Tuesday, September 27, 2022
HomeBeeKeepingAfter which there was calm

After which there was calm

Synopsis : The push and bustle of the primary half of the season is over and issues are calming down. Time to mirror on some features of the season to this point, and the significance of retaining good hive data.


Over the previous few seasons I’ve seen that there’s an inflexion level within the beekeeping season. It normally happens a bit after the summer time solstice, although the exact timing is variable. That is the time once I realise I’m now not ’simply maintaining’ (or generally ‘not maintaining’), however am as a substitute lastly ’in management’.

Maybe these aren’t the proper phrases?

It’s the purpose at which my beekeeping undergoes a major change, from being ’reactive’ to one thing a complete lot extra stress-free.

Late June and – each amazingly and reassuringly – I do know what’s taking place in these containers

The variable timing after all displays the behaviour of colonies within the previous weeks; the early spring construct up (Is it quick sufficient?), the – usually startlingly speedy – mid-spring growth and consequent swarm preparations, swarm management, queen mating (Has she? Hasn’t she?), the spring honey harvest and the necessity for extra feeding throughout the June hole.

All of which after all relies upon upon the climate and forage availability, explaining the variable timing.

After which, virtually like a swap has been flicked – and with little or no fanfare – the apiary feels quite a bit calmer.

There are not any surprising swarms hanging pendulously in close by bushes, no actual surprises once I open the hives, and no ’catch me if you happen to can’ virgin queens scuttling about.

As a substitute, the bees are simply getting on doing precisely what they need to be doing and – considerably by way of my reactive vs. passive beekeeping – precisely what I anticipate them to be doing.

It’s all downhill from right here

As I left one in all my Fife apiaries on Tuesday night I realised that we’ve simply handed the inflexion level this season.

All of the colonies had been doing fairly properly. Laying queens had been laying properly, although not as quick as a month in the past, foragers had been beginning to return with growing quantities of summer time nectar and supers had been starting to fill.

In fact, not each hive is at precisely the identical stage. Just a few are queenless, or comprise unmated virgins. Nevertheless, even these hives are behaving largely as anticipated.

While it’s a bittersweet second, it’s additionally reassuring to really feel up to the mark.

Bittersweet as a result of it means the majority of the beekeeping’ in my ‘beekeeping season’ is over.

Hive inspection frequency reduces from as soon as per week to as soon as a fortnight and even each three weeks. In spite of everything, the colonies are queenright, the brand new queen is laying properly and so they’ve bought house for brood and shops … what may probably go unsuitable?

Just a few issues … however they’re a lot much less probably to go unsuitable within the second half of the season to the primary.

In fact, that doesn’t imply that there’s not nonetheless work to do.

The summer time honey harvest can be busy, or a minimum of I hope it is going to. It’s simply beginning to choose up, with the blackberry and (usually not very reliable) lime.


That’s adopted by the season’s most necessary exercise – the preparation for winter and Varroa remedy. With out these I won’t be a beekeeper subsequent yr.

Nevertheless, none of those ‘second half’ capabilities are prone to produce any undesirable surprises – it ought to all be plain crusing.

The enjoyment of uncertainty

My transfer from the east coast to the west coast of Scotland has resulted in new challenges – extra changeable climate, completely different forage availability – and I’ve nonetheless bought quite a bit to be taught right here.

In distinction, regardless of the inevitable season-to-season variability, I really feel moderately assured with my east coast bees (I nonetheless have bees on each side of the nation). Solely ‘moderately’ as a result of they will nonetheless produce the odd shock.

Nevertheless, with each extra yr of beekeeping, I’m a lot much less prone to be confronted with a ”What the heck is that this hive doing?” scenario between now and late September than from April to June.

Nothing to see right here … an previous play cup in a queenright colony

The challenges are one of many issues I actually take pleasure in about beekeeping. It retains me on my toes. Figuring out the issues and (hopefully) fixing them improves my beekeeping.

