The End of The Season
When it comes to September the beekeeping year is coming to an end, or a start, depending on how you look at it. It is about now that your efforts are really going to start to tell as if you have or have not looked after the bees well, If you have not managed their honey stores, not managed their disease level or missed something wrong with the queen they are going to find it hard to make it through the next six months and come April you could be looking at a hive with very few, or no bees left.
It's for this reason that I say it is the start or the end of the season. It is now that you can feed the bees sugar syrup if they don’t have enough stores, or merge colonies or take a number of actions to help them start winter, and the season well. I find I tend to focus more upon the reflection of the year and reviewing the highs and lows of the last few months, telling myself next year I will be better.
This year seemed to be starting well. Although we had cold nights, the days in April were dry and warm and flowers were out early, giving the bees lots of early forage and this led to a very rapid colony growth. It is when the colony gets big that they start to think about swarming and this year early May saw the bees attempting to swarm.
A quick move around of the queen and a couple of the hive splits we waited to see if the new queens would get good weather and mate well, but alas, the weather turn wet and the new queens struggled to mate and we found ourselves down to one hive with a good queen and two struggling hives, what to do? In late May it was clear the new queen had failed and we merged one hive back together and donated some eggs to the queenless hive and it worked a treat, the new queen hatched and started laying eggs at an impressive rate, while the old queens colony continued to grow and they started to think of swarming again!
The old hive decide it was time to move on again and another movement of queens were in order and two hives became three. The donated eggs hive hatched a queen, who mated successfully and started laying well again and the colony grew faster than I have seen any grow before. The third hive had a trick up its sleve though! After checking for queen cells and leaving just one we left her to it, however, sneeky as ever the girls had hidden an unseen queen cell and a true swarm happen and landed in next doors garden. A quick hop over the hedge saw them retuned to the garden and now three hives became four.
Four hives now full of bees and equipment was running low. Any more swarming and I was going to have to start using supers for brood boxes and whatever else I could find to contain them. The third hives queen mated and started laying but something was wrong with the fourth hive. It was only when we saw a small gaggle of bees on the floor that we realised she the queen had not made it back to the hive after mating and reintroduced her by hand. Unfortunately, she was obviously not a strong bee and failed to make the cut. Back to 3 good hives and one failing one. Decision time and we decided to donate eggs again and this time the signs were looking better. However, the second hive was now ready to swarm and a final split was in order. Four hives became five and all the equipment was used, anymore swarms and we were scuppered.
There is always a point in the year where something changes in the hive. Bees start storing honey around the brood, the behaviour changes to a bit more defensive and when these things happen you know swarming season has come to a close and it is all about winter stores now. Three hives were looking good but the fourth and fifth hives did not look good again. We held our nerve and left it for another week and the fifth hive became queen right and she started laying well again. The fourth hive was failing so we merge the two together to boost the numbers. Four hives were looking good but such a swarm season left many of the hives low on stores. Time to feed. It is something we try to avoid but sometimes you have to take action to help the girls out and we are feeding them bags of liquid sugar in an attempt to fill the stores.
More feeding until the weather becomes too cold. Come on girls you can do it. Once this month is over we may switch to fondant but we hope to make sure they have enough stores before then. There is little left to do now other than two winter disease treatments and to wrap the hives up warm. Fingers crossed they make it through but rally only April will tell.
Another year over, another year to start.