To say that this season so far hasn’t lived up to expectations, would I think, probably rate as the understatement of the year, that is to say, here at Mendip. The main reason, to my mind, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this, has been the awful weather that we’ve suffered here in the West Country. That is not to say that it’s all been bad, because we have had some very nice spells of warm sunshine. The trouble has been that they haven’t lasted long enough and have been interspersed with periods of cold, wet and at times, very windy weather, more akin to October, November than June and July. This has kept the bees in for long periods when they should have been out flying, and when they have been out, they haven’t found the usual amount of forage because, again due to the weather, the flowering period for so many plants has greatly reduced due to them going so quickly to seed. This probably accounts for the fact that although honey stores are gradually building up, the bees seem reluctant to cap them. I believe this is because having spent a couple of days laying down their honey while the sun has been shining, they’re having to dive into it the following few days when the weather has kept them confined to the hive. Anyway, with July now firmly behind us, I’m very much looking forward to the next six weeks or so, it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.
So, my first visit this month was to the hive at Mendip C to have a look for Liz’s queen. Her introduction to the hive hadn’t gone quite the way I had expected so you can imagine my relief on seeing her moving serenely over the second comb which I removed. A quick check for queen cells and I boxed them back up. They were a little more irritable than I would have liked which I hope this new queen is able sort out. Irritability seems to be an accompanying factor with the colonies at this site which is a worry. If you recall, very shortly after I set this new site up, I had to take two of the hives back to the meadow for this very reason, so, as I said, it is a worry. So, is it the site or is it just down to my poor queens. I hate to admit it but, bearing in mind that they were all sisters, it could well be down to them. Anyway, they have by now, all been re-queened, although one has superseded themselves, so it will interesting to see what happens when the two hives, which are still at the meadow, are returned to Mendip C.
I don’t think I can recall a year when there were so many wasps about, again, probably down to the lack of natural forage. Whatever the reason, they are becoming a serious nuisance. I have reduced all of the hive entrances but it seems to have done little to deter their efforts to gain access.
ALL HIVE ENTRANCES HAVE BEEN RESTRICTED
It does assist the bees in defending their hard won stores but so desperate are the wasps that they seem quite happy to take on any number of defenders and still one or two manage to slip through. Removing a crown board seems to signal every wasp in the neighbourhood that the larder door has opened. I have a jar of jam and water mix adjacent to every entrance and I am replenishing them every other day, and that, because they are completely full of dead wasps. So, as I said, goodness knows where they are all coming from, I do know, I shall be glad when they’ve had enough.
Into the second week of August now and I have to say, the wasps are more of a nuisance now than they were a couple of weeks ago. The farmer who’s land is adjacent to the meadow stopped me the other day to enquire whether I could help him with a wasp nest under the eaves of his house. “I’ve killed two nests down by the lake and I’ve got this one I can’t get to in the roof” he told me, “when you’ve got a minute, there’s no hurry”. I went round to take a look earlier today. I’m a Club Bailiff for the lake and it was due a visit so, I thought that I would “kill two birds with one stone”, as it were. I’ve been to the farmhouse on many occasions but one thing I had never noticed was the height of the eaves, until today, that is. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the farmer looking up at the roof. “There they go” he said pointing upwards, “see the third tile in from the right, they’re going in and out under that one”. Now, I estimated the eaves of that farmhouse to be at least thirty feet above the ground, if not more. Certainly too far for me to see any bees from where I was standing. “Don’t worry about a ladder, I’ve got one”. I knew before the conversation went any further that there was no way that I could climb a ladder to that height, and certainly not with my knees. If the house had been on fire and my children were hanging out of the window, it would have been a different matter, but for a bucket full of wasps? I pointed out that the wasp nest was probably nowhere near the tile that they were using as an access point and sugested that the best idea would be to get into the loft from indoors armed with an aerosol or two of fly spray. “Let me know how you get on and if you need any more help” I said before beating a hasty retreat towards the lake.
Today, weather wise, was probably one of the best this year. The lake looked an absolute picture, a small family of Tufted Ducks busied themselves amongst the lily pads while a pair of Coots argued noisily between themselves the way they always seem to do. A hen Mallard was busy showing her one remaining offspring,(The bloody fools who freed all of those mink have got a lot to answer for) where in the margins, the tastiest of morsels could be found. I was glad there was no-one else on the lake, days like these don’t come along that often and are never enhanced by the babble of human voices, I always feel.
AS PRETTY AS A PICTURE
There was no sign of any wasp nests or, wasps for that matter.The purple shrub to the right of the picture, was however, alive with bees, (mine I hope). Just to the left of the spot that I took the lake picture from there was another even larger, and that was blessed with even more bees. I took another couple of pics.but I only had my mobile with me, and unfortunately, the bees didn’t come out very well. You might be able to make out one or two, if not, you’ll have to take my word for it. There really were lots, honestly. THERE REALLY WERE LOTS, HONESTLY!
I mentioned previously how reluctant the bees seem to cap the honey that they’re putting down, well, at last in hive three, a super all but ready for extraction and another following closely behind.
ALMOST FULLY CAPPED AND OTHERS FOLLOWING BEHIND
A couple of the other hives have also begun capping so hopefully, we’ve turned the corner on what so far, has been a pretty poor season here at Mendip. I shall go home and give my extractors a bit of a polish in anticipation.