Even not fixing them – and there have been a lot of these through the years – means I be taught what to not do subsequent time.

For some conditions I’ve bought a protracted psychological listing of what to not do … although little thought of what I ought to do.

No worries … maybe I’ll be taught subsequent yr 🙂 .

Climate dependence and queen mating

Three weeks in the past I discussed one in all my queen rearing colonies had torn down all of the growing queen cells, most likely in response to the emergence of a virgin queen beneath the queen excluder. The field was arrange with a Morris board, so was rendered queenless whereas beginning the queen cells, after which queenright when ending them.

One of many issues this expertise strengthened was the significance of continuous inspections on a queenright cell rearing colony.

Simply because issues all look OK above the queen excluder doesn’t imply that it’s not all going Pete Tong within the brood field.

My data confirmed that I had checked the brood field on the 18th of Might once I arrange the Morris board. Grafts had been added on the 25th and had been capped on the 30th.

By the 1st of June they’d all been torn down 🙁 .

On lastly checking the underside field early on the 4th of June I discovered a virgin queen scurrying round.

Mea culpa.

The unique queen had been clipped. The colony had presumably tried to swarm across the time the virgin emerged – or maybe slightly earlier – and resulted within the lack of the clipped queen .

June rainfall, Ardnamurchan 2022

After which, as we segued into the second week of June, the climate took a flip for the more serious.


I watched for pollen being collected by foragers on flying days. It’s usually taken as an indication that the hive is queenright. Nevertheless, good flying days have been few and much between. I’d additionally been away fairly a bit and there’s not an enormous quantity of pollen about at this level within the season.

Nevertheless, is it a technique to discriminate between queenright and queenless colonies?

I’ve watched identified queenless colonies which might be nonetheless accumulating pollen, although maybe at a decrease fee than one with a mated, laying queen.

Do you bear in mind the current dialogue about queenless colonies ’Hoping for one of the best however making ready for the worst.’ and preferentially drawing drone comb? These drones will nonetheless want a protein-rich eating regimen, so the colony – whether it is to have has any likelihood of passing its genes on – will most likely nonetheless gather pollen to feed the growing drones.

This explicit colony was accumulating pollen and was properly behaved once I had a short look on the tenth of June. My notes acknowledged: ’Behaving queenright, however no eggs 🙁 .

On the 22nd of June, the following time the climate and my availability allowed a examine, my notes had been fractionally extra upbeat: ‘No signal of Q or eggs, however no signal of laying employees both (let’s look on the intense aspect)’.

After which – on my subsequent examine – the 29th, there was a small patch of eggs, maybe 2-3 inches in diameter 🙂 .

My notes this time had been a bit shorter: ’Hu-bloody-rrah!’.

I additionally did some back-of-an envelope calculations which indicated that the egg used to rear the queen was most likely laid on the 16th of Might, and she or he was identified to be laying 44 days later.

Flying days and mating days

I normally reckon – primarily based upon revealed literature and accounts from way more skilled beekeepers – {that a} queen should mate inside 4 weeks of emergence .

It appears like this one simply met that deadline.

June temperatures, Ardnamurchan 2022

We had good climate within the first few days of June, however the center fortnight was chilly and/or moist, with the temperature not often exceeding 14°C.

Assuming the queen emerged on the final day of Might she most likely most likely went on her orientation flights within the good climate at the start of June.

As an apart, I’m unsure of the weather-dependence for queen orientation flights. For employees – primarily based upon hive entrance exercise – it’s fairly clear that they preferentially go on these flights on hotter days. Nevertheless, if queens restricted themselves to good climate – notably in additional northerly climates – they may restrict their probabilities of making profitable mating flights. Maybe queens go on orientation flights even when the climate is sub-optimal, in order that they’re prepared when there’s an acceptable ‘climate window’ for mating flights?

