Tuesday 30 September 2008

The good weather appears to be over, just as the ivy was beginning to flower, and the bees looked as though they had a chance of building up their honey stores for the winter. That, of course, makes feeding even more important. I don't normally do it, apart from small or newly-established colonies which don't have an accumulation of honey in the broodbox. This year, however, everything except Hive 1, which is too weak to manage so much, is getting 8kg of sugar, and I'll be watching them closely over the winter. It's not what I like doing, but for once, after two dreadful summers. it's worht it in order to avoid the risk of good colonies starving.

Normally, if a colony doesn't store enough to get through the winter, it's best to get rid of it and its genes. With only a few colonies, I've begun to think that it's better, instead of letting it starve, to keep taking frames out so that it never becomes big enough to raise drones and pass on its genes. Then it can be requeened from a better hive when I'm ready.

Bad weather in summer is very bad for the imported strains, which don't mate properly in poor conditions. So their queens will have been failing, while native types will have had more success. So there should have been some selection in favour of the better-adapted strains I'm interested in. Doubtless poor mating will have contributed to the 30% of hives which failed over winter, given the number of queens which are either imported, or raised from imported stocks.

Sunday 21 September 2008

We've had a couple of days which have been warm enough for drones to fly freely, so hopefully the new queen should be well mated by now. They mate with a dozen or so drones, and need to get the number reasonably high or they fizzle out over the winter. I've lost a lot of colonies that way in the past, but waiting till late summer or early autumn seems to be giving better results so far. Hopefully I've now got the four hives headed by well-mated queens, but since three of them were raised this year, it's impossible to be completely certain.

I've dosed them all with sugar syrup containing fumidil-B, an antibiotic derived from a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus. It treats Nosema, a bacterial disease of the bee's gut, which shortens its life and leads to the collapse of colonies over the winter. I've no proof that my bees have it, but I'm suspicious, and I don't currently have access to a microscope. It'll do no harm to be certain.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Hive 1, the small swarm, is behaving in the usual agitated manner you get with colonies which have been queenless for a while. I don't need to open that one to see what state it's in! Hive 2, the former 'foreign' colony, has nice patches of flat-capped worker brood, and lots of eggs and young brood. So all's well there. Hives 3 and 4 both have decent sized, but slowly shrinking, broodnests.

The only concern is that none of the hives have as much in the way of stores as I'd expect this time of year. I've been hearing of other peoples' colonies starving in the vile weather; mine are nowhere near that bad, but will need feeding as a precaution. I wouldn't normally expect to do that with an established colony, but after two terrible summers it's as well to be cautious.

I extracted what honey there was the other day, a miserable ten pounds. That's ten pounds more than I got last year, which was even worse in that respect, but at least it brightened up in time for the bees to gather stores for themselves.

Thursday 4 September 2008

There's one piece of good news, Hive 2 (the 'foreign' hive) now has a large expanse of eggs, so hopefully that queen's going to be OK. Hive 1 (the little swarm) has a capped queen cell by now; I went through it on Tuesday and broke down all but one uncapped cell. That way I eliminated every queen being raised from a larva that was too old to convert properly. Hopefully they'll be OK, but the colony is decidedly small to be raising a queen.

Apart form that, it's been raining all week, and my head is splitting.