Jeremy Quinlan

Last month I wrote about moving colonies. When first we moved to crops, always the final pieces of equipment we had to squash into the car were the stands, and stands cannot be squashed. On an apiary safari I saw some which would fold flat, see picture, and soon made my own; they work well.

I also forgot to mention two other things I always take to the apiary. The first is a camera, you never know exactly what you will find and a photo is often useful later. Most people have a smart phone but will it be accessible when you are bee suited? Here is one we took the other day; a classic. The second thing is a reserve of smoker fuel; I find the bags provided by the makers of deep foundation ideal. And if you have to light your smoker fuel, decayed wood I find is the best.

Apiary safaris benefit all
Every summer we hold an ‘apiary safari’, a tour of other beekeepers’ apiaries; two before lunch and two afterwards. It is a great day out, especially when led by a Bee Inspector.  For many, beekeeping is a solitary occupation, or at best, there will be two of you, nearly always, the same two, so, unless you take an improvers’ course, how are you going to find out how others keep bees and learn other better ways? An apiary safari allows you to see how others do it and no two people keep bees in exactly the same way. If there is a Bee Inspector present, they will show how to inspect and what to look for. New beekeepers are taught to recognise normality and, fortunately, many never see disease. One day, however, it may be there; you must know what it looks like. A few, concerned they may be embarrassed, refuse a safari access. They need not worry; everyone, no matter how long they have been keeping bees, can learn something useful from every safari. If you want to improve your stock and, on a safari, queen cells are found in a quiet colony, will you have a match-box or a Butler cage in your pocket? I do!

Small entrances
Honey bees like a small entrance and when swarming, seek out those cavities that have one they can easily defend[1]. Although it is a common beekeeper practice to remove entrance blocks until this time of the year, I think that is a mistake; the bees cope well with small entrances, mine are 7mm high and no more than 100mm wide all the year round. Those with no entrance blocks in place had better be careful; July sees wasp colonies reducing and many wasp workers with nothing to do. This can mean attacks on honey bee colonies and wide entrances often mean the bees cannot cope. Once the wasps get in, they will eat the honey, the pollen, the brood and the adult bees, leaving an empty hive. Observe entrances and see whether your bees are coping. If in any doubt, wasps going in or coming out and maybe robbing bees too, reduce entrance widths to a single bee space; that is a single bee space in both directions. If you are late, even this may fail; all you can then do is shift the hive elsewhere.

The end of the month sees the end of the honey gathering year for most people, it comes all too quickly and, unless you have heather close by, or ‘go to the heather’ that is the end of the season. In dry East Anglia, ling heather only yields nectar if there is a wet July, so I pray for rain this month.

Feeding and Varroa management
Be prepared. The end of the honey-gathering year means treating for Varroa, unless you are one of the few that does not, and, if every colony does not have 20kg of stores for the winter, feeding them so they do. Which treatment do you like? Which will you use? Have you already bought it? When will you use it? Professor David Evans, “The Apiarist”, has written extensively recommending treatment in late summer, mid-August[2], no later, and explaining why. Have you ordered the extra sugar, fructose syrup or fondant you will need?

Extracting is both a joy, because you have the honey and a chore because you have to do the work. Clearer boards are a painless way to separate bees and honey; they are better than Porter escapes; using either means the honey cools, so you get less of it. Before inserting them, estimate whether by driving the bees out of the super you want to extract, you will leave them with sufficient standing room in the hive and so temporarily, add a spare super. 

Clearer boards are put in place in the evening. Return early the next day and you will find the supers largely bee-free. When I extract, I run the honey from the extractor straight into buckets; there is no need to filter at this stage; that is done later. Full buckets are covered with cling-film and lids marked with the date, colony number, apiary, plus my guess as to the crop and the moisture content.

[1] Seeley, Thomas D: Honeybee Democracy

Header photo by Sam Taylor
All other photos by Jeremy Quinlan