Anyway, again to this queen … I doubt she went on her mating flights in early June as a result of there have been no eggs within the colony once I checked on the tenth or the 22nd. My eyesight isn’t excellent, however I regarded very fastidiously. There have been undoubtedly ‘polished cells’, however no eggs.

The temperature reached a balmy 19.4°C on the 24th of June (a day with solely 7mm of rain!) and she or he was laying just a few days later.

With the ability to relate queen age with the climate helps decide whether or not she could have missed her likelihood to mate efficiently. That is necessary by way of the event of laying employees, or the colony administration to keep away from this.

The extremes of the season

For these readers residing in areas the place the climate is much more reliable this won’t be one thing you ever take into consideration.

Queens simply get mated.

No pacing backwards and forwards within the apiary like an expectant father ready for the excellent news.

Fortunate you.

However, there are occasions when this climate dependence may be related. Early or late within the season it’s probably that the climate can be wetter, windier and cooler. At these instances you additionally want to consider the provision of enough (and enough high quality – they do not want later within the season) drones for queen mating.

Queen rearing – or queen alternative of a colony that goes queenless – may be profitable, however is it prone to be dependably profitable?

On the west price of Scotland this enforces a ‘little and infrequently’ regime to my queen rearing. Quite than utilizing plenty of sources to provide a dozen or two at a time I do them in small batches. Some batches fail – grafts don’t ‘take’, colonies abandon cells, queens fail to get mated – however others succeed.

Little and infrequently – mini nucs (some balanced on an unoccupied – and now unneeded – bait hive)

I’ve bought a batch of mini-nucs out within the backyard now, and can most likely attempt one or two extra batches earlier than the season attracts to an in depth.

Our most reliable (and these items are all relative 🙂 ) pollen and nectar is the heather which continues to be a fortnight or so away. If that coincides with good climate then there’s an excellent likelihood for some late season queen rearing.

World warming

However don’t overlook world warming. This impacts all beekeepers whether or not residing within the balmy south or the frozen north. World warming, and extra particularly local weather change, is resulting in extra climate extremes.

Excessive climate is turning into extra frequent

Hotter, wetter and windier is the probably forecast. The primary of those may assist your queen mating, however torrential rain or gale pressure winds won’t.

And that’s earlier than you think about the affect on the forage your bees depend on … which I’ll take care of one other time.

Extra misbehaving queens

The circumstances for queen rearing on the east coast of Scotland are much more reliable. I’ve been busily requeening colonies, making up nucs and clipping and marking mated queens for the final couple of months.

Most of this has all been very easy. All of it varieties a part of the ’reactive’ a part of the season I referred to above.

If a colony makes swarm preparation I make up a nuc with the previous queen and go away the queenless colony for per week. I then destroy all of the emergency queen cells and add a mature queen cell or a body of eggs/larvae – in both case derived from a colony with higher genetics.

In the end the brand new queen emerges, will get mated and begins laying. I then mark and clip her.

This time final yr I mentioned a queen that fainted once I picked her as much as clip her. That queen recovered, I clipped and marked her the next week with out incident and she or he continues to be going sturdy.

Though I’d by no means seen it earlier than, It turned out that a number of readers had skilled the identical factor, so it’s clearly not that uncommon an occasion.

Pining for the fjords?

One in every of my good colonies – #38 within the bee shed – began to make swarm preparations within the third week of Might. I eliminated the previous queen to a nuc, left the colony for an extra week after which diminished the queen cells, leaving only one which subsequently emerged on the twond of June (I additionally ‘donated’ one spare queen cell to a neighbouring hive that was additionally making swarm preparations).

Colony #38 wasn’t checked once more till the 20th when I discovered an excellent trying mated, laying queen.

I gently picked her up by the wings.

She didn’t feint 🙂 .

She died 🙁 .

That’s an ex-queen

No less than, I’m fairly positive she died.

She curled up right into a foetal place and confirmed no motion for quarter-hour. There might need been a slight twitching of an antenna, however the common growth and contraction of the stomach throughout respiratory was not seen. I wasn’t even sure her antennae moved.

