That’s it, our beekeeping season is all but over – and to be honest it’s not been the best year for us and many other beekeepers. Early swarms, damp summer whilst the nectar was flowing – and then two strong colonies whilst there was little or no nectar flow at all meant that we ended up with a very poor honey harvest this year.
Despite our optimism and the adding of supers in the warm spell we had towards the end of July, the net result for us from three surviving colonies has been just 50lb of honey. Compared to our best year (2011 – with about 180lb off three hives) that’s a pretty depressing crop.
On our last visit to the hives on 27th July we were adding more supers because the weather seemed to have turned and the bees were out in force and filling up the cells with honey. That soon passed though, and within a couple of weeks we were seeing bees bearding on the front of hive 4.
Like many things in the world of beekeeping there are a number of beliefs about why the bees “beard”. This basically means you get a gathering of bees on the front of the hive not doing much at all. I tend to subscribe to the theory that this is not related to swarming (certainly not in the latter part of the season) but is a sign of very poor nectar flow. The beard is made up of mature worker bees who, without sources to go forage on, remain at the hive when they would normally be out on the wing. If they stayed inside the hive itself it would cause an overheating problem, and they’d also be getting in the way of the house bees in the discharge of their duty. In colder weather these bees do go into the hive, but gathered together they could easily survive outside on a moderately cool evening.
The downside to this is that bees at home means less honey. Instead of being out there gathering additional nectar these bees are back home, chilling out, and eating stores.
By the time we got to do our first extraction on second weekend in August the honey store level since our last visit had already started to deplete. We took off that which what was ripe (nectar that which had been reduced to around 19% water by the bees) – but left on a super on each of the three active hives in the hope that they would find a nectar flow in the next couple of weeks. Not all the super frames that we extracted on this visit were capped – but they all passed the ripeness shake test. This consists of holding the frames horizontal and vigorously shaking them. If honey runs out of the cells then its not ripe.
That first extraction resulted in just 40lbs of honey – the vast majority of which came off hives 1 and 4. Having given them a couple of weeks to see if they could fill up the remaining supers, our second extraction (26th August) resulted in just another 10lbs.
A poor year indeed – but I have to say that the honey itself is very nice. We’d normally sell through a couple of retailers as well as off the doorstep but there’s not enough this year. I will always keep back about 6-8 jars for my own consumption, plus the landlord where the hives are kept gets his share – and then there’s a whole bunch of regulars who have bought our honey from day one who I’d not want to let down. Our tiny stock is already disappearing fast.
Our priority now was to get a winter feed on ASAP – which we started on 28th August. Our first syrup mix (roughly 2kg of granulated sugar to 1-litre water) was made up from 5 x 5kg sacks Tate & Lyle sugar that we’d bought earlier in the year when it was on special offer.
This made up roughly 40Kg of syrup which we pour into Jumbo Feeders on top of the hives. The bees will take this down into the hive over the next few days, then reduce the water content down to just below 19% before capping off to store for winter. If they take all this down we’ll have to mix up some more and keep adding until they no longer take it down. In order to last the winter each hive should have at least 30lb of honey.
We are going on holiday for a week in the beginning of September after which we’ll do a final Varroa mite treatment which should be our last duty before it all starts again next February/March.