During the last few years, I have warned that these extreme weather conditions may well become the norm and this certainly seems to be true this season, so we will all need to keep up-to-date on the latest research and amend our beekeeping and gardening practices to suit current conditions. As I reminded last month, the end of the beekeeping year is considered to be the removal of the honey crop so August marks the beginning of the new beekeeping year. This is a critical time to make sure your colonies are healthy, strong and have plenty of stores to survive winter.
Protect your Bees
Wasps are already making their presence known entering some hives, so be ready to protect your apiaries against wasps and hornets. Also be especially vigilant in looking for Asian Hornets. Only honey bees overwinter as a colony, so in other species such as wasps and hornets, the queens will cease to lay, thus depriving the rest of their colony of the sugary secretions they get from their own larvae – and an unprotected honey bee hive is a ready source of nectar and honey. However, with the lifting of Covid restrictions and a return to foreign travel, we can expect a return to Asian Hornet incursions. Asian Hornets will continue to prey on colonies, picking off the bees to feed their larvae until much later in the season. Therefore, it is essential to keep up to date with the latest information about AH and be aware of the heightened danger of Asian Hornets while honey bee colonies are preparing for winter. Trapping or bait monitoring in August and September is effective but ensure you know how to distinguish the Asian Hornet from our native European Hornet and other pollinators. The centre page of this month’s BeeCraft has clear pictures and descriptions of other insects easily confused with AH. If you make a sighting, take a digital photograph to send to email@example.com and also to our Bee Inspectors, whose details you will find on the FBKA website. You can also contact our FBKA Asian Hornet Team Co-ordinator Julie Trice: firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for more information on identifying Asian Hornets http://fbka.org.uk/important-information-asian-hornet/
This August, with the continuing variable weather, even within our area, forage may also be variable and unable to provide the continuing source of pollen and nectar our bees need. Thus, strong colonies will exploit any forage they can and smaller colonies becomes a prime target, particularly if you are feeding them ready for winter.
Watching the hive entrance will quickly alert you to a robbing situation, which can clear out weaker colonies rapidly as well as spread disease. However, often in afternoons, it is normal to see and hear younger workers, circling in front of the hive doing their orientation flights. With robbing you might see bees fighting at the entrance and also, robbing bees will attack throughout the day, continuing their invasion long after normal foraging has finished, until it is almost dark. Their flight in front of the hive, can be distinguished by a sideways zig-zag pattern with the attackers darting into the hive while the guard bees are busy dealing with other intruders. Early prevention is essential, so reduce the hive entrance and if necessary, protect it with mesh; the resident bees will quickly adapt to exiting and entering at the sides while the robbers will want to go straight in the front and be blocked. Placing plastic mesh covering the front of the stand also helps prevent Asian Hornets from darting from underneath to pick off bees as they exit. In addition, when opening a hive for any reason, don’t leave box tops exposed – use spare crown boards, with the holes blocked off to keep out intruders.
As summer colonies are at their peak, good ventilation and plenty of space are essential to avoid colonies becoming stressed in the heat. With the need to reduce entrances now, air flow is restricted so one trick is to place matchsticks on each corner, just below the crown board, to create an air gap that is not big enough for bees and wasps to get through. Using an empty super as an eke above the crown board also helps and it is quite common to see bees just ‘hanging out’ in the roof space, during hot weather. In addition, foragers collect water to cool the hive so ensure an adequate supply of water nearby. If we continue to have several days of extreme heat remember to check regularly that it has not dried up.
One idea we saw in America, was to give the bees a rapid feeder filled with water, above the crown board.
The Honey Harvest
Hopefully, your bees have produced some excess honey and you will be able to remove the surplus for human consumption but ensure you do leave behind sufficient stores for the bees. A quick check if some frames remain partially capped, is to hold them horizontally and give them a sharp shake; if the liquid runs out, the water content is still too high and the frame should be replaced for the bees to finish processing. Honey should have a water content around 17-18% (20% or more and it will ferment.)
As far as the bees are concerned, humans are the biggest robbers of all and your normally calm bees can become aggressive at this time of year, so shaking or brushing the bees off frames is only appropriate for the odd capped frame.
In order to remove supers with the least disturbance to the colony and without attracting robbers, use a clearing board. Bees can be cleared by adding Porter Bee Escapes into a crown board inserted above the brood boxes and below supers. Check the metal strips have an accurate bee space and leave for 24 – 48 hours but no longer. Alternatively, a Rhombus or Circular plastic clearer attached to a crown board or a Canadian Clearing Board, clears the bees out of supers in only a few hours so it’s best to put them on late evening and remove the full supers early the next morning. In preparation, remember to add at least one new super of foundation on top of the queen excluder but under the clearer board, to create a replacement parking space for the bees that were above. Next place an eke or empty super, with the clearing board, then replace the full supers, with a travel screen or closed cover board on top, plus the roof. Mark each super so you know which hive to return it to after extraction.
