If you’ve been down to the bottom of the garden you may have noticed that the height of the hives has been changing – gradually getting taller and then, a few weeks ago, getting smaller again. That’s because as the season progressed I was adding more space to accommodate increased numbers and to prevent swarming. The extra space was also to allow them to store honey in smaller boxes called supers.
I checked the stores in early June and they seemed to be progressing really well. Some beekeepers will extract honey at this time – especially if there’s been oil seed rape grown nearby (OSR produces a lot of nectar and bees can make a lot of honey from this very quickly, but it has to be extracted very promptly as otherwise it sets like concrete and can’t be used for honey, even by the bees).
July of course was very wet and the bees couldn’t get out and with the population at its peak they had to turn to their stores. So the stores designed to feed a few thousand not very active winter bees didn’t last long with about 60,000 active summer bees.
There was still some honey left though and I’d planned to leave that on the hives and not extract any – leaving it all for them as winter stores. But then came the robbing. Robbing is what happens when wasps attack en masse during August as they stop foraging for animal protein to feed their larvae and instead look for sugary products for themselves. If enough wasps attack they can overcome the defences of a hive, especially if they find a ‘back door’ – a hole not defended by the bees. And it’s not just wasps – bees will also start robbing (you may see them fighting at the entrances) and when it starts it’s impossible to stop.
Net result – there is no honey. Not a drop. I’ll need to feed them intensively with sugar syrup through September and October and with fondant through the winter. So if you see me lugging large containers of syrup – I’ll need about 40kg – that’s what I’m doing.
The other thing you might see in September is the departure of the drones. Not really a departure. More of an eviction. With the end of summer and with all the young queens having left the nest and mated there’s really no need for the drones. So after a summer of doing nothing at all and being fed by the workers (drones can’t even feed themselves) the rest of the colony will kick them out. And if they don’t leave on their own they’ll be dragged out and if they try to get back in they’ll be killed. Sorry boys, the party’s over.