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September Bee Notes

Into September – it is on the cusp between seasons and can be very unpredictable – it can be a lovely month but it can also bring gales with wind and rain and it can fall into between these extremes.  Schools are open for business. When I was teaching I liked to finish my bee work by the beginning of September. Having retired, I can be more leisurely. I have removed some honey and I have Apiguard on to treat for varroa. Taking honey off in mid August gives time to treat for varroa. Temperatures of 15 degrees centigrade are needed for Apiguard treatment. Temperatures can drop as we head into September.

Working in the apiary all is quiet – flowers are gone except for the odd straggler – ragwort is still in bloom and this provides useful forage for the bees, butterflies and other insects – ragwort is toxic and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver in horses and cattle but cases are extremely rare – most animals are clever enough to leave it alone. Fresh ragwort is of little interest to them as it has a bitter taste – the greater risk is when the dried plant is eaten among hay.

The bees are also quiet these days, waiting for the ivy flowers to bloom. I noticed the first ivy flower in bloom a few days ago. There is a feast of berries about and fruit trees are laden with their produce. Blackbirds are reappearing round the apiary – they disappear to moult once their young have fledged – shedding their tatty, faded feathers. They replace their feathers in stages so they are never flightless.

INSPECTIONS: My main concern at the end of another season is the level of stress I cause when carrying out an inspection. I can’t help noticing the turmoil and the many bits of pollen discarded by bees under pressure. This summer I have left my colonies more or less alone and I reckon that they have produced as much honey, if not more, than usual. The other positive with this reduced inspection rate is that the bees are much calmer. When I do regular inspections, I feel they remember the last time and are ready to pounce! Apparently in the 1980s Russian beekeepers recommended just four inspections a year. That sounds about right. I plan to try it next year. 

  1. First inspection – in early spring to make sure the queen is laying and has enough space – this year I had to remove some brood frames full of ivy honey to give the queens room to lay in.
  2. Second inspection – approaching swarming season.
  3. Third inspection – not sure about this one – but presume I would do it during the swarming season. 
  4. Fourth inspection – at the end of the season to make sure all is in order for the winter.  

HONEY EXTRACTION: I gave up extracting honey some years ago as I found it very messy and time consuming. I now do cut-comb honey. I use unwired foundation in the supers or use a starter strip of foundation and let the bees draw it down.

I cut the honey out of frame (a good idea is to place the frame over a queen excluder or other metal grille) lying on its side on the queen excluder and positioned over a drip tray. This will allow the honey to drain away and avoids getting your comb soggy. Cut the comb into the size of your container using a sharp knife. You can buy comb cutters but they are expensive and do only one size.

You can also scrape the honey and capping off the frame into a muslin-lined sieve. Leave the sieve to drain over a plastic bucket in a warm room. It is a slow process but honey will separate out and drain into your bucket and then you can jar it. My mother simply removed a frame of honey, cut off the wax capping and left the frame on its side to drain into a large flat dish. The warmer the room the quicker this works. Once the frame was empty she simply popped it back in the hive to be re-filled! When taking honey, remember not to leave your bees hungry!

WASPS: Wasps can be a problem at this time of the year. Wasps, like bumble bees, survive the winter through their queens. Worker wasps feed their larvae in the spring with protein from insects and caterpillars and the larvae give out a sweet secretion to the adult wasps. In late summer the colony starts to raise drones and queens and worker brood dwindles and the source of sweetness dries up. The workers now switch from hunting protein to searching out a source of sugar such as jam, rotting fruit etc. Once they switch to sugar you can use a wasp trap baited with jam. If used in spring they must be baited with protein – bits of ham etc. To cut down on the possibility of robbing by wasps reduce the entrance. 

I hear that the US Vice-President’s wife, Karen Pence, has several bee hives at their new Washington home. Apparently, she uses each political and diplomatic visit to her home as an opportunity to invite these influential guests to visit her apiary. She then explains how important bees are to the planet. She is using Langstroth hives!

Jobs for September:

  • Check honey stores in the hive – learn to estimate stores by hefting the hive
  • Top up stores to a minimum of 18kg by feeding heavy syrup
  • Remove, clean and store the queen excluder
  • Remove empty Apiguard trays or other varroa treatment