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We had some rape honey this year albeit only a small amount but rape honey never-the-less. With judicious blending and seeding this could give a year’s supply of creamed honey.

Seeding? You warm and clear a tub of honey and then when it’s cool you add 10% of a creamed honey which has a nice smooth consistency. Provided the cleared honey would have eventually crystalised this will now do so at a much faster rate and with the same consistency as the seeding material.

All bar two of my 2018 queened colonies needed artificial swarming due probably to the weather. These were successfully completed but it did mean several under-strength colonies and a lot of hives. Combine this with the swarms I’d had to take and I was approaching my hive-insurance limit.

At least four virgin queens failed to return from mating flights. I don’t know why I should be so prone to this problem. Any ideas? Inserting test frames and allowing them to develop emergency queens did allow a temporary solution. Not the best, admittedly, but a later supersedure would then correct the problem.

The June gap was much more noticeable this year and spanned the entire month. I can measure it by the amount of bee activity at the pond. In the absence of nectar to evaporate down, the colonies need water as a substitute liquid for their air conditioning.

It is now the end of the month and the swarm colonies are being united down to a sensible number before an end of season unite with my selected queen colonies. Two of them had somehow rendered themselves queenless so a quick test frame and they were united with the colony alongside. This was done with the newspaper method to mask the colony odour as they nibbled through.

Uniting two colonies using the newspaper method

Hive number 6 is without doubt the best producing this year. No artificial swarm was needed the the queen continued with copious laying. As I write, I have already extracted 5½ supers and there is still much to come

Hive 6 with six supers

My first honey extraction was very late this year due to the absence of rape honey. The field was right on my doorstep but no nectar.

That’s three years in a row with rape within easy flying and all they’ve harvested is pollen. I went to speak with John, the farmer, to see if he’d changed his seed variety recently but “No, I’ve been using the same variety for the last three years.”; Campus. A quick search revealed that research done by Newcastle and Exeter Universities found that modern hybrid rape, Campus in particular yielded nectar little better than water. The bees know best; not worth the energy.

It’s ironic actually that said farmer gets a subsidy for sowing pollinator strips along his headlands but can then sow a distinctly pollinator-unfriendly crop in the remaining 35 acres.

On a similar note, another long-standing member of Saffron Walden Beepers was talking with a farming friend who was disappointed that he could no longer appreciate the once beautiful aroma of his field beans. This beekeeper had moved some hives onto his huge field which he reckoned should yield in the region 1,000 lbs of bean honey. He got 150 lbs. Yes, the farmer had changed to a hybrid variety.

Who is to blame? Is it the farmers or the seed merchants?

Queen mating has been a problem this year with the loss of seven queens failing to return from mating flights. This has left me on the verge of a problem but I should just have enough 2018 queens to go into 2019.

The last two weeks of July have seen a terrific mystery flow and this has helped tremendously to overcome the oil-seed-rape loss; not so good for creamed honey but it is at least a harvest.

This mystery flow finished on the 29th. On the 30th I saw intense robbing of hive 1. I removed the entrance block and replaced it with one which had only a one bee-width hole in it and leaned a large sheet of glass on the front of the hive.

 

Single hole entrance block

By the time I had gone round all the other hives and narrowed their entrances down to winter-width (about 40mm) the intensity of the raiding had decreased noticeably. The hive inspections I had planned for that day were put on hold. Opening up a hive under these circumstances was only asking for trouble.