I may have discovered some laws of physics hitherto hidden from me. The obvious one that I have suspected for some time is that the weather will always turn rubbish when lime trees flower. It’s pretty safe to say that the weather will mostly be rubbish anyway. This is why R.O.B Manley (my hero) states, in Honey Farming:
‘Three things are necessary for the production of a crop of honey: bees, nectar and weather. The climate…is a liability here, and if you are going to succeed in making honey production pay, why, it must be done in spite of a climate that gives really good seasons only occasionally. Our honey flows are often extremely heavy when they come, but the time of their advent is entirely problematical. Usually, we have about three weeks of good weather between 1st May and 31st August. Good weather for bees, I mean. Our country is in summer, usually suffering from a prolonged drought or constant deluges, but from the beekeeping angle, the worst trouble is low temperature.’
I still think that the current season could turn out to be a good one, or at least no worse than average, but we need to see that July heatwave that the tabloid newspapers continually forecast.
Another fundamental law seems to be about finding queens. The time taken to find a queen is inversely proportional to the need to find her. Yesterday was a case in point. At a friend’s garden in which two hives reside, one of them contained a below-par queen. The brood pattern was patchy, and the bees’ temper had proven to be unduly defensive compared to the neighbouring colony. The plan was to find her majesty, lop off her head, and replace her with a lovely queen that currently occupied a nuc. She was, to say the least, an elusive little minx. I ended up shaking bees through an excluder and finally found her clinging to the outside of a brood box.
I then quickly checked the other hive – the one where I didn’t need to find the queen. The first frame out, and there she was. Did I detect a knowing wink from her compound eye?! Having said that, she wasn’t marked, so I did that. That’ll teach her. Try hiding now.
Another one, which is usually a safe bet, is: on the day that you need to remove queen cells from your cell finisher, the heavens will open. Today is a prime example. I cannot risk leaving the cells in the finisher until tomorrow, which looks like a pleasant day weather-wise. I will be that mad person dressed in a funny suit, in a field, in the rain. Perfect conditions to make up mating nucs and add queen cells!
I realise that my new laws of physics are all about the weather. They are a subset of laws under the one big truth: the weather Gods are having a laugh. It’s a test; we must be strong and persevere, for if we do, we shall be rewarded with some honey at some point. It’s a way to make sure beekeepers REALLY want to keep bees – you’ve got to go through some pain.
Other Profound Truths
The non-weather-related rules appear to include the following:
When you need your smoker, it will go out. Otherwise, it will billow smoke into your face making you choke and your eyes run.
You never have enough equipment, apart from when you have too much. For most of the year, there are boxes piled up all over the place, and you wonder if you’ll ever use them. Then, at some point in the summer, you will be desperately hunting for anything – anything at all – that can be used as a lid. I don’t know why this is. It’s beyond our understanding.
Mice are bastards. I don’t think I need to elaborate, do I?
So are wasps.
The Beekeeper Returneth
Phew, I just got back from the bees. My feet are wet, but the rest of me is just damp, and, of course, I smell of smoke. I managed to find homes for the twelve soon-to-emerge queen cells that resulted from fifteen grafts. 80%. Not bad, eh? I also used my Carricell portable incubator for the first time. I’ve now got twenty one occupied mating nucs; twelve are cells, and nine are recently mated. I’ll probably do one more round of grafting, and then that will be it for this season.
Several of the nucs I sold in April have swarmed, which vexes me. It probably annoys the new owners more. They were overwintered queens, and I am sure they were not queens raised by me from a selected breeder. Instead, I let them make their own, which turns out to have been a mistake. In future, I’ll try only to sell nucs which are headed by daughters of my best queens. I know swarming is natural and all that, but selection can keep it down, whereas letting them make their own seems to result in nomadic bees.
Finally, I’ll offer a quick update on my ‘brood break‘ experiment this year. Most of my hives have low varroa counts, so there’s no point in doing anything with them. The three that had high mite counts needed immediate action, so they got it. The remaining handful of colonies have ‘intermediate’ varroa levels (six to eight mites per half cup of bees). These were my candidates for a brood break by caging the queen in her hive for three weeks. The problem is finding the queens! See the laws of physics above. So far, I have confined one queen and might manage to do another couple, but that will be it. Based on my varroa mite counts, there isn’t much of a need for a new way to manage mites in my apiaries; what I do already seems just fine.