Four Apiaries and a Wedding

Steve Donohoe at daughters wedding 2021
Mr Jowls of Jowlstown

I feel pretty good about how things have gone as I head towards the end of my beekeeping season. There have been some ups and downs, but I’ve learned new things and made progress as both a walrus and a beekeeper. This is my first blog post since the marriage of Eldest Child. It has taken a while to recover. Nothing to do with drinking (I abstain these days), but there was the driving, the social interactions, the speech, walking daughter down the aisle, and the bill! Spending time with family and friends on such a happy occasion is time well spent. I love reviewing photographs and seeing that everyone has a big smile.

Varroa Mites

In common with many UK beekeepers, I have started to harvest honey from my bees and treat the hives for varroa mites. Some small colonies have also needed to be fed sugar syrup and even the occasional piece of pollen substitute. I’m using Thymovar this time to keep the mites guessing. It seems to be the same thing that Randy Oliver has experimented with, except it’s thymol rather than oxalic acid. We usually have pretty mild weather here up to the end of September, so hopefully, most of the active ingredient will…er…activate.

On the subject of varroa, I’m pleased that I did alcohol washes on all production colonies in June. I’ll make this a routine thing going forward. Most were fine, but there was the occasional hive that had way too many mites. Anything with over eight mites per 300 bees got treated immediately with VarroMed. It was only three or four colonies, but I’m sure I saved them from being dead or very sick by now. It was VarroMed that I used last winter to trickle between mostly broodless frames. Presumably, the few hives with high mite counts in June were the ones that had brood back in December. I know that VarroMed contains both oxalic and formic acids, but one trickle would not have zapped many of the parasites lurking under cappings.

Brood Break

In July, my experiment with caging queens to produce an artificial brood break was limited to a single colony. At that time, I was not in the best of health, and more queens than I would like were unmarked. They were hiding from me. Also, hives with less than six mites per 300 bees did not need such treatment. I treated those with over eight mites as above. Therefore my pool of available hives for the queen caging was only about three hives anyway (those with seven or eight mites in the wash). The experiment was a success, but a sample size of one colony isn’t anything to rely on. When I caged the queen, the bees left polished cells in the brood nest and continued to collect pollen and nectar. After treating with oxalic acid and releasing the queen, she laid like a train with a gorgeous brood pattern in the classic arch. However, I can’t see myself using this method on many hives each year.


May was a horrible month this year, and it messed up queen mating for a while. I need to improve my queen handling technique. Several times I was groping about in the grass, trying to find one I’d dropped. That usually happens when somebody is watching me. It helps to confirm that they are dealing with an idiot. Luckily things came good later on, and I’m delighted with this year’s queen rearing. It remains my favourite part of beekeeping. I still killed a few by mistake (it’s my superpower), but I’m gradually getting better at not killing queens.


This year I have had to take my honey in batches rather than all at once. I have finished the first apiary; 287lbs of honey from eight production colonies – nearly 36lbs per hive. I’m happy with that. It’s not mind-blowing or anything, but certainly decent. Extrapolating from this, I reckon I should be heading for a total crop of around 750lbs. I was hoping for 1,000lbs when I was planning this season last winter, but 750lbs is plenty. The farm shop will be pleased. I need to keep about 200lbs for family use (we consume lots of it, hence my physique). My uncapping technique this time involved a hot air blower, which seemed to work pretty well.

Wedding Honey

I have twenty nucs to take into winter. Nine are Langstroths, for me. The rest are on those funny little National frames, and I will sell them next year. A chap who kindly refers to me as a Yoda to his Skywalker bought two nucs off me this year. He has harvested 70lbs of honey in his first season, which is a lot better than I managed when I started. Good bees and help from somebody with experience seem to make a difference – who knew? Weather is a significant factor with honey, and our July heatwave did the trick this time. My bees are bringing in nectar from balsam, I believe. I usually have to feed them in late September, which is fine. I’d rather feed, treat, and continue to be a beekeeper than chance it and have a load of dead outs in the spring.

National Honey Show

I’m looking forward to the National Honey Show this year. I’m going to be introducing one of the speakers on Friday afternoon and chairing the question and answer session afterwards. Looking forward to that and to dragging Mrs Walrus around various bee activities. If anyone sees me, please say “hello”. I’m an anti-social bugger, but I’m working on it. Beekeepers are okay; it’s the others you’ve got to worry about.

4 thoughts on “Four Apiaries and a Wedding

  1. Entertaining blog, thanks Steve. When you say you can’t see yourself using the queen cage method much in the future why is that? Whilst only one colony seemed to be worth trying again, as you say the queen afterwards was laying like a train. Was it ease of doing, or some other reason? I intended to have a go this year too, got the cages prepped in their frame, but did sugar shakes in early July and no varroa (or very low), so no point. Keen to try it though when circumstances are different so interested to hear why you don’t see yourself using it more in the future.

    • Hi, thanks. It’s for the same reason that you didn’t use it – because I treat in August and Nov/Dec the mite levels are low through summer. The odd one that is high needs something more immediate, so unless something changes it probably isn’t going to be used much. It worked and did not reduce the honey crop, so I do like the queen cage method for the few colonies where it’s appropriate. Satisfying to know you are killing almost all mites because they are unable to hide.

  2. I like the first picture, is this your new bee suit? Are you promoting a return to the old black & white photos of early beekeepers who were never without a tie etc? I recall going to a BBKA ADM at a huge convention centre. First hall we walked into was full of people in suits and cocktail dresses. We concluded this was the wrong room…

    Hope your health has returned to normal. On the subject of health, I used to use thymol based miticides but the bees got really riled up. I think they disrupted the nest smell / pheromones too much. Would be interested to see your views on the least disruptive chemical treatments.

    • 🤣. I’m more worried about temperature with thymol than bees being riled up. They say it needs to be around 20 Celsius outside for thymovar, which confuses me because the temperature inside the brood chamber seems more pertinent. I think bees get grumpy now because of wasps/robbing and the fact that we take their honey away. Bees don’t seem to mind Apivar (amitraz) but it’s good to rotate treatments I think.

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