Summer Bee Work

Summertime, and the living is…

Apiary in June
Walrus with bee hives

It’s a busy time for bees and beekeepers in my little corner of Cheshire. Swarming seems to have abated (dare I tempt fate?), and the weather is much better for mating flights. Here’s a quick update from the Walrus Honey apiaries:

Early Season Nucs

I sold five nucs back in April by splitting strong over-wintered nucs. The remaining bees had the resources to make themselves a replacement queen and were still pretty strong. In fact, they would have had to be split or promoted to full-sized hives anyway. Then, along came Miserable May, which was cool, cloudy and wet; hardly the conditions needed for mating flights. I’m pleased to report that all five have somehow got themselves laying queens, and they are building up nicely. 100% success, but I need to assess the queens and maybe change them before winter.

Queen Rearing – Part One

I grafted on 5th May from one of my better colonies (gentle, prolific) and popped the resulting virgins into mating nucs when they emerged. Sadly, the majority didn’t get mated and most disappeared. I don’t think I’m very good at the mating part! But the weather was grim. The opportunity to buy a few virgin queens from Northumberland Honey came along, and I had more success with those. Now I have the problem of dealing with my poor record-keeping – I can’t tell which queens were mine and which ones came from outside. Another lesson!

Queen Rearing – Part Two

On 9th June, I did more grafting and tried a cell builder experiment. One cell builder was a strong queen-right colony set up as a Demaree. The grafts went into the top box, and I left them alone until two days before emergence. The happy result was eleven lovely queen cells (69% success). These beauties are now in mating nucs. Soon I’ll introduce them to their new homes; I will use them for requeening existing hives or nucs. My next batch of grafts will be going into this Demaree cell builder in a couple of days.

The other cell builder was the experimental part. I tried a double nuc (six frames over six) with a queen excluder between them and the queen in the bottom. I put the grafts in the top box and left them alone for nine days. There was something like one cell from eighteen grafts on my return, and that was buried in a mass of brace comb. Not my finest hour. I should have stuck a sheet of plywood between the boxes for the first few days so that they were queenless upstairs, but I wanted to see what would happen this way. Unfortunately, my walrus brain insists on experimentation, and often it ends in tears.

Counting Varroa Mites

When I met Randy Oliver, he told me about how they do mite washes on all colonies. That’s a lot of mite washes. Therefore, I have no excuse not to do the same on the few hives I keep. The only way to know for sure what’s going on in each hive, mite wise, is to do alcohol washes (or similar, with sugar). Having done two out of my three apiaries, here are the results so far:

alcohol wash mite numbers
Quite a bit of variability in mite counts

The number of bees sampled was 300. Apparently, that’s how many bees fit into a half-cup measure. It’s immediately apparent how much variability there is in mite numbers from hive to hive. If you sample a couple of hives in the apiary and assume the results represent all, you will probably be wrong.

Most hives with higher mite counts came through the winter as nucs, and I promoted them into full-sized boxes. In December, I did not treat my nucs with oxalic acid (I was trickling, not vaping), which probably explains the numbers. I’m happy to vape nucs, but I think trickling might be too harsh in some cases.

Varroa Action Plan

Anything with six mites or less should be fine until the supers come off in August. Those with very high numbers will get zapped with a VarroMed trickle. It’s an oxalic/formic acid combo which should hopefully sort the little suckers out. That leaves mite counts in the ‘slightly too high’ range of seven to nine mites. These look like prime candidates for my brood break trial. All I have to do is find the queens and put them in the cages…what could go wrong?!

Mesh Floors

I recently spoke to a beekeeping beginner who is attending a course. The tutor was horrified that she was using the solid floors recommended by me rather than mesh floors, which they call ‘varroa floors’ or some such thing. It makes me chuckle. Mesh floors were around long before varroa mites; it’s all about ventilation. Monitoring mite drop through a mesh floor is not a good way to understand the mite infestation level within. For that, see the alcohol wash above. I mostly use homemade ‘partial mesh’ floors that work best for me, but each to their own. Scaring beginners into believing that mesh floors make much difference to varroa control is misguided, methinks.

June Gap

I might have been in one for the last week or two (a June gap). Nectar is not flooding into my hives as far as I can tell. It won’t be long until the blackberries and lime trees come onstream, I hope. A little rain would not go amiss; it’s not something that stays away for long in these parts.

New Car

I cancelled my Land Rover Discovery Sport order because of delays due to the global shortage of semiconductor chips. Plus, I get freaked out by reports of unreliability. Apart from occasional air conditioner problems, my current one has been trouble-free, but maybe I’m pushing my luck by getting another. Therefore, I’m going to be checking out some of the competition; Volvo, BMW and VW. But, of course, it will have to be used or already built and ready to go. A proper beekeeper would have a truck, but that’s for the future.

Categories: Summer Bee Work

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