Will there be a Summer Honey Flow this year or will it be only a Honey Trickle?

At the end of last month you may recall that I was confident that the summer flow would be starting very soon. After all, there had been an excellent spring with more honey coming in than in most years, my scale hive colony was queenright and strong, it had plenty of bees and the hive weight had increased by more than 50lb between 14th April and 8th June.

Since then the flow into the hive has been very poor apart from a few
unsubstainable short blips which promised for a day or two the start of a summer honey flow. The lime trees have been flowering and currently there are sweet chestnut trees in our road in full blossom. Why aren’t the bees finding them? Some of them have already passed their best with the tassles lying on the ground.

I am now wondering if the bees are saying, “I told you so!” as I had dared to question their foreknowledge in the last issue.

Since writing this I have received David Brassington’s latest figures please click here to view, which you will see seem to make nonsense of the above, but I still have to wonder what is going on with my bees, so have left my comments unchanged.

Geoff Cooper

“National Honey Show 2020

Due to concerns about holding such a large show under the cloud of Covid 19, the Committee have reluctantly decided that this year’s National Honey Show will now be a virtual event to which everyone is invited both in the UK and worldwide.

Whilst we will greatly miss seeing you all in person, as part of the National Honey Show community we hope you will enjoy our series of virtual workshops and lectures, with the opportunity to ask questions afterwards in real time.

If you’ve never physically attended the show before, this will offer a taster for what will be on offer in the future in addition to our usual display of honey, hive products and craft entries, next year and at subsequent shows.

The show runs across three days. For this year, Thursday 22nd, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th October 2020. We are planning pre-recorded demonstration workshops and lectures with live questions and answers during the day and on-line social events in the evenings.

More timetable and programme details will be available shortly. Please visit our website over the next few weeks for the latest information.”

Drones and Other Matters

I am writing this on Friday 26th June, the fourth very hot day in the current heat wave. It is undoubtedly too hot for beekeeping, all we have been doing is putting in clearer boards, extracting honey and returning the “wet” boxes for the bees to fill again. Obviously my earlier pessimism regarding lack of a “main flow” has been proven to be totally incorrect, the bees have just been refilling the boxes as soon as they are returned.

However, the Limes are now finishing so we only have the Sweet Chestnut, Heather and Himalayan Balsam to come, providing the environmentalists have not destroyed the latter.

A quick update on the two swarms we have taken this year. The “Rowtown” swarm is now located in one of our apiaries, occupying three deep boxes, good brood pattern and very docile, we look forward to extracting a small surplus from them during August. The large swarm, still in our garden, has already produced over 100lbs of extracted honey and are busy refilling the returned “wet” boxes.

Unfortunately, however, our queen rearing programme has been and is a complete disaster this year. We rely on the swarming instinct to produce the best queen cells for placing in the mating nucs, and this year swarming in our colonies just has not happened. Some colonies have tried to supersede, only a couple of queen cells, we have tried artificial swarming on these, destroying them and replacing the frame with eggs and young larvae from the colony we wanted to reproduce from. All they did was to produce another couple of queen cells and frequently one of these failed. Very frustrating! It looks like most of our colonies will be going into winter with either a 2019 or a 2020 supersedure queen.

Although, we and many other beekeepers have noticed a huge proliferation of drones in the colonies this year there has not been a similar significant increase in virgin queens. Many of us have noticed that the current queens do not last for more than one season, in the past a queen bee could remain viable for at least three years. In my opinion, probably as a result of varroa, drone virility is lacking. My theory is that we are possibly witnessing an evolutionary trend whereby the bees are trying to correct this phenomenon by producing more drones thus increasing drone numbers to facilitate better mating for the virgin queens.

Rob Chisholm (June 2020)

Update on 2020 Swarming Season

Good News – Everyone on my list of members wanting swarms has now received one. If there is any member who thinks they asked for one but has not received one please let me know. Meanwhile several members have asked for a second swarm and I have now started to supply them.