I had different hives to examine so I popped her right into a JzBz queen cage and left her with the colony while I bought on with issues.

After I returned – an hour or so later – she was nonetheless trying like an ex-queen.

I had little selection however to depart her mendacity on a bit of paper beneath the queen excluder . She was shortly surrounded by a team of workers.

Mourning or shifting?

I closed the hive up, crossed my fingers and went off to a different apiary.

Like mom, like daughter

The next week the colony was indisputably queenless.

Their behaviour was much less good and – a way more particular signal – they’d produced quite a few emergency queen cells from eggs the queen had laid. I knocked all of the queen cells again and united colony #38 with one other hive.

Uniting colony #38 with one other after the queen ‘popped her clogs’

One week later they had been efficiently united.

Solely later, when evaluating my notes with final season, did I realise that the queen that died was a daughter of the queen that fainted final yr. I ponder whether the ‘dropping lifeless’ is only a extra excessive model of the fainting I had beforehand noticed?

This means it may be an inherited attribute (as a minimum of one of many feedback to the fainting submit final yr instructed).

For readability I ought to add that I’m sure that I didn’t instantly hurt the queen once I picked her up. She was strolling round very calmly on the body. I waited till she was strolling in the direction of me, bending on the ‘waist’ (both to examine a cell, or crossing a defect within the comb) so pushing her wings away from the stomach. I held her gently by each wings and instantly dropped her into my twist and mark cage.

No fumbling, no squeezing, no messing.

I’ve carried out this quite a bit and it was a ‘textbook instance’.

Besides she by no means moved once more 🙁 .

And like sister?

If, as appears doable, that is an inherited attribute will probably be fascinating to see whether or not the neighbouring colony I donated the spare queen cell (from colony #38) to additionally exhibits the identical undesirable phenotype .

Not a lot ‘taking part in lifeless’ and ‘being lifeless’ when dealt with.

The unique fainting queen is at present heading a full colony in one other apiary. I’ve had no trigger to deal with her since final June. She didn’t faint the second time I picked her up (for marking) however I would see how she reacts subsequent time I’m within the apiary.

If she faints once more, and notably if the sister queen reared this season faints (or worse 🙁 ), I’ll merely unite the colony with one other.

Firstly, will probably be getting a bit late within the season for reliable queen mating and, secondly, it’s clearly an inherited genetic trait that I don’t need to take care of sooner or later.

It doesn’t actually matter how mild, productive or prolific the bees are if the queen can’t address being (gently however routinely) dealt with. It doesn’t occur usually, however the danger of ending up with a corpse once I manhandle her right into a Cupkit cage, or must repeat the marking, makes some features of beekeeping impractical.

Nicot Cupkit queen rearing system

However look on the intense aspect … will probably be a very simple phenotype to detect and choose towards 😉 .

Hive data

If there’s a take dwelling message from these two anecdotes it’s that good hive data are each helpful and necessary. They assist with planning the season forward and avoiding actual drawback areas of colony administration.

I take advantage of a (now propolis encrusted) digital voice recorder (and spreadsheet) when inspecting a number of hives

Much better to know that the queen is nearly definitely too previous to mate than proceed to hope (in useless) that it’ll work out. If you’re sure – inside a day or two – of her emergence date you may intervene proactively (e.g. by uniting the colony, or supplementing it with open brood) to delay or stop the inevitable growth of laying employees.

By additionally watching the climate you may also work out when she ought to have been capable of get out and mate.

Equally, by retaining a pedigree (which sounds fancy, however needn’t be) of your queens, you may keep away from deciding on for undesirable traits. These fainting/dying queens may be uncommon, however there are different behaviours that may even be avoidable.

The unique queen in colony #38 might need been a ‘one off’, but when her daughters additionally behave equally then I ought to keep away from utilizing them to rear extra.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “To lose one fainting queen could also be considered unlucky, to lose two appears like carelessness poor file retaining”.




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