July Notes from the Abbey Beekeeper

“The pedigree of honey

Does not concern the bee;

A clover, any time, to him

Is aristocracy”.

Emily Dickinson.

The clover is out as I write this note of introduction on the 2nd July. We badly need some sunshine to let the bees get to work!   There is a wonderful urgency about my hives these days when there is any break in the clouds and the sun comes out. They know that this is the moment to collect all they can so they are well provided for next winter.

A piece of advice in this month’s Irish Beekeeper …  “It makes sense for all beekeepers but especially beginners, to work in pairs as this makes beekeeping more enjoyable and eases the heavier work considerably.”

After many years working on my own I am enjoying sharing the task with some friends and it does ease the load and increase the pleasure…

June was a mixed month weather wise and some strange things were happening in my bee world. In two colonies, which I bought last year, I have found one queen cell in one and two in another. Strange! Both have young queen so there is hardly supercedure going on. But there were not enough queen cells to suggest that swarming was their intention. I have not figured out an explanation!

Today the 26th I arrived back from a cycle to see a huge swarm settling on a laurel branch. It was above our garages so I managed to get up on the roof and pull the branch down over a nuke box with one frame in it. I got most of them in and they seemed to settle and started fanning quickly always a sign for me that they are happy. An hour later I decided to bring the box down and place it beside the colony that had swarmed.

My plan was to move the parent colony off to the side and then place the swarm in a hive on the original site. Once I was ready, I opened the nuke to discover that it was empty! The bees were milling around and I wasn’t sure if the swarm had absconded or returned to the parent hive. The queen that headed this colony was clipped but I was not sure she had not been lost in an earlier swarm.

I was now at a loss and had to reconsider the situation….and out of the corner of my eye I saw some bees congregating in a clump of grass. I went over and shook a ball into an empty roof. Almost immediately I spotted the queen. She was slim and looked young and unmarked. On closer inspection I noticed that she was indeed marked.  I caught her in a small queenbee clip cage, a very useful bit of equipment. I am not sure if this is the correct name for it!  Once I had her trapped I went about dealing with the hive from which she had absconded.

I put two empty Rose brood chambers on the original site and let the queen out on top of the frames. She quickly went down in to the hive. I added an empty super and two partly filled ones. I moved the original brood chamber, full of brood to the right hand side and turned it facing sideways. I plan to let the bees hatch in this hive and then move it to the other side of the original hive to strengthen it further. I hope the colony will settle down and get on with collecting nectar as the July flow is now on!

Yesterday (4 days later) the colony has not settled. I sense that the queen was not fooled and still has swarming in mind!! Maybe not…..maybe all the activity was bees flying back full of nectar, but that is not what it looked like!

I am pretty certain that the procedure I carried out has not satisfied the swarming instinct in this colony and they are frustrated and have more or less gone on strike!

On reflection, maybe the best way to do swarm control is to artificially swarm them earlier in the year and avoid all these very disruptive10 inspections….that’s for another year! I am still not sure what the best tactic is to manage the swarming instinct!

The great thing about bees, and I am reminded nearly every year, that nature can’t be tamed. We may have all the most sophisticated techniques and yet not be in charge Great!

I have found my bees noticeably aggressive this year and two bee keeping friends are reporting the similar behaviour. I presume the really heavy, thundery weather has something to do with it!

I took out a three frames of honey last week. This is honey from the early tree blossom. It is rich, dark and delicious!

A useful tip if you are doing cut comb is not to place a cut comb super next to the brood chamber as the bees may store pollen in it and the cappings can become ‘travel stained’ as the bees move over it to the supers above.

Happy Beekeeping!