“The June gap” - by Malcolm Wilkie
I don’t know if others have noticed, but we have recently experienced the June gap. Colonies in response to the dearth of nectar will have reduced the egg laying rate of the Queen or even put her off lay completely. Other stronger colonies will have been eating stores from their honey super.
Experienced beekeepers with strong colonies and supers on their hives have nothing to worry about. Even if there is little in the brood box the super of honey will have sustained the bees - that is unless an extraction has already been done. However if swarm control has already been done by the more experienced among you there may now be a box of bees that is extremely light on stores, and this could also be a problem. Even more so with all this wet weather we are having because this is forcing the bees to stay at home instead of getting out and bringing back nectar. And if they stay at home, they munch.
So please check your colonies and the stores that the bees have available to them. If you don’t have a super on your hive yet and there are no frames of stores or at least capped honey around the brood nest, then you should feed.
Beginners often buy a nucleus which they then put into a full sized hive. So they too, more than anyone else, are in the above situation.
Are they feeding these bees? Are the bees being given the food necessary for them to draw wax and to build a full sized brood nest? Of course one cannot continually stimulate by feeding sugar syrup, otherwise your bees will swarm. However some stop start feeding to encourage them to build up sufficiently so that you are then able to put a super on is a good investment of money. Have beginners even noticed that their bees are struggling?
The above colony looks really prosperous. However notice how little honey there is. In fact I cannot see any honey at all! These bees belong to Lesley and are absolutely fantastic and prolific but they do not put honey above the brood nest on their 14*12 frames. Such a colony (and what a colony) could have great difficulty in finding enough food If they have no stores available to them or if we as Beekeepers have stolen the honey from them. Remember large colonies (without stores) are the ones that can starve the quickest as there are just so many mouths to feed.
Ironically things are about to change. The south east has been battered by storms and there is now a good reservoir of moisture in the soil. What does this mean? Once temperatures rise again anything in flower will exude nectar in abundance and there will be a huge nectar flow. Anyone with a large colony will be able to put supers on their hives and collect honey. Sweet chestnut and lime are preparing to flower as we speak.
You may therefore be wondering why I am sending you this topical tip if a nectar flow is just about to start. It is so that you know that each one of you should be looking carefully at the environment around them and what is in flower and how much moisture there is in the soil. I picked up last week that things were difficult for the bees and so I fed any boxes without supers. This will have kept the Queen laying eggs and means that when the sweet chestnut does come into flower these colonies will be sufficiently big for me to then add a super and to collect that nectar so that I get honey.
Bee farmers will no doubt be combining colonies in order to create a huge foraging force under a new queen. Why do they do this? In order to guarantee a good honey crop because it is only when the bees can collect nectar in excess of their own requirements that you get a good honey crop for the beekeeper. A strong foraging force is the key to good honey crops. It is also, of course, a way of keeping down their colony numbers (those of you who are less squeamish then myself shudder at the thought of what happens to those old Queens).
One of the beginners on my course this year has just shown me his hive records. On it he does not mark the stores available to the two colonies he has. One should fill in this section as it helps you to assess whether any feed needs to be given. Now when I fill in my record sheet I put on my record sheet a number which equates to the number of super frames of honey available to the bees. So if I have a full super on the hive (11 frames) and two full brood frames in the brood box (14*12 so 2 brood frames would be equivalent to 4 super frames) I would write down under the ‘Stores’ section 15.
Such a system enables me to immediately see which are my most prosperous colonies. So one of my colonies at one stage had 44 frames of stores whereas there were others with only 12 or 13. Assessing how much honey a colony makes is information that can then be gathered at a glance.
If you are not already using one of the hive record sheets from our website, the BBKA does a good hive recording system which anyone can download. It is the clearest system I have yet found anywhere.
Malcolm Wilkie - 14th June 2019