I am Gerald Bushby (pronounced bush bee!) a beekeeper in Weston on the Green, a small village in Oxfordshire. I am going to be writing a monthly blog about the bees in my apiary. I hope you will find it interesting. I should start by saying that I am not an expert, having only kept bees for three years. Anything I say is my own personal opinion; I accept that there may often be other views and opinions.
The photograph shows two jars of this years honey from the same bees in the same hive. The one on the right was harvested two weeks after the one on the left. The reason they look so different is because the bees have collected nectar from different plants flowering at different times, producing “set” honey and “runny” honey.
The set honey has a high proportion of nectar from oil seed rape flowers. I keep a close eye on the nearby fields of oil seed rape and extract this honey from the hives as soon as possible after the rape flowers have faded. Honey from this source quickly solidifies, sometimes in the frames, and needs to be harvested quickly. The runny honey is produced from nectar taken from late spring / early summer flowers and tree blossom and does not set. This runny honey varies in colour and viscosity depending on the specific type of flowers or trees the bees are visiting.
If a beekeeper wishes to produce honey from predominantly one type of plant, they must locate their hives in an area where this plant is found to the exclusion of other plants. Some beekeepers, for instance, move their hives to the middle of heather moors to produce heather honey. A time consuming process, for a short flowering period of time. Most beekeepers however do not move their hives and their honey is a reflection of the plants in their local area. Some people believe that eating honey produced locally to where they live helps sufferers of hay fever by ingesting the pollen that causes the hay fever.
July and its “summertime”. This is usually the month when the bees are in peak condition so as to take advantage of the abundant nectar available from summer flowers. The hive strives to develop the maximum number of worker bees to coincide with the peak production of nectar from flowering plants. To achieve this goal the Queen needs to be laying between one and two thousand eggs per day, about six weeks before the maximum number of worker bees are required, to fully exploit the nectar that is usually available. From this peak onwards towards autumn she reduces her rate of egg production. This is not a typing error, she does produce between one and two thousand eggs per day. That is a rate of just over one egg every minuite for every hour of the day and night, quite an achievement.
This year spring seemed to come early and so has summer. June started very cold and then turned exceptionally hot, sunny and dry here in Weston on the Green. Late July has been like the beginning of June much cooler, sometimes cold and much wetter, more like autumn. Some days recently there has been little bee activity with few bees venturing outside the warmth of the colony. If the weather is poor the nectar does not flow and the bees are not active. I suspect the summer honey harvest, usually taken off in late August / September will be poor this year.
One of my three hives, the top bar hive, has failed. I had suspected that the hive may have lost its Queen and was weak as there were fewer flying bees compared to the other hives. I then began to notice a sudden increase in bee activity. On opening the hive, a day or so later, I found it full of wasps and all of the bees dead.
Bees have to defend their hives and their honey stores. If the hive becomes weak their defenses become less and they can suffer robbing by other bees. This was probably what happened with my hive when I noticed the increase in bee activity. When most of the honey had been taken by the robber bees, wasps then took over to clear up anything left. “Summertime” and the living wasn’t easy for my top bar hive.
I am a proud supporter of the ‘Bees for development’ charity, my love of the bee drew me to this wonderful UK based charity and the great work they do around the world with Bees and the impact they can have on people’s lives. Please help me support this wonderful organisation, as 2BScientific will be doing with donations to this hard-working charity.
Next time : Autumn is coming.