Topical Tips – “Feeding – and Asian Hornets” – by Malcolm Wilkie

At present you have a window, but that window is fast disappearing

I am talking about feeding your bees. In August you will have done your autumn treatments if you discovered that there were a lot of varroa on your bees. Now once those treatments are finished, is the time when you should calculate the stores you have on your hive. In a 14 x 12 deep national brood frame, there can be 7 pounds of stores. But that is a brood frame crammed, stuffed, chockablock with honey. In an ordinary national brood frame, there can be 5 pounds of stores but it has to be a really full frame.

An ordinary colony needs 40lbs of stores in order to overwinter successfully. That is quite heavy and it should be difficult to lift the brood box because of the weight.

The problem for beginners is that they often don’t have a large, prosperous colony. They won’t have a 14 x 12 brood box crammed full of bees. They still need to feed, however. But there is one proviso. Be careful that you don’t feed so much that the bees stuff the brood nest with your sugar syrup and put the Queen off lay. A better strategy for those of you with only six or seven seams of bees is to feed some syrup every other day. This will mimic a natural nectar flow. But you had better get on with it now. The window of weather is fast disappearing and before you know it temperatures will be too low for the bees to be able to convert your sugar syrup into stores.

There is another benefit to feeding regularly at this time of year. Ivy has started to flower and ivy honey granulates rock hard in the comb. The Ivy honey will therefore be mixed with your syrup and will be much easier for the bees to access during winter.

But what about my super, I hear you cry? Remove it (if you are wanting the bees to have it over winter) store it , feed and then put it back on. That will guarantee that your sugar syrup is put directly into the brood box.

You may even decide to under super. This isn’t at all difficult as long as there are two of you. The advantage of under supering is that the bees will probably take the honey up into the brood nest, which is where you want it during the winter. If you leave the super above the brood nest that probably will be fine as long as the brood box contains sufficient stores. Have you been through and calculated? You will need to remove the queen excluder (ALL Queen excluders should be put in the shed!), and you will need to be vigilant. As soon as it warms up in March you will have to pop that queen excluder back in, making sure that your queen is downstairs and not upstairs.

If you need to do a winter treatment because of varroa, it is much better not to have a super on the bees. Margaret Mawson who runs colonies on 14 x 12 boxes never leaves a super on the bees. Why is this? It’s all about managing them and giving oneself options. So much easier if there isn’t a super because then if you need to treat you will be able to do so. You won’t, however,  if the super is on the hive, or if you do treat them any honey in that super will not be fit for human consumption. I myself never leave supers on the hives. I have 14 x 12 boxes and an additional super is a hell of a large volume for a colony. Our president, Peter Coxon, who does not treat his bees always leaves his super/s on his hives. He whips the supers off in March/April and extracts the honey. But he did have a problem this year because a lot of ivy honey wouldn’t come out of the combs. BUT he does not treat.

Finally I want you all to look at this video.

One of our members has already been informed by the Yalding Association that there are Asian hornets in Ashford. In order to cope with this exotic pest we will all need to keep large colonies. I don’t think I have very many large colonies myself and all of us are going to have to decide what we need to do to ensure that our colonies are large, prosperous and capable of coping with the harassment from this very nasty hornet.

This Asian hornet was caught by Kate Lawes in Normandy during our visit to French beekeepers there. Forgive my enthusiasm, but I was delighted that we had actually seen one and seen it hawking. Apparently if there are five Hornets hawking outside the hive, then the bees no longer go out and forage, and no longer collect pollen, and that is why colonies collapse. I’m sorry but I cannot feel sorry for this Asian hornet. Asian Hornets are going to prove a headache for us all and I suspect many of you may even give up beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie 11th September 2019

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