Swarming Is Finished, Now What?
Phew, it looks like the swarming season may have ended. I’m tempting fate, but that’s what it looks like to me. Also, after about three weeks of nothing much coming into the hives, there seems to be a flow again. Presumably, that’s the bramble – there’s plenty of it about. Lindens haven’t quite come into flower, but it won’t be long. And we finally have some warm weather; 24 deg C today. There’s clover, too, but I haven’t seen honey bees on it.
As I have had the helpful services of my son (the mole) this season, we decided to extract the spring honey. There wasn’t a huge amount, but as it’s so delicious, we went for it. I got about 200lbs from six hives. There was honey on the others but not entirely capped boxes, so I left it for the bees. My spring honey is mostly from trees (sycamore, horse chestnut, hawthorn, oak, maybe some fruit trees). It’s just a guess – I have no proof of what’s in it.
Once we get to this stage of the season, life becomes a little easier for me. I can get on with raising queens and adding supers as needed. My June mite washes take a bit of effort, and then there may be a bit of mite treatment, depending on the results. This year I need to move some hives around because one apiary, in particular, has always been hopeless for honey production. I think there may be too many hives in the area; Bee Base says there are over 250 apiaries within a 10km radius. That’s probably not far off ten hives per square kilometre, scratching out an existence on hedgerows and wildflowers once the trees are finished. There’s nothing much for bees growing in the fields, sadly.
Minerals and Humus
I looked up reasons for some areas to be better than others for honey even though they look very similar. Apart from the density of beekeepers and the amount of forage, the soil may play a part. The ancient Greeks would blame the Gods. Perhaps they are correct, or maybe it’s got something to do with moisture retention, minerals, and humus (vegetable matter, not the stuff you eat with pitta bread). All I know is that after seven years of seeing that place have the lowest honey crops, I’m ready to accept defeat and change it into a resting place for nucs.
Nucs are Ace
Another summer job, which goes along with raising queens, is making up nucleus colonies for over-wintering. I might sell some, but the real demand for bees is in the springtime. After my visit back in 2017 to meet Mike Palmer, I have become quite obsessed with nucs. They are handy things. I find that their winter loss rate is higher than full hives, but that’s probably my incompetence. Oh, and robbing. There’s a lot more robbing going on than many people realise. In the June 2022 edition of BeeCraft, there’s an article about Seb Kimblin (aged 15 years), who used coloured syrup to show how bees store syrup on the frames. One finding was that almost all of one batch of syrup fed to a nuc ended up in the super of a nearby full-sized colony. It’s not just wasps that raid nucs.
My other big summer job this year will be re-queening many of my hives. I don’t know of a foolproof method of introducing queens to big colonies. Mainly it will involve push-in cages. Recently I gave new queens to three that had become unacceptably evil. It’s so depressing when bees are like that. Anyway, two succeeded, and in the third hive, they killed her. On this occasion, I’d made them all hopelessly queenless and left the tab on the travel cage closed for four days before letting the bees at the candy. The hive that killed the queen got a queen cell, so we’ll see how that goes. I hate them. In contrast, I have many lovely colonies, so I must take the rough with the smooth.
Tomorrow is grafting day. It will be a small batch – probably twelve cells – which are going into a pretty strong but queenless nuc. Later on, when I get my super-duper breeder queen, I’ll make up a big cell builder and graft twenty-four, hoping to get sixteen mated queens. I find it easy to get cells, not always easy to get them mated, and quite tricky to introduce them to anything bigger than a nuc. Working with animals is never straightforward, but humans aren’t any easier!