Our Honeybee Colony Loss by Peter March 2024

Sadly we’ve lost one of the colonies of honeybees. It’s not unusual to lose colonies over winter but it’s always sad to see. There can be any number of reasons – intense cold can be a factor although dampness is more of a problem. The queen might die of old age. It could be disease or varroa, there are any number of reasons for a colony not surviving winter although the most common one is starvation – not having enough stores going into winter (the beekeeper maybe taking too much honey or not feeding them during the coldest months). In this case, it was down to wasp robbing in the autumn – and Autumn was very extended with the wasps surviving right into December – and I think the Queen became a casualty of the wasps during this time. I knew the wasps had taken a lot of the stores so I’ve been feeding fondant (my home-made recipe – you should see the mess it makes of my hob) but I could see there just weren’t enough bees and when I checked the hive on Feb 1st they were all dead.

Some beekeepers will put out wasp traps right through the summer and in this way kill literally thousands of them. Personally, I think this is cruel and that the wasps have just as much right to be there as the bees – and also wasps are no problem at all until August when their own queen has stopped laying so they have no more larvae to feed. Wasps, unlike bees, are carnivorous so for most of the year they are searching for grubs, caterpillars and insects to feed the colony. Without larvae to feed they instead look for sugar for themselves and lacking a long tongue to access nectar they favour rotting fruit and of course honey – and once they start ‘robbing’ (they wouldn’t describe it as robbing of course) it’s almost impossible to stop. I try to minimise it by restricting hive access to a small hole but while bees can defend themselves to some extent they are vegetarians and don’t have the jaw strength of the wasps.

As to what we can do about it – well short of extensive trapping of them not very much. If there are windfall apples left on the ground that helps by providing an alternative sugary food source in the Autumn – though that might just attract them. Last year was a ‘good wasp year’ – conditions were excellent so there were just a lot of them. Maybe I should have been closing the hive gaps earlier than I did and maybe I shouldn’t have given the bees an Autumn feed to boost their stores. We live and, hopefully, learn.

But there are worse things than wasps – the Asian Hornet is on the way and in parts of France it has wiped out thousands of honeybee colonies as well as having a massive impact on overall biodiversity. I’ll keep you posted…

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