Apiary Update

We’ve had a beautiful couple of weeks here in Sussex, and I was wondering how my bees were doing. We have had a distinctly unbeautiful patch of weather during June and I was appalled to see on Twitter that many people’s colonies had starved, having been caught short following the removal of a spring crop of honey, and comments such as “the bees have eaten all their honey!” which of course, is precisely what they are meant to do. That’s why they make it. Quite what the public would think if people were posting pictures of dead cows or dogs who had starved due to poor management and lack of foresight is anyone’s guess. Moving on…

Thankfully, my bees were fine, having eaten much of their stores, and the swarms were given some cappings to help them through the worst of it. There is – of course – a natural solution to a food shortage: the bees don’t have enough nectar to feed the queen, so she doesn’t lay eggs, so there are no extra mouths to feed. They sit tight and wait for the weather to improve, then they can forage again. This brings in supplies; the queen gets food; eggs are laid; the brood gets food, colony starts to grow. Yes this means a delay in replenishing the population but if the bees are indoors waiting out the storm they are not expending energy, so it doesn’t challenge them. Of course it’s wise to check, and return some of their honey to them if you have removed their stores and they look low.

My strongest hive, who has already spared me some honey, is still building down its two supers: a new one and one which has some partly-capped frames. I put an empty super underneath the full one so they are encouraged to draw down, plus it’s easier to remove the top super with Porter escapes as the bees have room to go in to.

I also wanted to check my Squash Court bees, who have a brood box full of wild comb, and then a super with 6 frames in the front, and then a super with 11 frames on top of that. I can only ever take 6 frames from the front as they are all joined to the wild comb behind, but the bees build dead straight with no cross comb on the frames they do have, bizarrely!

You can clearly see the different nectars in this comb. It’s entirely bee-built – not even a starter strip of foundation. I love how the individual colonies vary with their interior design.

It was so warm and still, I had a quick look at the smaller hives. Here are the Market Wood bees:

And the swarm I collected from Brighton a couple of weeks ago:

As you can see, they are very contended, and going about their business. Lovely new white wax and calm bees denotes a queenright hive, as they have no incentive to build new wax if they are queenless, and her pheromone (‘queen substance’) unites the colony and and gives them that all important connectedness of the superorganism.

The ragwort is blooming in the apiary, and it’s covered in Cinnabar moth caterpillars. Ragwort gets a bad reputation as it’s toxic, but no more so than many of our other native plants, and it’s an important source of pollen and nectar, and of course is the food plant of these colourful caterpillars.

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