2022

“Honey galore in sunny St Leonards” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Once again this season has been like no other. A very mild wet winter has meant that the bees have started building up really early and collecting a lot of nectar from spring flowers and trees : although we have had little rain so far the ground itself was moist and trees with their deep roots have been able to express nectar in great quantity.

The month of April was very kind from the point of view of the weather and so it is perhaps unsurprising that large colonies have wanted to swarm early. A few years ago the main swarming season was towards the end of May but this certainly hasn’t been the case this year for my bees.

My problem is that colonies on which I did swarm control by taking the Queen out on the nucleus have now built up to such an extent that they themselves also now need a super. Lesley and I now have 22 units between us, and those numbers seem to be mushrooming! As soon as the sun comes out Les’s garden hums so loudly that one thinks there must be a swarm somewhere. As our neighbour said when he looked over the fence the other day, the activity of your bees is rather like the M25 as there seems to be so much traffic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I have run out of supers and a lot of the supers that I have on hives are so full of honey that the bees have nowhere to place the ingress of nectar. So I urgently need to do a honey extraction in order to create some space, because my concern is that new Queens will have nowhere to lay in the brood box and so that will trigger another round of swarming and of course that is what I want to avoid at all costs.

All of us as beekeepers need to keep an eagle eye on the weather. We have now just had a good dump of rain, and more is expected next week. The consequence of that, given the elevated temperatures, is that we will have the most humongous nectar flow and brood boxes will become honey bound if we are not careful. So if your bees are in condition, add supers and think about removing frames of stores from the brood box and replacing them with foundation. This will keep the bees busy and create space for a new queen to start her brood nest.

Below are some pictures of Lesley’s garden. The supers are so heavy that it is difficult to lift them off the hive. We don’t think there is rape in the vicinity this year. However in my out apiary that may not be the case and if I am unlucky when I can do an extraction (which is not until next week) the honey may have granulated to such an extent that I won’t even be able to get it out of the frames. Jo Groom avoided this problem last week because she realised that the honey was granulating before her eyes. That’s the difficulty with rape honey because it will set overnight if you’re not careful. So it needs to be put into jars at the same time as you are extracting if at all possible. Otherwise you’re going to have to use a warming cabinet. At least (because she is on the ball) she has extracted the ripe honey from her frames and they can now be used again. If I am unlucky and the honey in my out apiary has set rock-hard in the frames I will not be able to extract it and all that drawn wax will be wasted!

Lesley and I have never had a spring crop like this one before. Honey galore! As long as I can actually get it out of the frames!

  • Video - Nuc boxes in a row as part of swarm control. This is only a part of the garden!
  • Image-1 - Swarm control!
  • Image-2 - The top part of the garden.
  • Image-3 - The bottom part of the garden.

Despite the number of hives, the bees let us mow and strim in the garden without bothering us. Some of those bees are from last year’s calm queen project.

Rape honey can be a blessing or a curse.

  • Image-4 - Jo Groom’s extraction from yesterday. Definitely rape - it granulates before your eyes.
  • Image-5 - Jo’s honey granulating as she is bottling up. It will be set within 12 hours.

Malcolm Wilkie (training officer) – 20th May 2022

You should be aware that this is shaping up to be a bad year for colony losses, seemingly due to very levels of varroa. No doubt the odd weather this year has had an influence.

There has been much correspondence on the HWBKA WhatsApp group about losses. Our own Honey Queen Helen Hadley posted she had lost 3 and now reckons it is 9 so far. John Miller has lost one …the only one he forgot to treat. As a result, I (PC) inspected my own colonies a couple of days ago and discovered to my dismay I have lost 7 out of 12 so far.

There had been some talk of absconding on WhatsApp and indeed some of my deceased colonies which were previously very strong had just a few 10’s of bees left and loads of untouched stores, which puzzled me.

I decided to contact the Regional Bee Inspector Dan Etheridge, sent him some notes and had very long and very interesting conversation with him. His first impression is that I experienced a 'varroa bomb' as Randy Oliver calls them. Apparently, he reckons we are having the worst year ever for varroa induced colony collapses especially in the south; quote ...’my phone has not stopped ringing since the Christmas break’. For those of you who have been very rigorous in your varroa treatments it may not be such a problem.

As some of you know I have for more than a decade now tried to practice a policy of minimum intervention in the hope that by not treating quite so vigorously and supporting strains unable to tolerate varroa we might expect natural selection to do what it should and establish a new equilibrium with more tolerant bees, plus there is much published literature that bees are adapting. It had been working out. After 10+ years with very few losses I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, this time I have been caught out.    

Dan was at great pains to point out that he is not against 'natural beekeeping' in the slightest and indeed tried himself for many years.  However, he was also at great pains to point out, and this is the very important salutary lesson I will take away from this experience, that one must monitor varroa very regularly and accurately. At least once a month and preferably using the alcohol or sugar wash technique rather than relying on the sticky board which he has found unreliable, otherwise, given the right conditions the varroa numbers can explode ‘exponentially’. Had I done this more conscientiously I would not have been caught out as I have been. It's not necessary to treat with varroacides religiously, regularly, needlessly or prophylactically. But it is essential to treat when really needed.

So, I’ll be going out to treat my remaining 5 colonies with the vaporiser tomorrow, 3 times 5 days apart as I’ve missed the brood break …not there would have been one in this record-breaking warm winter.

The completely empty ‘Marie Celeste’ colonies you’ll see in the photograph, and which one might think have absconded are not so unusual apparently as in some colonies most of the ailing bees have the decency to do a Captain Oates and take themselves off to die elsewhere.

Malcolm has been in touch with many members and is finding that losses are mounting. Such losses are more typically seen in February / March … this not looking like a ‘normal’ year

So, the message is check your hives now, and if concerned, it might not be too late to rescue them with an Oxalic acid sublimation …using ApiBioxal the approved product of course!

Stores a plenty
No bees

Not a good start to the year!