Skip to content

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.

This month sees the start of foraging in earnest and also the start of swarming.

Although the oil seed rape was only just down the road the bees only worked it for pollen. The bees foraging for nectar went in the opposite direction. I am now beginning to wonder if modern varieties of rape have significantly reduced amounts of nectar.

Whatever it was they preferred, half the hives worked it vigorously. One hive got up to four supers and the others to two or three.

The colonies which only just made it through the winter have struggled to reach supering size but as two of these have 2016 queens and will be requeened this season.

The first swarm I was called to remove was a poor little bedraggled specimen hanging from a tree near Thaxted Fire Station. It had been there several days and was trying to set up home out in the open.

Thaxted swarm

It was nearly dark when I arrived so it had to wait until the next morning; a night of torrential rain and it was still raining next day. Half of them had been washed down in the night and were comatose mixed in with the recent lawn mowings. It was a ladder job to reach the little swarm and I then swept up as many as I could from the ground hoping that once they were returned to the bosom of their family they would become resuscitated. This did in fact work and most of them recovered. They were a pathetic little bunch when they were eventually hived; just over one frame of 14 x12 in a nucleus hive.

The rape finished flowering two weeks ago and any resulting honey would normally have started crystallizing by now. It’s all still clear which again leads me to conclude that the nectar came from elsewhere. The eventual analysis will be interesting.

I’ve had to perform three Pagden artificial swarms so far with another one to do this week. At the same time as creating the artificial swarm I also take a two-frame nucleus with a queen cell so I have a second string to my bow in the event of a loss on mating flight. The apiary is getting rather crowded now with sixteen hives.

Everything is late this year due to the very long winter; November to March. Colonies have been late building up but fortunately the rape has also been about two weeks late in flowering. This has enabled four colonies to be just about big enough for supering.

All the hives were spring cleaned between 14th and 20th April. This involved giving each colony a clean floor, brood box and crown board. All frames were inspected for disease and age and yellow spacers added to frames which had become too dark brown and needed replacing. These frames will be gradually worked to the edge of the box at each hive inspection and then replaced with foundation once any brood has emerged.

The dirty hives were scraped down and then scorched out with a blow-torch before being used again.

Stuart Roweth has produced yet another new version of his beegym and I will be trialing this in one of the larger colonies. (www.beegym.co.uk)

I have returned to the training scene this year with just two young lady students keen to learn about this absorbing hobby. Having just two students, rather than the six or seven in the past, will I am sure produce a much more rewarding learning environment.

The Asian Hornet justifiably continues to feature high in the list of threats. I have two lure traps, based on the National Bee Unit water-bottle design, hanging in the garden and charged with some of our own home-pressed apple juice. One by the hives and the other by the bee shed. Fortunately nothing yet.

The big question on my mind is whether 2018 will be a repeat of 2017 when it comes to oil seed rape. As the month comes to a close the rape has been on flower for two weeks now and the real-feel down in the apiary is -3, it’s blowing a gale and raining hard. It’s been like this for a week now and is set to continue.