I don’t know now the weather has been where you are, but here in North Somerset the first week in October has been remarkable. Hardly a drop of rain, what cloud there has been has quickly disappeared as soon as the sun has reared her head and the bees have been quick to take advantage. The tell-tale grey smudges on their backs evidence of the presence of Himalayan Balsam close by and their appreciation of the nectar it yields, a real bonus at this time of year. The bright yellow pollen they’re collecting bares testament to their liking for Ivy, another valuable source of energy at this time, great for feeding brood but not so good for storing. As we all know, Ivy honey is very quick to granulate and once in that state, is of very little use to our bees as they are unable, during the cold of Winter, to liquefy and so make use of it. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that Ivy honey is probably a leading contributor to Winter starvation. The reason is that, unless we’ve have been keeping a careful watch on our bees  and  observing their activities, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that a heavy colony must equate to a full larder and therefore, no additional feeding is required when sadly, the reality is, they will very soon be starving. I have once in the past, fallen into this trap and it is one that I don’t care to repeat. A quick heft of a hive during January or February suggests that all is well within, when in fact, this is very far from the truth. Sadly, a fact that will be verified when at your first inspection you are confronted by a hive full of dead bees, still with combs full of stores and weighing much the same as they did in October. I find the best answer to the question as to whether the honey that the bees are storing is going to be suitable to meet their needs, is to remove a comb which has been capped and score it with your hive tool. If after a moment the honey starts to run when the comb is gently shaken then the chances are that it will be ok. If on the other hand, it refuses to budge, the chances are that it is Ivy honey and will be of little or no use to your bees.

Well into the second week now and with the Winter feeding and Varroa treatment finished, time to reflect on the season just gone and plan for the next. It hasn’t been a brilliant year for us here at Mendip, with our queen rearing not going exactly as planned, nor our honey crop, it has to be said, but, we’ve come through it. We are finishing the season with eleven of our twelve hives populated, all, with the exception of one, with this year’s queens, and I’m already licking my lips at the prospect of next season’s harvest. It came as no surprise that we had little or no honey this year as we have pretty much confined our efforts to producing new stocks and I’m pleased with the way that we’ve finished up.

We have continued to be blessed with the good weather that accompanied the start of the month and as of yesterday, the bees were still going hell for leather harvesting what is left of this year’s bounty. Thankfully the wasp activity has begun to subside although, there are still one or two in evidence. I re-charged the traps at the weekend so hopefully, that should take care of them. There are always little jobs to be done around the apiary and this next couple of weeks will, if the weather holds, see most of them done. There are a couple of my older supers which need a little attention where the side panels have warped a little. If this is left unchecked, the gaps very soon become wide enough for unwelcome visitors to take advantage of, so, they will be first on my list. Normally, it’s just a matter of replacing the fixing nails with decent size screws. I always give the joints a liberal dose of Uni-bond before re-assembly and from memory, I haven’t had a single box which has required attention more than the once. A quick scorching with the blowlamp followed by a coat or two of Cuprinol and they’ll be back on the stock pile.

I have noticed wasps paying particular attention to the floor joint on one of the Adams feeders.

wasps and bees on leaking feeder 003


Although invisible to the naked eye, there must be some seepage through the joint which is attracting their attention. You can see how, in their desperation to get at the contents, wasps have even had a go at nibbling the woodwork. There is still syrup in the feeder at the moment so I won’t remove it immediately, instead, I have marked the area of the leak to remind me that this one requires re-caulking as and when the feeders are removed. As I said earlier, there are always little jobs to be done and for me, this is part of the fun of being a bee-keeper. I always get a sense of satisfaction when I tick off the last item on my “to do” list. I can then stand back and look at my little apiary, knowing they are all “Ship shape and Bristol fashion” and ready for whatever the Winter throws at them.

With November looming ever closer, the mouse-guards are in place and the floor slides have been removed. I’ve completed the minor repairs which I’d mentioned earlier and, making the best of the continuing good weather, I’ve been just generally giving the place a bit of a tidy up. There’s still a few frames of old, discoloured wax to be cleaned up. These will be boiled up once I’ve removed the wax for rendering. Probably my most un-favourite, if there is such a word, job around the apiary, which probably accounts for it being last on the list of “to do’s”. The reason being that I always seem to end up with my gloves and sleeves covered in a sticky mix of honey, wax and propolis. Add to this the unwanted attention from what’s left of the bees still flying who incidentally, seem to be able to detect this mixture.from miles away, and you can see why it’s always last on my list.

So there you have it, another bee-keeping year here at Mendip draws to a close. I shall continue to visit my little apiaries as the weather permits keeping a watchful eye open for any signs of unwelcome attention. I’m thinking here of Woodpeckers and Badgers in the main. Something, touch wood, that we’ve not been troubled by thus far, but there’s always a first time isn’t there. I happen to think that sites which remain un-visited for long periods are far more likely to attract unwelcome visitors that areas where there is regular human activity, just my thoughts you understand. It gives me a good excuse, if one were needed, for visiting my bees whenever the opportunity presents itself. The neighbours must wonder at my sanity when they see me, often in the midst of a gale, over-coat on, hood up and gloves on, just standing, looking at my hives, but, I’m used to that by now. In the early days, I used to find it quite embarrassing  when people would stop and stare at me in my bee suit. Now, unless they ask, I just raise my arm, give them a friendly wave and say, “I come in peace”. That’s normally enough to convince them that I pose no threat and they continue on their way. I did once catch a muffled comment about the Asylum door being left unlocked but as I said, I’ve long since stopped worrying what people think. The truth is that the meadow, in the company of my bees, is a place where I always enjoy to be, whatever the weather. I somehow feel an empathy with the contents of those little boxes, trying to imagine exactly what is going on inside and knowing that their whole little world is totally dependant on me. Quite a daunting thought and one not to be taken lightly I think.