Karl Colyer

Your colony is at its maximum size this month and the rate of egg-laying from the queen will now start to decline in line with the season.

July is a good month to take stock of your beekeeping. Your colonies should be populous but not need feeding. Almost all your equipment should be in use and if you are short of anything, make a note of it for next year. Amending any issues with colonies in July can help them to successfully prepare for winter.

Honey harvest preparations
For most beekeepers, July enjoys a good nectar flow. It may be sensible to consider extracting some honey now so that supers can be recycled and refilled. Try to note which supers are removed from which hive – this helps to minimise disease transfer and it helps keep the supers in balance with the productivity of individual colonies. If you remove supers from the apiary to extract the honey at home, do remember that honey is food so avoid placing supers on the ground or onto dusty or dirty surfaces. Plastic dust sheets can be invaluable in helping to keep things clean.

Supers can be removed either to suit your convenience, or because a colony is becoming honey-bound, or to coincide with local forage availability. If you have an abundance of blackberries locally, you can extract a super, return it and collect predominantly blackberry honey. Similarly, a Himalayan balsam crop can be exploited later in the year. It is fascinating to compare the different flavours, colours and runniness of honeys from a single colony at different times of the foraging season.

To avoid last minute panics, stock-check your empty jars and lids, then clean and dry them. Also check your extractor is working, with all parts present and clean. Make sure your honey extraction area is clear with clean surface space for processing the sticky stuff. And don’t forget labels; ensure you can lay your hands on them. If you intend to sell your honey, labels must be legal and correct. If you are unsure, purchase labels from a reputable bee supplies specialist; they have many design templates for you to personalise.

A late July extraction may seem early for some beekeepers, but it does allow an extended period of time for the bees to replenish their stores, negating the need for autumn and winter feeding.

Clearing supers
Your method of clearing bees from the comb will depend on your apiary size. Commercial people may use a leaf blower or similar machine, other beekeepers will have some form of clearer board (two visits required, one to put the board on and one to collect the super) and many small-scale beekeepers will manage with a good single shake of each frame and a bee brush or a tuft of grass to remove the remaining bees. Whichever method you use, make sure things are available, clean and functional.

Protection from robbers
When extracted supers are placed back onto hives, the aroma of honey is a very powerful attractant. There are two types of robber to defend against:

  1. Robber bees may be from your apiary or other local hives. A strong and hungry colony may try to overwhelm your bees when they are trying to clean up the honey within the hive.
  2. Wasps, which were previously feeding on aphids, seek carbohydrates as they become much less available and honey is highly attractive to them.

To help your bees, reduce the entrance size to make it more defensible against attack. It is better to have your bees queuing to get in than to allow opportunistic robbers to enter, grab some resources and then share the message of bounty with their colony.

Varroa treatment
If, while removing supers, there is evidence of excessive Varroa in your colony, it may be the opportunity to knock the Varroa numbers right back with a proprietary treatment. If only some colonies need treating, it is worth noting which colonies appear to be the most resistant/tolerant of this pest. It may be useful to breed from these colonies next year to see if you have some hardy bees.

Managing colony size
If your bees are very prolific, you can remove a frame or two of largely sealed brood from the colony as a preventive measure against late swarming. This can be especially useful if you also have a weak colony or a somewhat unsuccessful split, as the extra bees donated in this way to a small colony can transform their chances of getting through winter. Shake the adult bees off before transferring.

Get to know your bees
If your bees are adapted to your local area, they will be less likely to swarm, and will be likely to have enough honey for themselves and a sensible surplus for the beekeeper. If you have some patches of marginal weather such as cool mornings, wind, drizzle or rain etc., note which of your colonies are still active and bringing back resources. The more suited your bees are to your locality, the better it is for the bees and the beekeeper.