Mind The Gap

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Green Fields https://flic.kr/p/8RnP8z
Green Fields https://flic.kr/p/8RnP8z

So Long, Spring

Spring is over. I’m not going by the calendar but by what I see at my beehives, although as it happens, the two are in synch. We are now in what they call the “June Gap”. The trees have finished flowering apart from lime trees (Lindens). The oilseed rape is long gone, as are the dandelions. We had a good honey flow in the Spring, but now there is much less nectar available. When I look around, I see a lot of green, which is lovely but no good for honey. Bees can’t collect nectar from leaves. Actually, in the case of field beans, they sort of can. Bees can collect nectar from the extra-floral nectaries on the leaf stipules.

Bringing Home the Honey

Last week I visited one of my apiaries where the on-site farm shop sells some of my honey. They have sold out and want more. Walrus honey is the best :D. I am under pressure to get it off my beehives and into jars as soon as possible. At times like this, I wish I had a proper bee-truck so that I could load honey boxes on the back. I currently have to carry the frames home in the back of my Land Rover, which has limited space. There is also the matter of not wanting too many bees flying around my ears as I drive up the M56. Once home, I manually remove the wax cappings and spin them in my extractor, also by hand. It’s a good workout (a.k.a bloody hard work)

The plan is to take off as much honey as I can in the week, extract it, and return the empty honey boxes to the bees. The next honey flow should be along shortly. I have seen flowers about to open on lime trees and blackberries are beginning to flower. I got a big crop off the blackberries last year. It’s delicious and does not crystalise very quickly, which is a bonus. I don’t think I have many lime trees nearby, sadly. The honey from lime trees is one of my favourites. After that, we will have rosebay willowherb then Himalayan balsam then ivy. Then it will be all over for another year.

Making Nucs and Feeding

Of course, if you take honey away from your bees when the flow has finished, they may not be too friendly. Opening up hives and removing their stores of sweetness is going to set off robbing and fighting. Richard Noel lives in Brittany, so his season usually is two or three weeks ahead of me. When he gets to this stage, he is crazy busy, as most beekeepers are. He will be raising queens by now and making up nucleus colonies by taking splits off production colonies that are temporarily idle. Here is an extract from the interview:

Richard Noel in Brittany

Richard: We are now in the first week of May so the flow will soon be finished. Then we start making our first splits and harvest what we’ve got. That goes on for the rest of May. By the time we get into June the colonies have had splits made off them, we’ve made nucs, and we are raising our first queens to go in those nucs. We are also feeding the hives that we have taken splits from and assessing what we need to do to get ready for the Summer flow, because that one is key. The more colonies you have ready the better. The Summer flow can be about a month long but often it’s about three weeks. Last year was ten days.

Steve: Is that bramble?

Richard: Yeah, we have bramble which flowers mid June to mid July. From the second week of June it just goes mad. In a good year the chestnut trees will literally pour nectar out. The more colonies you have nice and strong by the beginning of June the more you will profit from that flow. You have to get the hives nice and strong, deal with the ones that swarmed and combine bees if necessary (a swarmed one with one that didn’t). You have to be ruthless and just do it. The more checks you do at that time of the year the more chance you have of getting honey. 

By mid July we have a short break because the flow is over and there isn’t much to do. Then by the end of July and into August we harvest our honey crop. All through August we are making nucs, frantically making as many as we can, chucking bees into boxes and giving them queens. That’s when you profit, because the bees have nothing to do then. They spend all their time working like crazy to collect nothing, unless the farmers have sown phacelia or other late crops. So, we are making nucs and queens, we are re-queening colonies and treating for mites.

As you can see, it’s a busy time!

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