As with most societies I suspect, we here at Mendip have meetings at various member’s apiaries throughout the Summer. These meetings are always themed and involve a guest expert who hosts the event. This month it is at my meadow site, and I’m really looking forward to it. There is always a genial atmosphere during the proceedings with plenty of oportunity for questions. Afterwards, a spot of tea accompanied by the usual light hearted banter rounds off the day. It’s another good reason, if one were needed, for joining your local society. I have been to many such open days and I can’t remember a single one where I didn’t come away with some new pearl of wisdom or idea for something new to try. If you are already a member of your local society, I do urge you to get involved, and if you are a member of Mendip, or thinking of joining, do come along on the 22nd. You’ll be more than welcome and who knows, you might even get a sandwich, that is, if Bernard hasn’t beaten you to it.
The weather has continued to dictate as and when I’ve been able to examine my hives with the warm sunny days being well outnumbered by the miserable damp ones. Early last week after a particularly damp spell it occured to me that maybe I should check the stores situation and was I glad that I did. Lifting the corner of hive one presented me with a real shock, it was as light as a feather. Well, maybe not quite that light, but certainly a lot lighter than I had expected it to be. Not for the first time I had misinterpreted the signs and very nearly paid the price. Seeing an abundance of activity around the hive entrances combined with the fact that it was the middle of August, I had convinced myself that all was well within but, of course, that isn’t necessarily the case. Apart from the bees carrying pollen, we have no way of knowing whether they are returning laden with nectar or returning empty. With half of the colonies busy filling supers it hadn’t occured to me that the others might be struggling. A quick heft of all the hives showed that three of them could certainly do with some help, so an hour later, I was in the kitchen making up a gallon of syrup.
August draws to a close and pleased to report, this last ten days or so has seen a real turn around here at Mendip. I have continued feeding those that needed help while keeping a close eye on the others and pleased to say, they have responded well. I had also fed the nuc.housing the last queen that I had bought in and they also, were looking good. I still hadn’t decided what to do with her. Although I had earmarked her for the hive still at Mendip C, the poor weather had prevented me from fully checking on the queen that Liz had given me, so, for the moment I had decided to leave things as they were, and as it happened, that was the right decision. I mentioned earlier that hive two from mendip C had superseded, well, checking on them subsequently, showed all the signs that this hadn’t been a success. The cell showed that the queen had emerged but some ten days on, there was no sign of eggs or brood, added to which, there was a distinct air of irritability about the colony which also suggested to me that the supersedure hadn’t been entirely successful. We know the one sure way to tell if a colony is queenless is to add a frame of eggs and brood and this I did. The presence of queen cells having been started when I had another look a couple of days later told me that they were in fact queenless. They also told me where my new queen was destined for.
The first step in uniting the nuc.to the queenless colony was to transfer the contents into a full size brood chamber which is placed on the queenless colony with a couple of sheets of newspaper in between.
NEWSPAPER SEPERATES UNITING COLONIES
“Confetti” at the entrance a couple of days later suggests uniting is all going to plan.
UNITING ALL GOING TO PLAN
I said earlier that these last ten days or so had seen a real turn around here here Mendip and uniting these two has seemed to herald that change. The uniting was entirely successful and the hive is now back at Mendip C. The new queen in hive one has now fully taken over, and they have completely lost their bad tempered behaviour to the point that they will be on there way back to the new site this evening, weather permitting.
ALL THREE HIVES NOW BACK AT MENDIP C At my last visit to “C”, I was pleased to see Liz’s queen happilly going about her royal duties and, happy to report, the remaining hives in the meadow are looking better than I have seen them for a long time. So, as I said, a real and welcome turn around.
We had our apiary meeting last Saturday as planned. The weather all morning was pretty grim and I decided to put the gazebo up, to protect the food if nothing else.
I PUT THE GAZEBO UP TO PROTECT THE FOOD IF NOTHING ELSE
I had visions of me and the few brave souls, if any, that had decided to brave the day, huddled together under it enjoying soggy sandwiches washed down with luke-warm coffee. Thankfully my fears were unfounded, about half an hour before the meeting was due to start, as if to order, the clouds suddenly parted and the sun appeared, and then the first car arrived, and then the next and the next. All at once, the meadow was alive with white suited happy, friendly people. Well, alive might be a bit of an exageration but there were certainly more than I had envisaged half an hour earlier. Simon Jones, Regional Bee Inspector, hosted the meeting and as he had made the effort to come all the way from Taunton to be with us, I was very pleased that so many of us had turned out to join him.
So, there we are, August has all but surrendered into the arms of September. It has not been a good month by any stretch of the imagination but it has finished a lot better that I’d envisaged earlier. I really enjoyed my apiary meeting, but then, I always do. It seems such a fitting way to round off the season, enjoying the company of happy, like minded friends.
We shall go into Winter with eight colonies, seven of which will have this year’s queens, which once again encourages me to hope that next season will be the one we’ve been waiting for. Such has been the lack of forage that I have decided to bulk feed before the Apiguard goes on. Normally we treat either side of feeding but this year I’m feeding first. My thoughts being that it’s better to go into Winter with well fed bees, even if they have some Varroa which will, of course, receive Oxalic acid a bit later, than colonies which have starved to death but are Varroa free. Just my thoughts you understand.