The ‘Hoover’ has been put to good use and has been requested and used by three members now. Unfortunately by the time we arrived for the second, the swarm was just flying off but I was able to demonstrate the Hoover’s use. However, we did receive a donation to the Club house fund for our troubles, which brings the donations from swarms to just over £600 this year.

The photo on the left shows me collecting a swarm about 30 feet off the ground. It does help to have a second person to use the second pole to push obstructing branches aside (see picture on right).

There are one or two modifications that I want to make to the Hoover to make it easier to use.

I had an interesting incident after collecting a swarm from a pine tree in Burwood Park. The next swarm was spread over a gravel drive but I could not get the bees up so gave up on the Hoover and reverted to the traditional skep (see right). On the next occasion a member wanted the Hoover for a high swarm. After using it the swarm was removed from the tree but no bees were in the box. Shaking the tubes revealed them all within. At that point we suspected a blockage so used a second smaller tube to push through to find what was causing it. Out popped a small pine cone, perfectly shaped to wedge in the tube, and suddenly all was working again.

Michael Main

Hive weights from David Brassington

Here is my latest hive weights chart. As usual I include last year for comparison. Only two active colonies at the moment but one is rocketing up (both in honey weight and height). It is about a month ahead of our monster hive from last year. We might need a cherry picker this time! The only problem is that the bees are very aggressive so I don’t want to disturb them except to add supers (and they even get angry about that). Our other hive swarmed and since then is just marking time. With luck it will start to gain weight soon. It is quite active. The swarm was very high in a tree but we thought we had got all the kit to collect it from the ground (cardboard box attached to telescopic lopper and rope round the branch – has worked well in the past). Unfortunately the swarm took off just as we were ready – only an hour after it settled.

Hive weights from Geoff Cooper in Hersham

You will see that, apart from one week, the flow last month was virtually down to zero.
The cumulative change is ongoing from last month’s figures.
Date Weight Change (lb) Cumulative Change (lb)
May 1st -1.4 38.1
May 7th +14.6 52.7
May 17th -4.8 47.9
May 24th -2.9 45.0
May 31st +4.1 49.1

Weybridge Christmas Market: 30/11/19

The WBK stall at this event was a great success. Verbal contacts were made with a good number of people including an interview with Richard for the Brooklands Local Radio Station. We sold over 80lbs of honey, plus cut comb and wax wraps. Many thanks are due to all those members who helped, but especially to Jane Hunter and Paul Bunclark who organised, set up, and dismantled the stand, and spent the whole day in attendance. A great time all round.

2019 Summer Meetings

A great series of summer meetings was held in 2019 with attendance generally up on 2018.

HostsDateMain SubjectAttendance
Michael Main28th April, 2.30 pmStart of the Season: Bailey Comb Change, Shook Swarm40+
David and Jenny Nield26th May, 2.30 pmAn Inspector Calls, Bee Disease inspection25+
Aslam and Kishwer Aziz8th June, 2.30 pmPreparing for the Flow25+
Geoff and Marion Cooper13th July, 2.30pmHarvesting the Honey and What can go Wrong, an education in  things that go wrong but should not20+
David Parker15th September 2.30pmSurviving Winter20+

Teaching apiary on the move

The Weybridge division’s teaching apiary has been in the grounds of St Georges Junior School in Weybridge since 2015.  In August 2017 the hives were damaged by vandals on three occasions, so the decision was made to move the hives into the garden of a member for the winter period.  The original plan was to move the hives back to St Georges in the spring but an alternative site in Ottershaw has since become available.  Hopefully this will be less vulnerable to vandalism and will provide a temporary home until a more permanent site can be secured.

On Sunday 12 April a working party of Weybridge members went to St Georges to load paving slabs and the contents of the shed on to a trailer.  The shed was then dismantled ready for the journey to Ottershaw.  In the evening of the same day, the hives were transported from their winter quarters and placed in the new apiary site.

The 24 students on the 2018 beginner beekeepers’ course began the practical part of the course in the new apiary on 21 April.