I have reached the end of my fourth bee summer – and have four hives and one nuc ready to go into winter. I have been taking a little time to think about what I have learnt, what I might have done better and what I am going to do next year.
One of the year’s successes was doing my first shook swarm. I only did this on one hive but next year I am planning to do more. It felt very drastic, but that particular hive went on from strength to strength and produced a lot of surplus honey. One of the reasons I chose that one was, apart from it being a good strong colony, the comb was old and completely bunged up with propolis and manipulations were becoming difficult. By the end of the season it was once again the stickiest hive! And manipulations becoming difficult…
The main difficulty I had this year was really aggressive bees and right from early on they were not fun – neither for me nor for the others who share the same apiary. I decided to requeen two hives. Not as easy as it sounds as the wet start to spring meant that queens weren’t available to buy until quite late in the season.
Also, I stupidly did not destroy the really nasty queen because I was a bit sentimental and felt she could be tamed (!!??) and she was a good strong and productive layer. What a mistake. I moved her to my garden and put her in a nuc but far too quickly it needed to go into a hive. They are tricky things and when kept in a nuc they seem to control their temper, but once let free in a full size hive they show their true colours. She was foul. So were her bees. I tried introducing the new queen but they kept building queen cells – which I destroyed but they just built more. This was not meant to happen.
I was also really worried about my neighbour’s young children and then Adrian got stung very badly. That was the final straw. In the end I had no choice but to make up a nuc with the new queen and destroy the old hive. I was completely traumatised about doing it, but once done I felt so much better. Something I hope I won’t have to do again. It took a full six weeks for the colony to settle down – a whole cycle. But it was worth it in the end and I can quite happily potter around the garden with all the bees calmly forging amongst the flowers. i like the new queen. Lesson number 1: when the queen has to go, she really has to go. Don’t be sentimental.
Something else I learnt this summer is that once a new queen emerges the workers often reseal the cell – sometimes even with a worker bee trapped inside (this happened in M and R’s hive). One hive wasn’t happy with their queen and early on in the season I had a hive full of queen cells. When the virgin queen emerged they resealed the cell and I thought she hadn’t hatched. I didn’t open it to check. FOOL! Egg laying was severely delayed – probably die to the bad weather – so I assumed they were queenless. I united them with a swarm from another hive in the same apiary. And that was the beginning of the troubles. They seemed to reject all queens after that and it wasn’t until the end of the summer that they finally settled down. I was amazed that this hive actually produced any honey at all. Lesson 2: if a queen cell is still sealed after it should have hatched, open it. If you have your dates worked out correctly, the queen will not be there or she will be dead. If you haven’t kept tabs on the dates, probably best to let nature take its course.
Although this was a productive year on the honey front, one hive was reluctant to move up into the super and consequently didn’t produce very much. On reflection I think it was because I didn’t use fresh foundation and I don’t think they liked it. I have heard that you should warm it with a hairdryer if it is old to soften it a bit. I don’t know if it works but Lesson number 3 is don’t use old foundation!
And now they are all tucked up ready for winter. I had a great deal of difficulty finding two queens, consequently two hives have gone into winter unmarked and unclipped. I will try and remedy this situation as early as possible next year – hopefully before the hives get too crowded and they become difficult to find again. All hives have been treated with Apivar for varroa and mouse-guards are in place. Soon I will cover them with netting to protect them from the woodpeckers.
Although there is far less time spent with the bees at this time of year, I am still busy. I cleaned all my equipment at the weekend – ready for next year – and I am also busy studying to take BBKA Module 2. The more I learn the more I realise I don’t know!
Just off to learn about the dangers of fermentation…