Removal is best done when it is cool and few bees are flying, either really early in the morning or late evening. A fully capped honey super can weigh around 14-19Kg (30-40 lbs) and you may have several to remove. As hygiene is essential, a trolley or wheel barrow, covered with clean plastic, is good for transporting. Remember not to leave supers uncovered or place them on the ground, as this can lead to honey becoming contaminated and causing infant botulism. Large, square garden potting trays are useful for placing supers on, or as lids (as long as they are sterile and kept for bee purposes only.) CAUTION: check supers are empty of bees away from the apiary – before taking into the house.
Aim to extract as soon as possible after removal, ensuring the room is bee-tight and warm, thus allowing the honey to flow freely. Sterilize all surfaces and as you extract, fill your food grade containers to the top and replace lids tightly. Honey is hygroscopic, which means it will absorb moisture from the air, leading to fermentation so do not leave a gap at the top of your tubs or if you cannot fill completely, cover the honey surface with cling film. There are many books and online resources that explain honey extraction in great detail with good illustrations for you to refer to. Once your frames have been extracted, you can return them to the hive they have come from, above the crown board and the bees will happily clear out the remains, leaving you with clean drawn comb. Needless to say, as with all feeding, this is best done late evening and supers should be removed again for storing after about 3 days.
Be warned, there seems to be an abundance of wax moths this year and I have killed several adults hiding in roofs of hives. Also, brood frames, filled with stores we had taken out to create more space for the queen to lay and were intending to give back to the bees, have been ruin by wax moth.
TASKS FOR THE NEW BEEKEEPING YEAR
Once the main honey flow is over, it’s time to review. Preparations to ensure strong colonies going into winter need to start in August: good health, colony size and sufficient stores are all prerequisites for survival until the following spring.
Varroa levels peak after the queen reduces her rate of lay, so if mite levels are high there will be increased numbers of mites in each brood cell resulting in stunted, deformed bees with shortened lifespans and reduced resistance to infections. Some may be too damaged to emerge from their pupal stage. As part of your Integrated Pest Management regime, hopefully you checked for varroa mites last month. It is essential to treat mites now so that the ‘winter bees’ being raised over the next two months, stay healthy to start raising next year’s brood. One cause of colony collapse is down to varroa levels not being controlled effectively, leading to the rapid spread of bee viruses. This is the best time to use miticides rather than biotechnical methods but read the manufacturer’s instructions of your chosen varroacide very carefully, as they all have a temperature range for application and not following it could result in queen losses.
It is also important to carry out a dedicated brood disease inspection. For the most up to date information, get copies of the revised ‘Managing Varroa’ and ‘Foulbrood Disease of Honey Bees and Other Common Brood Disorders’ from the NBU or use the BeeBase website. Also, Dr Chris Palgrave has written a very clear account of EFB on pages 13 – 15 of this month’s BeeCraft.
Strong colonies with young queens stand a far better chance of winter survival than small colonies so now is a good time to unite. Also combining colonies can be a way of ridding yourself of a queen which does not produce desirable traits; providing both colonies are disease free. For a detailed description of this process, look back at ‘July in the Apiary’. Over the last few seasons, it has been reported that some queens have failed to mate effectively and if not well-mated, may be lost over winter, leaving the colony with no way of producing brood in the spring. Requeening now can also allow time for the new queen to establish and the colony to enter next spring with a vigorous young queen.
Signs of a Failing Queen
As a queen runs out of stored semen, she will start to lay drone brood all over the surface of the frame, rather than its normal position at the bottom. Also, if the laid-up brood area is much reduced or has a pepper pot pattern with lots of vacant cells that appear disease free, this may mean the queen is failing.
A further sign is if the bees themselves produce supersedure queen cells. Although swarming in August and even September is not unheard of, you can distinguish the difference as supersedure cells are usually placed in the middle of the frame and will number only one to about three (definitely less than six). Unless you are unhappy with the temperament of this colony and wish to change its traits, leave well alone and the colony will provide their own young, vigorous queen. If this happens, it is quite common to see the old queen and her daughter within the colony for a short while but intervention is not needed as there will be no sign of the old queen by the next season.
Towards the end of the month, another task is to start making sure each colony has enough stores to see them through winter – on average a strong colony will need about19Kg – 27Kg (40lbs – 60lbs) depending on its size. It is likely your bees will need feeding with heavy syrupin the ratio of 1kg of white refined sugar dissolved in 630ml of hot water (not boiling) or 2 lbs sugar to 1 pint of water. This should carry on into September but needs to be completed well before temperatures drop, giving the bees enough time to process and store, to prevent fermentation and problems with dysentery. Just remember to feed late evening to avoid setting up a robbing situation. This month the BBKA News has an excellent article giving an overview of feeding throughout the year.
Hopefully you have had a good season but if you are one of the many who have experienced difficulties, just keep asking for advice, reading and updating your knowledge as well as keeping good records so that your experience and understanding develops.
Check List for August:
- Put up wasp traps
- Reduce entrances & protect against robbing
- Take surplus honey as a crop
- Return ‘wet’ supers to the same hive for the bees to clean
- Carryout a dedicated disease check & treat for varroa
- Record chemical treatments on a Medicines’ Record
- Unite small colonies
- Replace old or failing queens
- Start autumn feeding with heavy syrup.