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This Month in the Apiary

Members receive an email link to our monthly newsletter. One of the most interesting and useful features of the newsletter is Lynn Cox’s regular feature on what to expect in the apiary each month. She has very kindly suggested we publish it here too each month.

by Lynn Cox

JUNE 2020

JUNE IN THE APIARY

With the early start and good weather this season, plus the lengthening daylight hours as we approach the longest day on June 21st, colonies are building fast and foragers bringing in plenty of pollen and nectar to provide for their daily needs plus hopefully filling up the supers with spare honey. Some colonies have already provided a spring crop.

Colony Expansion

Another problem can be rapid expansion, leaving the colony without enough space in the brood nest for the queen to lay, or space in the supers to hang out and process nectar into honey, or provide room for the size of the colony at night. Annoyingly, a few of our colonies have been filling the centre of the brood nest with pollen and nectar – a sure sign that we haven’t given them spare room early enough. Swift action was needed to pre-empt swarming, by placing empty frames of drawn comb next to the brood nest and adding an extra super. June is the time of greatest expansion as the colony wants lots of foragers ready for the main flow, thus enabling it to collect stores for daily consumption and in preparation for winter. Keeping good records detailing amounts of brood and stores will give you a clear picture of how each colony is faring. The proportions in the brood nest should be roughly: 1 of eggs to 2 of open brood to 4 of sealed brood. If this is not the case, you may have an old, failing or a badly mated queen, alternatively colony health could be an issue. Queens are now available and it is best to purchase locally bred, which deal best with our local climate, rather than imported queens.

Another problem can be rapid expansions, leaving the colony without enough space in the brood nest for the queen to lay, or space in the supers to hang out and process nectar into honey, or provide room for the size of the colony at night. Annoyingly, a few of our colonies have been filling the centre of the brood nest with pollen and nectar – a sure sign that we haven’t given them spare room early enough. Swift action was needed to pre-empt swarming, by placing empty frames of drawn comb next to the brood nest and adding an extra super.

Problems Caused by Swarming

However, colonies that swarm in June often don’t build back up to bring in a honey crop. Last month, I talked a lot about swarm prevention as swarming often peaks in May but the conditions this year, with many colonies expanding quickly meant some were already into swarm mode in April while others are entering swarm mode now; so very careful inspections, swarm prevention and control measures need to be taken in good time.

Reports of the current situation are quite mixed. Some strong colonies, which haven’t gone into swarm mode now have 3 – 5 supers, which they are filling and capping fast; while in other apiaries, every possible space is taken by multiple small colonies that are waiting for virgin queens to get mated or new queens to settle into a regular laying pattern. It is important to be patient with the latter scenario, to work out the timing and not disturb the colony too soon. It takes 8 days from a sealed queen cell for a queen to emerge, then she has about a 3-week window to make her mating flights, during which the colony should not be disturbed. After that she needs another 2 weeks to settle into a good laying pattern. Also, new queens are notoriously hard to spot so you may not see her or eggs until 4 -5 weeks after emerging. The colour for marking this year’s queens is blue, but don’t mark until there is a good amount of eggs, larvae and sealed brood or the workers may reject and kill her.

Some queens may have been lost on their mating flights due to birds eating them or more commonly on her return, an eager beekeeper having the hive open and in bits so that she doesn’t recognise it! If left too long with no signs of a queen or eggs, this can lead to the colony developing Laying Workers so good timing and careful observation are essential. If the colony has a queen present, which is not yet laying, they are usually calm and drawing new comb in preparation, whereas lack of a queen can result in bees that are agitated, running on combs, not drawing and more aggressive.

New queens are often a little erratic in their laying pattern until they settle down and will sometimes lay more than one egg in a cell but these will be right in the bottom. Laying Workers, on the other hand, tend to lay multiple eggs on the sides of cells, in a totally erratic pattern, sometimes even amongst stores. Therefore, if you have given a colony long enough for a new queen to be evident and there are still no signs, act before Laying Workers develop – you can check by adding a ‘test frame’ (minus bees) that has eggs and very young larvae from another colony, to see if the colony raises queen cells from it.

Manageable Beekeeping

Decide how many colonies you actually want to maintain and have the spare time to manage properly. If you want to ‘make increase’ and have the space, it’s a good idea to have at least 2 hives so you always have a comparison and somewhere to get a ‘test frame’ from. However, in terms of spare equipment and time, it is not sustainable to keep producing new colonies, plus if you want the chance of a honey crop, it will be necessary to reunite. Plan ahead to decide which position you want to make the permanent site and which queen you wish to keep (based on past records of temperament, health, swarming and honey production) and unite using the newspaper method. I prefer to put the colony with the queen on the top if possible but it usually depends where the final permanent site will be. Although they will often unite very quickly at this time of year, leave them undisturbed for at least 5 days before checking.

Oil Seed Rape

If your bees are in flying distance of oil seed rape, you may have full supers giving you a spring crop, that you need to remove and extract as soon as possible before it sets hard in the comb. OSR nectar is high in glucose as are clover, raspberry, sea lavender and ivy, as their finer crystals granulate much quicker. Nectar coming from fructose sugars, which have coarser crystals sets more slowly; such as blackberry which usually indicates the start of the main flow when it comes into flower.

