How smoothly July has slipped into August. With the exception of a couple of days, the good weather has continued and pleased to say, the bees have taken full advantage of it. I had intended to extract last week but put it off until this week because for some reason, despite considerable amounts of honey coming in, all with the exception of three, having filled at least three supers, they all seem reluctant to cap it. Strangely, not just mine, I helped a friend last week and hers were the same, plenty of honey but very little capped. I also had a ‘phone call the same day from the other side of the country enquiring as to whether it was ok to extract as very little of this beekeeper’s comb had been capped, strange ! Can this be their way of telling us to leave their precious stores alone as we’re to have a very hard winter. It’ll be interesting to see.
The problem with leaving it too late to extract, of course, is that as the weather cools it becomes increasingly difficult for the bees to process the sugar syrup to the point eventually where they are unable to access any of it. Then there’s the Varroa treatment which also becomes less effective the colder the weather becomes and can’t be administered to clash with the feeding. So, what to do ? Well, there are not that many choices are there, we either extract or we don’t. In an ideal world every frame would be capped from end to end and there would be no decision to make but we know that is seldom the case, especially in years such as this. Here, I try to assess each colony separately and if at the end I have more capped comb than not, I go ahead and extract. Combs which are partly capped are firmly shaken, face down over a clean surface. If no honey is dislodged, they also go into the extractor. We all have to make our own choice but that seems to work for me.
So, it was with this in mind I approached the bottom of the meadow one morning last week, to have one last quick look at the supers in readiness for this week, when I had arranged to have the club extractors. My friend Liz had also agreed to help me and I wanted to be sure that all the effort was going to be worthwhile.I had no intention to disturb the brood chambers, just to have a quick look at the supers. I find normally, when I’m doing this, that is to say, not going below the queen excluder, the bees pretty much tend to ignore me and with no reason to suppose today would be any different I donned my short jacket and lit my smoker. No need for boots I reasoned, only going to take ten minutes at most. And, so it was, one and two looking good. No supers on three, this was if you remember, the hive with the swarm in. A quick look under the crown board satisfied me all was well. Four and five looked very good and so to six. This had proven to be the most irritable colony of bees I had ever encountered, the only reason they had been spared thus far, was that they were so industrious and I suppose in the back of my mind I was, all the time, hoping against hope that they would sort themselves out. Having earlier found a hatched supersedure cell I had high expectations that the progeny of the new queen would have been better tempered but this was obviously not the case. Had the new queen not managed to oust the old or did the new queen share her ill temper, I’ll never know. So, lid off, crown board removed to one side. Now, six had four supers on which meant the top one was above chest high and these were heavy. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have boxed them back up at this stage and waited until there was some help at hand but I was keen to see just how much honey they had laid down and my impatience over-rode what little common sense I had. Up until now the occupants had more or less ignored me so I carried on. I managed to prize the top super off and down onto the upturned roof. It was solid with wall to wall honey as was the next. A quick look at the next one and then retreat I decided, the bees were by now paying me just a little more attention than I would have liked and I had achieved what I had set out to. So, whiff of smoke, hive tool between the supers, gentle twist and lift off. I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those moments when the whole of your life flashes before you but that is what I experienced in the next few minutes. I hadn’t sufficiently freed the supers from one another and my gentle twist succeeded in seperating the brood chamber from the floor. The whole lot canted over and through the gap came what seemed like thousands of angry bees. A lot of them poured down onto the floor from whence they proceeded up my trouser legs stinging as they went. I was wrestling to get the hive back together and the supers back in place which, goodness knows how, I managed eventually. I can honestly say I cannot recall a more miserable experience. Not content with all that, they followed me back up the meadow, it was fully half an hour before I finally shook them off. I had stings in places most people don’t even have places. Good job I had elasticated legs in my Y’fronts I thought.
So, the lessons from all this, really vicious colonies seldom if ever sort themselves out, was a few more pounds of honey really worth what I’d gone through and don’t take short cuts, always suit up properly and wear your boots. The next day I purchased and fitted spring fasteners to all the hives, I know it’s after the horse has bolted but better late than never.
HIVE FASTENER IN PLACE, TWO ON EACH HIVE.
Last week, by comparison to the previous one, has gone pretty much as planned. I collected the club extractors and the following day, assisted by Liz, removed all the supers. I had fitted escape boards the previous evening so the removal of the supers went largly unhindered, even six was behaving itself, mind, after their previous episode I don’t suppose they had much sting left in them.
RHOMBUS ESCAPE BOARD
After extraction the supers were placed temporarily back on the hives for the bees to clean up, this solicited a lot of unwelcome attention from wasps which seem to be far more numerous and aggresive than I can remember in previous years. There’s not much you can do other than to keep your wasp traps topped up and restrict your entrances, mine are down to one bee space currently. I’m afraid number six has gone to her maker, although they had given me more than their share of grief, it saddened me to bring about their end. The first time I’ve had to do this and quite a sorry sight to open the hive following treatment and see all their little dead bodies.
A PETROL SOAKED CLOTH BRINGS ABOUT A SWIFT END
Hive six will now be removed from the stand, cleaned and become a spare. The new colony started recently will eventually take it’s place. I have begun moving it using my hive transporter described earlier. It looks a bit Heath Robinson but it is very effective. I shall move the hive a couple of feet a day until it reaches it’s final destination as the new number six.
HIVE ON TRANSPORTER
Glad to say, the week has finished very well, honey has been extracted and I’m very pleased with the crop, especially after last year’s dismal performance.
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT AND WELL WORTH THE EFFORT
Most colonies have an abundance of stores in their brood chambers and I shall start feeding this weekend, this to bring them all up to about forty pounds of stores each. I feed 2 to 1 syrup at this time and will be using Brother Adam feeders, the making of which I’ve described earlier. Another reason for using the Adam’s feeder is that when the feeder is more or less empty I remove the plastic cup and the bees can come up and clean up the residue syrup. When you come to administer your Apiguard the feeder is inverted and becomes an eke. When the Apiguard aplication is finished, the feeder is turned right way up and becomes a crown board. It saves a whole lot of messing about and is already in place come Spring should you need to give more feed.
BROTHER ADAM FEEDER
So, feed, health check, administer Apiguard and another year draws to a close. I have really high hopes for next year, I’ll get my queen rearing off the ground if it kills me. We’ve had more than our share of ups and downs here at Mendip but we’ve come through it. These are for me the joys of beekeeping and I hope yours too.
Just a P.S. to finish August on. I mentioned that at the time of removing the supers there was an abundance of honey in most of the brood chambers, to the point where I had seriously considered extracting from some of them. With that in mind,I had even borrowed the tangential extractor. As it happened the crop from the supers far exceded my expectations so I decided to leave the brood chambers alone and was I glad I did. A week later I removed the empty supers which the bees had obligingly cleaned only to find on inspecting the brood chambers that with the exception of number eight, that they were devoid of stores. Number eight had in excess of forty pounds of stores, this despite having filled three supers wall to wall. The others varied between ten pounds and nothing. I had expected to find plenty of stores, this based on my findings a week earlier. Had I begun my inspection with eight I may well have assumed this to be the case. I am just about to give them a final forty pounds of syrup between them which will bring the total to around two hundred pounds. The lesson from all this, never assume anything, they’ll always have a surprise up their sleeves for you.