Yet again this season has turned out to be like no other. As the bees were in condition I got a good spring honey crop, but what is so amazing is that they have continued to collect copious amounts of nectar even though the temperatures have been high and the soil dry. In the 14 years that I have been beekeeping I have never seen such a sustained and lengthy nectar flow. I do not really understand where the bees are going to collect such copious amounts of nectar, do you?
The problem for me is that I have just run out of equipment. I don’t have any supers left, I don’t have any super frames left and I certainly don’t have any wax foundation. In fact, I have been building foundationless frames and placing these between drawn out frames both in the brood boxes and the supers. This has worked fine but even though I am doing this brood boxes are nectar bound and the bees continually start to build comb above the crown board. Lesley has gable roofs and yesterday the bees had built comb up from the crown board right into the apex of the roof. As I refuse to spend any more on equipment I am left with no choice but to continue to extract as frequently as I can. The buckets are just stacking up! And I am exhausted!
Girls, Girls, Girls enough is enough : I Don’t Want any more honey!
In a usual year I am struggling to get the bees to cap the honey. However, this year I have whole supers where every single frame has been capped, even the outside frames which normally have very little honey or nectar in them. The bees are also drawing out further any super frames where I have left them space and some of those super frames are extremely heavy. In desperation I put some old stale wax and old frames on top of a colony - even that they have drawn out.
Helen suggested that I go and talk to the bees and ask them to take a holiday. I have done so. But you know what? They just seem to have ignored my suggestion and they are just continuing to collect. Hardly surprising as this is what bees are programmed to do when the conditions are right!
What are the consequences of all this? Well, if you don’t give the bees enough space and the brood box becomes nectar bound, eventually the cramped conditions will lead to them wanting to swarm again. Of course, we are not in prime swarming season but if there really is no space for them, bees may well swarm again. The other more concerning consequence of a brood box being nectar bound is that there won’t be enough space for the Queen to lay. August is a time when winter bees are being raised and if not enough winter bees are being raised then a colony could collapse later in the year because there are just not enough of the type of bee that will survive for five months and ensure the future survival of your colony next year. All very well to have thousands of summer bees (which live for only six weeks) but that counts for nothing unless you have a good number of winter bees with all those extra fat bodies and the capability of living for up to five months. Those are the bees (and they are physiologically different) that will be able to kick start the birth of a new generation next March.
My concern is that I still have a lot of supers on the hives. Once again, I have bought Apivar as my autumn treatment and I am conscious that that needs to go into the brood boxes soon. However, most of the colonies are extremely large and they are filling two or three supers and it is just not realistic for me to cramp them into a 14*12 brood box at the moment. I suspect that what I might do is pile up supers on certain hives so that I can treat those colonies that I really do want to survive this winter (those colonies headed by my most gentle and prolific queens). The remainder will probably have to be treated late August or early September. The one plus about Apivar is that it is not temperature dependent, unlike Apiguard or Api Life Var, so using it in September will kill the mites: I will just have to hope that enough winter bees will be being raised in September while my treatment is in place (ensuring healthy bees that are not infected with viruses ) to carry the colony through to next Spring. As I have said before nothing is straightforward in beekeeping.
So, what advice do I give you all?
Think about autumn treatments. Check the natural mite drop on your hives. Gauge when you are able to take supers away. Monitor the flow, just in case this incredible nectar flow suddenly dries up – after all there hasn’t been rain in certain parts for a very long time. Look closely for deformed wing virus as this is a sure indication that varroa really has taken hold. Observe the area around your hives and look out for crawlers. Perfect looking bees but bees that are unable to fly - that too is an indication that viruses are taking hold. Be aware that decisions you make now have a bearing on your colony’s survival. This is something that is so hard to explain to beginners, particularly when a colony at the moment seems so large and prosperous. But those of us who have been beekeeping for a very long time know that is no guarantee that the colony survives the winter. And in fact, large colonies may well have large numbers of varroa mites, which can put them particularly at risk if an Autumn treatment is not done.
Enjoy this exceptional year but be aware all this honey causes its own headache and management problems.
The positive is you will all have honey to enter into our honey show in November, won’t you?
Wild comb in the roof of a hive
One of the beginners nucs
Some massive super frames
Be careful not to leave wet super frames in a garage. This Video was in 2019. I wasn’t proud of myself!
Wasps not bees in this case
Remember - Enter into our honey show in November.
Malcolm Wilkie – 2nd August 2022