The June Gap

With the early blossoming of so many plants this year, good forage may suddenly end in some areas. Additionally, if we continue with extreme heat and no real rain, drought conditions can lead to plants producing little or no nectar, even many trees are suffering from the dry conditions over recent years. This is a real danger for bees as expanding colonies, with lots of brood to feed, can quickly run short of stores, especially if you have taken a spring crop. A colony needs the minimum of 2 full brood frames of honey plus sufficient pollen to make brood food and feed the youngest workers until they are fully developed, so checking each colony has enough nectar and pollen, is really important during inspections. Syrup made up in the ratio of 1 kg of sugar to 600ml water, in a contact feeder, can be given if needed. However, remember that any supers must be removed during feeding to avoid honey for bottling being contaminated with sugar.

Healthy Bees

Stress leads to poor health and failure to thrive if not managed properly. Healthy colonies can easily contract disease if visited by infected drones or by robbing diseased colonies. There were several outbreaks of EFB in our area last year and again there has been some reported this year. I talked a lot about honeybee disease last month but good husbandry is the key to strong colonies that can cope with many bee diseases and hence produce good honey crops. This boils down to hygiene practices, not over-populating an apiary and maintaining a good layout to avoid drifting and robbing, regularly providing fresh brood comb, ensuring colonies have space, good stores and are free of varroa. Records and a clear plan of what we are looking for during regular inspections also aid this.

If you see something that doesn’t look right, tell someone with more expertise and get help. Remember, it is a legal requirement to contact our Bee Inspector if we even suspect EFB.

Varroa

It is recommended that specific monitoring of varroa levels should be undertaken 4 times a year and one of these is now after the spring flow. Drones have been abundant in hives for some time now, allowing varroa mite numbers to explode due to the longer drone brood period. Varroa mites can live for 2-3 months and during this time, reproduce within capped brood cells.

The mature female can lay 4-5 eggs in a cell and leaves, with her mated daughters, on the emerging bee, to enter new cells. Each mature female can complete 3-4 breeding cycles in her lifetime.

The use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to keep mite numbers under control is essential. If not already done, monitor early this month by inserting a sticky varroa board under the open mesh floor, leave it for about a week and then count the dead mites to calculate an average daily drop. Although numbers will be influenced by colony size, at this time of year an average of 10 mites per day or more, causes serious harm as varroa act as vectors for viruses to enter directly into a honeybee’s system.

Drones are an important component of a colony’s well-being but if mites abound, drone culling can be one way of controlling varroa numbers. To do this, insert a super frame at the edge of the brood nest, which encourages the workers to build wild drone brood comb underneath. Warning – remember to remove this once filled and capped or you will only be adding to your varroa mite numbers!

As an alternative, MAQS strips are the only chemical method that can be used if supers are on the hive but it is essential not to apply when temperatures are excessively high during the treatment period. You can read all the available options in the APHA ‘Managing Varroa’ booklet or download the advisory leaflet from the NBU website BeeBase at http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/indexed.cfm?pageld=167.

Be Vigilant

Congestion in the hive, can still trigger swarm preparations so add supers early and keep up 7-day inspections. Queen cells can still be produced on larvae that are up to 3 days old, so sealed cells can occur earlier, even though these will develop into less than desirable ‘scrub queens’ due to not having a full diet of royal jelly. Swarm cells are likely to be multiple and around the edges of frames – particularly along the bottom, but shake the bees off, look closely in every nook and cranny, as any dent or hole in the wax is a favourite place and harder for us to spot when covered in the now very abundant nurse bees. A water spay is very useful to keep the bees under control while you do this.

Asian Hornet Sighting in Alton

Remember to be vigilant about the threat of Asian Hornets. European Hornets are already about in growing numbers and a credible sighting has been made in nearby Alton, by a person who lived in Guernsey, and is well used to seeing the real thing. Also, this is when Asian Hornet workers will leave their nests in search of food – our native pollinators! Now they will be particularly hunting for protein to feed their developing larvae and an unprotected hive of bees provides an easy and plentiful source, so be vigilant. Precautions to put in place included: bait stations where you can easily observe them, skirts around hive stand legs and traps set up around apiaries.

Apiary Maintenance

Foragers returning heavily laden sometimes miss the entrance and finish up on the ground in front of the hive, where long grass or tall plants can prevent bees from taking off again. To preserve your bees and their precious crop, keep the vegetation low. Strimming in late evening, when most flying has finished, seems to disturb the bees least.

Checklist for June:

  • Weekly inspections are essential
  • Record expansion, create space in brood nest, add supers early
  • Feed syrup if short of stores (remove supers)
  • Monitor varroa levels & treat if necessary
  • Continue swarm prevention measures
  • Look out for Asian Hornet workers
  • Mark new queens once mated & laying (blue for 2020)
  • Reunite after an artificial swarm ready for main flow
  • Process spring honey crop promptly if near Oil Seed Rape
  • Cut grass & keep hive approach clear

Lynn Cox