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Bee Blog - October 2020

Wikipedia defines an Indian summer as a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in temperate regions of the northern hemispheres during September to November. The middle of September here in Weston on the Green has met that definition and my bees have been loving it. We have had day after day of clear blue sky and whilst night temperatures have been cool the days have been warm encouraging the flowers to bloom and the nectar to flow. All of my queens must be somewhat confused, shorter days cooler nights and yet a good nectar flow. Usually at this time of year the queens would be reducing egg laying and the numbers of bees would be declining. The hives however are still full of bees and during the days the large number of bees going back and forwards to the hives is more indicative of spring than autumn.

As I encountered a large number of wasps around the hives last month when I removed the summer honey, I decided to fit wasp guards to the hive entrances to help the bees defend the hives. These consist of a clear plastic cover at the hive entrance with holes at the side. The bees seem to learn quickly that they have to make a side entry whereas the wasps don’t seem to be able to work this out and keep trying a frontal entry only to collide with the clear plastic cover. As the modified entrance is smaller, with large numbers of bees going in and coming out it does increase congestion. In the last week of September I noticed that wasp numbers seem to have declined I therefore removed the wasp guards making it easier for the bees to come and go. With the large numbers of bees they ought to be able to defend their entrances from whatever wasps are remaining.

When I removed the summer honey I noticed that on two hives and on the nucleus colony one of their supers on each hive was only partially filled with honey. I decided therefore that I would try something new this winter and leave these partially filled supers to the bees so that they could keep creating honey during the autumn to provide them with an additional supply for winter, to top up what they would normally store in the brood box. This should mean that I do not have to worry about feeding these hives and the nucleus with fondant over the winter. The Indian summer has given them an excellent start and we still have many weeks left of flowering plants for them to forage. The ivy is now flowering and bees love ivy.

It seems a long while ago when I was breeding queens back in spring. My photograph this month shows the stage when I had removed the harvested eggs and placed them in plastic cups on a brood box frame for the bees to incubate and rear into queens. There are two rows of these cups containing eggs. The eggs are in the small brown cups which in turn are held in the frame by the yellow receptacles. The frame had been placed into a queen less colony. The bees on finding themselves queen less have decided to use these eggs to form new queens. The photograph was taken after a few days of being in the brood box. Most cups are festooned with bees hanging together drawing out the queen cells and forming a wax enclosure for the queen lava which they then incubate.

During the current pandemic when our government is finding it difficult trying to persuade people to shape their individual behaviour for the greater good of the community as a whole, you cannot help at being amazed at to how the bees must communicate and control their society so as to structure the work of individuals into teams to perform their complicated tasks for the greater good of their colony. It is normally said that the queen and her pheromones control the hive activities but my photograph shows organised co operation of the bees producing new queen cells even in a queen-less colony.