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.
Where did summer go? Apart from the last week of August the poor summer continued with low temperatures and no abundance of summer flowers for the bees. Fellow beekeepers have reported having to feed their bee colonies in July and August so that they did not starve, something that is not usually necessary until winter comes.
My colonies have not been active outside the hives for much of the poor weather. I think they have been feeding on the stored honey rather than laying down fresh supplies. I looked into the four supers that are remaining on the hives only finding one that is full. Usually this time of year they would all be full.
The beekeeper has to make fine judgments towards the end of the year as to how much surplus honey to harvest and how much to leave for the bees as food for them over winter.
With the British National hive, my type of hives, the colony lives in a large brood box at the bottom of the hive. Over the winter months I will explain the workings of the hive in more detail but within my hives the brood boxes each contain ten frames, 14 x 12 “inches” in size. This is the part of the hive where the queen is retained and lays her eggs. A “brood nest” is formed which is roughly spherical in shape, centered in the middle of the brood box crossing the frames. Pollen and honey are stored around the brood and on the outer frames. Above the brood box, and separated by a “queen excluder”, are stacked “supers”, further boxes each containing ten shorter frames where the bees just store honey. It is from these supers that the beekeeper removes surplus honey. The queen is stopped from laying eggs in these supers by the queen excluder. Pollen is generally stored next to where the eggs are located, so supers should just contain honey.
The eggs being laid by the queen at this time of year will be reducing in number and will produce workers that will survive for several months, rather than a few weeks for the summer bees, to take the colony through to spring when the queen will again increase her egg laying activity. Winter bees have a well developed, fat body as they do little or no foraging in the winter months. The colony has to be large enough for the bees to cluster and keep warm and healthy in winter.
A bee colony needs roughly 20kg of honey to survive an average winter. Beekeepers “heft” their hive brood boxes, lift up a side of the hive to judge its weight, and by experience assess if there is sufficient weight indicating enough honey left in the brood box for winter. Some beekeepers leave a full super of honey on top of the brood box over winter, others do not leave any honey in a super but feed a substitute, “bakers fondant”, if they feel it is necessary.
In past years I have not left supers on my brood boxes. Having chosen the 14 x 12 size of brood box, it is larger than the original British Standard brood box and has more capacity for stores. I therefore have fed them with fondant when needed. This year I had thought that I would leave a full super on each hive lulled into expecting a good supply of summer honey following on from the excellent spring supply. As this did not happen I have changed my mind. I think I will extract what I can in the next few weeks and again feed fondant as necessary over winter. It pays to be flexible in beekeeping.
I also have a decision to make on the future of my top bar hive that was finished off by wasps. My current thinking is that I will sell the hive on Ebay next spring and in future just use the British Standard hives. It is so much easier and less time consuming having equipment that is interchangeable. The problem is that I do feel that the top bar system is much more natural and does not depend on manufactured components. My photograph this month shows a top bar, just a 32mm wide timber lath, and the natural comb that the bees construct from the bar. Decisions, decisions!
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 : How was the summer honey harvest?