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Apple weekend at Audley End House was once again a terrific two days. Unfortunately the Sunday weather was appalling and by lunchtime the footfall had reached the staggering total of 150; Saturday’s total was 1500. We had an excellent team of helpers on both days and as usual the observation hive proved a great attraction.

Sally explains foundation and drawing of comb to an enthralled audience

Back in the apiary the number of hives has been united down to the usual over-wintering eight. The last three were each 5-frame nucs, one of which was the observation hived used at Audley End.

Amongst the 15 frames were several with yellow spacers, indicating old frames to be rendered, so these were removed. All the others with bees were given a spray unite. This was probably not necessary as I was uniting three colonies but I thought it best to be cautious. Colony smell must be smothered to unite two colonies but with three colonies they can’t sort out who the intruders are and peacefully accept their new foster sisters.  The spray was a very dilute sugar solution and a drop of oil of lavendre.

One barren queen was removed and the other two left to fight it out as I couldn’t choose which was the better. They are all now in hive 6 and the feeder is fitted.

  1. All hives now have an Ashforth feeder and all the feed is ready. Most of it this winter is recycled honey with just a small amount of sugar solution to help prevent crystallising.Inspections have been reduced in the last part of the season as little could be done. All I needed to do was monitor the varroa drops. This has stayed sufficiently low for treatment to wait until the mid-winter oxalic acid.

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.