In The Apiary – June

In the Apiary in June. Nigel Salmon.

  • Extract any later rape honey
  • Keep checking for queen cells
  • Swarm collection
  • Add more supers to hives if necessary

Well, no sooner did Thames Water announce an official drought, complete with hosepipe ban and threats of worse to come, than we have the wettest April since records began. The hosepipe ban is still in force, but we are now no longer in an official drought! All the water has ensured a very heavy flow from the rape, albeit a little intermittent due to the weather. The net effect is that an awful lot of colonies have started swarm preparations, including my largest hive – in fact their queen completely disappeared after maintaining a 10 frame broodnest for several weeks, and she didn’t leave with a swarm! I did what I always do on first finding queen cells – go through and destroy all of them so long as there are cells containing eggs or 1-2 day larvae. A week later I checked again – no open brood and lots of various size queen cells, so I selected one large sealed cell on the bottom of a comb and destroyed all the others (a bit risky as there is no way of telling if it is viable or not – better to leave an unsealed cell, but this time there wasn’t one). I will check again in a fortnight to see that all is well.

You should have finished extracting any early rape honey by the time you read these notes, but if there is no nearby source of income for the bees after the rape, then you need to keep checking them to make sure they don’t starve – just because the weather is nice and it is June does not mean they will be alright if left for a couple of weeks. Feed any colonies that feel light, especially if the weather is not good. Bees kept near gardens will usually manage alright, but those on farmland need watching. A better idea is to keep a super above the excluder that is never extracted – it saves the worry of starvation and the bees seem to forage much more freely if they already have a good store of honey.

Keep up your inspections for queen cells, as also brood diseases, and monitor the varroa situation.

During the course of the season, you may be asked to remove a swarm from someone’s garden. The call may be to a genuine swarm, or a bumblebees or wasps nest. If the ‘swarm’ is found to be a bumblebees nest, then I would try and persuade the person to leave them where they are, emphasising that they do not swarm, and unless the nest is disturbed, are very unlikely to sting anyone. (this is not true of the recently introduced tree bumblebee which will attack without provocation!). Most bumblebee nests die off naturally by the middle of August (they peak around mid-July). If the nest is wasps, I would again try to leave them alone, but if they are close to the house or public footpath, then they can be destroyed at dusk by pouring a jar of petrol down the entrance hole. This is assuming the nest is in the ground – anywhere else and I would leave them to the pest control people.

If there really is a swarm, then they can be shaken into a suitable receptacle (skep or cardboard box), left to finish flying for the day, and collected at dusk. Swarms should always be hived on foundation, as they make such a good job of drawing it into comb, but if you are unsure of the source of the swarm then I would keep them away from your other hives – they may be carrying disease, and often seem to be bad-tempered or followy.

I am often asked what hive I use and if I would ever change to a different one based on my experience with it. The hive I use is a modified commercial broodbox with national supers above, and the only other hive I might be tempted with is a standard national; I still maintain that a single national broodbox is just too small for a lot of the queens in use today, and so I would need to use a double broodbox (which of course is too big!). I can’t see any major disadvantages with the system I first started with, as it is so easy, if necessary, to reduce the space in the large brood box by the use of a dummy frame(or even two as I use in my commercial boxes), but impossible to increase the available space in a standard national broodbox without adding another box on top, so necessitating a 22 comb inspection if the queen needs to be found; for a beginner to have to contemplate this defies all reason (it is reassuring for beginners to see the queen at each inspection, helping to build confidence for when it becomes necessary).

I will also put my head on the block and say that I would never contemplate using a zinc queen excluder (although I know a number of experienced beekeepers who will use nothing else). My own preference is to use a framed wire excluder, but just make sure you get one from one of the big bee equipment manufacturers – I have seen quite a few really bad ones in my time where there is more than a bee space on one side, or a bee space that is divided equally between both sides! The result is always masses of brace comb and a less than removable excluder. There should be a bee space on one side with the wire flush with the other.

HONEYBEE DEFENCE – part of an abstract from a scientific paper – seems that drones play the more crucial role in the inheritance of bad temper; all the more reason to requeen aggressive colonies BEFORE they produce drones!

‘Honey bee nest defence involves guard bees that specialize in olfaction-based nestmate recognition and alarm-pheromone-mediated recruitment of nestmates to sting. Stinging is influenced by visual, tactile and olfactory stimuli. Both quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping and behavioural studies point to guarding behaviour as a key factor in colony stinging response (I think most of us already knew that!).

Results of reciprocal F1 crosses show that paternally inherited genes have a greater influence on colony stinging response than maternally inherited genes. The most active alarm pheromone component, iso-amyl acetate (IAA) causes increased respiration and may induce stress analgesia in bees. IAA primes worker bees for ‘fight or flight’.

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