps the autumn sugar bill may be less if some heather honey is now in the brood box.

So tasks for this month must be Varroa control, if you have not started already, and adequate provision of winter stores. I will not dwell on the various methods of Varroa controI as there are many articles available via internet etc. However if anyone need some advice then I will be pleased to offer that.

I winter my strong colonies on double brood boxes but will concede to use single boxes for smaller units, BUT if the colony is too small it is unlikely to have sufficient ‘energy’ to survive the winter. Last winter I had some positive results by overwintering small units in Polystyrene Nuc Boxes. These colonies would, in my opinion, not otherwise have survived.

Your other alternative with small colonies is to unite two into one and this is commonly accomplished by using the newspaper method. The objective being that by the time the bees have chewed through and cleared the mess of newspaper pulp, they have become good friends.

I will feed my colonies a minimum of 15kg of sugar as a ‘heavy’ (2 lbs to a pint) syrup via rapid feeders; always dependent on the quantity of stores already ‘in house’. Some try to skimp and economise on sugar at this time of year and then find that they are faced with making up ‘emergency’ candy or fondant cakes later in the winter as their bees start to face starvation. In my opinion this is a whole lot of unnecessary work which is avoided by adequate autumn feeding. You can sleep with confidence at night and be sure that the bees are doing so too.

Now here are two little warnings for the novices and more established beekeepers alike.

WASPS: Now is the time to reduce the hive entrances to a minimum (say 2 inches) to prevent the raiding wasps from gaining entry. They especially target the small colonies, which are unable to defend a wider entrance adequately. It’s not only wasps which rob. Other bees will try to steal stores form the very weak, vulnerable and queenless. I know of several instances already this autumn where Nuc sized units have been cleaned out, mainly by wasps.

Robbing may be started by the careless beekeeper spilling small quantities of syrup in the apiary, so be careful when feeding. If unusually high levels of activity are observed at a colony entrance, the question must be asked, Why? Young bees learning to fly will buzz around calmly in ever increasing circles going out from the entrance. Contrast that to the flight of the robber which darts about back and forth making quick stabbing flights towards the entrance. You may also observe defending bees fighting with the robbers at the front door. There are two options open to the beekeeper in these instances.

1. Reduce the colony entrance to one bee space only if the robbing has not reached epidemic proportions.

2. Simply close the entrance completely with robbers and natives alike inside and remove the hive to a new location beyond reasonable flying distance of the old site. The robbers then become part of the colony and you should leave well alone for a few days before inspecting to ensure that the colony is queen right and thereafter applying feeding to boost them for the winter.

The second warning concerns unmated queens. The July weather was so changeable that there were few if any suitable days for queens to fly and become mated. I have experienced three drone layers resulting from supercedure queens which failed to get mated and I know that others have had similar experience. Even recently some colonies will have reared new queens. I saw one recently vacated queen cell today and was fortunate to be able to spot the ‘culprit’. Unless we have at least one warm clear still day then any current virgin queens will fail to become mated and turn into drone layers.

Therefore, whilst the weekly inspection routine is over for this season, it is still important to have a one last quick look. If a colony has no eggs or very young brood then questions require to be asked. Why? A good hint for the beekeeper that all is not well is the observation that the winter feed is not being taken down rapidly when compared to contemporary colonies. Queenless or drone laying colonies are always sluggish in their approach and lack the vigour of a queenright neighbour.

Any colony without a laying queen now would be best united with a smaller queen- right neighbour but it is wise to inspect carefully before doing so as there may be a virgin present. Often the behaviour of the bees will tell you much about the colony’s status. Bees which are thinly spread across the combs and buzz across the frames in an agitated manner are likely to have no queen, however if they are calm and look to have an ‘organised’ demeanour then suspect that some sort of queen is present.

As stated in last month’s article, the earlier the bees are fed, the better they come through the winter, in my experience. And certainly after the end of October they will often refuse to take down further liquid feed so it is imperative not to delay further.

With some luck and some wise work, your bees will hopefully all survive into 2017.


Austen Brown



Categories: Beekeeping Hints and Tips

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