Notes on some of the beginners group apiary setups
Last Saturday Keith, myself, Lesley, and Steve Davies went to see some of the beginners and their apiary set ups. I asked Steve to write down some comments. These you will find below, together with any further information that I have felt relevant. This will be useful not only for our beginners but also for anyone who is new to beekeeping. Also a reminder to those who are more experienced but have forgotten.
These were Steve's concerns.
1) Apiary locations - although several had taken into account prevailing wind etc, some apiaries could be improved with a little effort.
People forget that winter sun should hit the hive for at least two hours - preferably longer. They site a hive in a cold part of the garden. If it is cold in summer, then it will certainly be cold in winter. A cold damp hive will lead to the bees developing fungal infections.
2) Hive locations - the position of some hives within the apiary need to be reassessed. Some are too close together and others in flower beds making it awkward to work on. As well as providing the best for the bees, the beekeeper needs some TLC as well.
Make sure there is enough space around your hives so that you will be able to place the roof on the ground and then any supers on top of the roof. Make sure there is plenty of space for you to stand behind the colony or to the side of the colony. Make sure there is space to put a second colony.
3) Hive entrances - several hives had the entrances completely open which is harder for small colonies. I've just had to reduce the entrance on one of my small hives as I discovered a wasp repeatedly going in without being challenged!
We are into wasp season and temperatures have now gone down, so think about reducing the entrances. Small units will find it much more difficult to defend their stores. If you are feeding, you don't really want to be feeding the wasps.
4) Queen excluder - some hives had queen excluders in place with no super above. Perhaps a reminder on when to use them and when to remove?
One of our beginners had the Queen excluder above the frames and no crown board. This is not a good idea particularly as this was an extremely small unit. The bees need the crown board in order to be able to keep the brood warm. A queen excluder should only be added when the bees require a super to put the nectar into. A super should only be added once nearly all the frames in the brood box have been drawn out. Beginners in their enthusiasm to get honey add supers too early.
A lot of our beginners were making this mistake, so I assume a lot of you who are starting out are making this mistake too. If you are now in the scenario where all the frames in your brood box have not been drawn out, and you have a super on top of your brood box, remove the super from the bees and feed sugar syrup (the super can be given back to them once the frames in the brood box have been drawn).Add one piece of fresh foundation (and I mean fresh foundation, not some stale wax that has been kicking about in the bee shed all summer) at the edge of the brood nest. Place this fresh foundation nearest the sunniest side of your hive next to the brood as the bees will find it easier to draw it out in that position. Once they have drawn this one out, add another piece of fresh foundation next to the brood. This will be an uphill struggle as the bees are less keen to draw out wax for you now that we are getting further away from the summer solstice. Perhaps the following sentence will help you remember what it is that you should do in future :
"Always make your bees go outwards before you let them go upwards"
In other words, don't put a super on the bees until they have drawn out the frames in the brood box. Or rather almost all the frames in the brood box.
A word of warning - don't add lots of frames of foundation because the bees will just chew them up. Lesley calls them hooligans. Add a frame each time you inspect, and only add a frame if they are working on the previous one that you added.
5) Supers - some hives had one, or more, supers in place even though the brood frames hadn't been drawn. I know both Helen and yourself sent out emails earlier in the year about this but perhaps it needs to be mentioned again (and how to get the bees to draw stores down from a super that will be removed).
This has been partly dealt with in my answer above. If you want the bees to draw down stores into the brood box, then place your crown board above the brood box, reduce the holes in the crown board (where you would place the porter bee escapes if extracting honey), place an empty super on top of the crown board, add another crown board on top of the empty super and then add your super of stores. And of course another crown board on top of your stores before you put the roof on. You can never have too many crown boards ! The bees think that the super is not part of the hive and so they rob it out. You may need to score a few frames. This doesn't always work but it does most of the time.
6) Small colonies in full hives - what to do if they don't build up in time for winter? Reducing the hive size using large dummy boards etc and why.
Our beginners are still finding it difficult to judge what is a big colony and what is a small colony. Those who attended the whole day of the bee safari will have now learnt what a large colony looks like as we saw two large colonies at the end of the day. If you have a small unit now, you need to work hard. I would make a cellotex dummy board and put that next to the frame of foundation that I was adding next to the brood nest. This will help the bees raise the temperature so that wax can be drawn out. I would place a piece of cellotex in the roof to try and help them keep warm. I would feed, and then not feed, and then feed again. Your work will be cut out.
Hope this gives you all food for thought. My timely reminder from Bee Craft suggests we should all look for disease in our colonies. If you have a beehive with less than five frames of brood you should consider combining it with another unit if it is disease-free so that you have a large enough unit to get through the winter.
A final word about honey. Unless you are in a particularly good area for forage, you are probably not going to get any more honey. The exception is if you live in or near the Ashdown Forest. Heather has just come into flower and it is possible that you will get a crop from that although it'll be very difficult to extract. Lesley in Saint Leonards on Sea got a late honey crop but I suspect there are a lot of exotic trees and these were expressing nectar. She also had a super strong colony. Beginners, please remember that you are only going to get honey if you have got loads and loads of bees. This is the challenge of beekeeping. You need lots of bees to get honey but when you have lots of bees they want to swarm. However the one comforting thought for all of us is that the swarming season is now over. This doesn't mean that the bees won't swarm but they are much less likely to do so! Remember what Keith says :
"Bees never do anything invariably".
They are, after all, wild creatures. And we are trying to artificially make them do what we want them to do!!
The following are Steve's final comments.
Hope I don't sound too officious and the info is relevant. It would be nice to get feedback from them all next spring to see how they coped with their first winter.
Please thank all of those who opened their apiaries for us, it was immensely rewarding and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everything (except the rain).
Hope the BBQ went well and I'm sorry not to have been able to join in. Look forward to catching up on Tuesday.
Malcolm Wilkie July 27th 2017