It's been a while since I last wrote about my beekeeping journey and the books tell us that as the autumn months slip away, our bees should be preparing themselves to see them through the winter. This is a time when the queen stops laying, the drones (boys) will have been kicked out and the colony reducing in size. With the hive all closed down, there's no inspections to do, other than to check the reduced entrance, heft the hive to gauge amount of honey stores inside and generally check around the hive to make sure all is well.
With beekeeping inspections coming to end at this time of year as the girls start to prepare themselves for winter, myself and two other beekeepers have got together to begin a correspondence course which will hopefully lead us to become more knowledgeable about honey bees and may even lead us into areas of beekeeping that we would like to venture in the future. This distance learning course is a long road ahead of us right now but we're aiming high to get our Intermediate Theory Certificates and then on to the Senior Theory Certificates.
It's late September, the sun is shining and taking a walk around Budleigh Salterton, I don't have to go far before I see flowering ivy that has attracted a wealth on insects, including honey bees. This creeping plant, which produces flowers in the autumn, is the last source of natural food before the girls will start to hunker down for the winter months. Before setting off, I looked across at the hive and saw a lot of activity around the entrance which means they were on a mission to bring back stores for the colony.
What with the beautiful hot and sunny weather we've been having of late, the girls have continued to head out and find new sources of nectar in and around their home. Mornings are a great time to watch them as the sun is low and it's easier to see them fly off into the distance. Equally, it's just as much fun standing outside beside their beehive late at night listening to the hum of bees inside as they work away in their world of darkness.
With the honey harvested at the beginning of this month - 47lbs all jarred and labelled - the job in hand immediately after was to manage the level of varroa mites in the colony. Over the past few months leading up this moment, I've questioned whether I'm doing the right thing using MAQ strips, which is a seven day treatment, compared to other products on the market. For me, getting it over and done with in a week is better than applying treatment throughout the year. If I forgot one, would I be back to square one in managing the level of varroa in the colony?
Not in my wildest dreams of becoming a beekeeper in May this year did I expect to be extracting so much honey from queen bee Lizzie and her girls. Having read books written by new beekeepers in their first year and other beekeepers at the local apiary branch that they have had very little harvest in their first year, here I am with nearly 30lbs of honey all decanted into jars and labelled - and there are still two supers on the hive filling with more honey.
New lesson learnt this week... don't leave any empty spaces in the super when the girls are out on a honey flow (or most probably any other time) as this photo shows just what happens when you take the cover board off and turn it upside down. Yes, the girls start making their own comb naturally and this was only after two days!
After the June gap the month of July has been a very busy time for the girls as they gather as much as their little bodies can carry back to the hive from the rich pickings. They went absolutely crazy when the lime trees and privet came into blossom and now it's the turn of the brambles. Love it or hate it, we also have Himalyan balsam growing in abundance along the River Otter which is also a good source of food for honey bees and other insects - apparently it makes very good honey.
Note to self... there's a reason why beekeepers put their hives on taller stands... and I've learnt the hard way! Yes, when it comes to lifting (or hefting as it's called in the beekeeping fraternity) heavy boxes full of honey (which can weigh around 30lb plus the weight of the box), it's a lot easier to lift them off a beehive standing firmly upright than bend over and lift upwards. Even worse, kneeling down so you're level with the brood box and trying to inspect!
We're into July and the girls are working flat out on a nectar flow. Just watching the entrance to their beehive at times like this is absolutely amazing. They dart out as fast as their little wings can carry them all in one direction as they make their way to a source of food that they have found. Once gathered, they are on their way back to drop off their loads to the bees waiting inside the hive before turning round and heading straight back out again. Bees are incredible in the way they all work together for the good of the colony.