[to paraphrase Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore] … actually, I love the smell of propolis more or less anytime. During the quiet winter period the warm, spicy scent of propolis is a lovely reminder of hive inspections during warmer times. It’s one of the characateristic smells I associate with beekeeping, along with the lemony scent of the alarm pheremone – something best avoided – and the pretty rank smell of brood frames sterilised in the steam wax extractor (definitely best avoided).
Clearer boards …
A couple of night ago I extracted the summer honey collected by the bees since moving to Scotland. There were only a small number of supers to extract; many of the colonies I brought North were nucs and have only recently moved up into full boxes, coupled with it being a rather poor summer. I’d added clearer boards under the supers the day before removing them then stacked the supers on top of my honey warming cabinet for a couple of days until I had time to do the extracting. By keeping the supers warm – the temperature in the headspace above the top super in the stack was only about 30ºC – the honey is much easier to extract than when cold and viscous.
The other effect of warming the supers is that the propolis softens and then sticks to just about everything it comes into contact with. The frames in these supers hadn’t been moved for 6-7 weeks and were heavily propilised to the runners and each other. Inevitably, prising the frames out and manhandling them in and out of the extractor meant my hands got covered with propolis. Like cooking with onions, the smell of propolis lingers well into the following day, irrespective of how well you wash your hands.
It’s been a rather poor second half of the season and many of the frames were uncapped. However, the honey – even when warmed – couldn’t be shaken out of the frames indicating that the water content was low enough to not ferment (and when measured it was almost all about 17%). The honey was sufficiently runny to filter through coarse and fine filters directly into 30 lb honey buckets for storage before jarring. This is the first honey produced by my bees in Fife and I’ll have to get some new labels designed that correctly lists its provenance.
Fondant block and Apiguard
Finally, before disappearing for a few days to Andalusia I added a queen excluder and an empty super to every hive to accommodate a 12.5 kilo split block of bakers fondant. This is a really easy way to feed colonies up for the autumn. They take the fondant down more slowly than they would take thick (2:1 w/v) syrup which I think ensures that the queen has ample space to keep laying – these will be the important winter bees that get the colony through to the next season. It also doesn’t seem to encourage either robbing or wasps – perhaps because there’s nothing to spill. It’s also a whole lot easier to prepare … just slice a block in half with a breadknife. I simply add the fondant face down over the queen excluder, reduce the entrance if the colony isn’t at full strength, close them up and walk away*.
* I also added a tray of Apiguard to a couple of colonies as the first stage in autumn Varroa treatment. The majority of the colonies are going to receive vaporised oxalic acid but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of the effect on queen laying, so two colonies in one apiary received Apiguard.
… pretty much describes my August. Having moved from the Midlands to Fife at the very end of July, with a new house and new job to sort out, I’ve had almost no spare time for my bees. Fortunately, August is usually a pretty quiet month. The swarming urge is more or less over and – with good weather – the colonies should be piling in the nectar. Unless you’re queen rearing – and I’m not – it’s a time to sit back and look forward to the fruits of their labours.
All the colonies I moved up in a van settled well in their new apiaries. The majority are in a temporary site while my beehouse (about which more in a later post) and main apiary are prepared. The remainder are in a friend’s garden, in a lovely sheltered South East facing spot. The fortnight after moving them the weather was very unsettled and there were reports on the SBAi forum about the risk of starvation. It’s been unseasonably wet throughout July (200% of the 30 year average rainfall) and there was nearly no nectar available. Large colonies were OK, surviving on their stores or even collecting a bit here and there. In contrast, nucs were very low on stores and dangerously close to starvation. I’ve noticed this type of threshold effect before, where only the larger colonies have sufficient foragers to exploit limited nectar sources. I know that others think that the colonies most at risk are those with a large proportion of open brood – whether nucs or full colonies. This might be the same thing, just described in a different way. These nucs were expanding fast and had quite a bit of open brood. I gave all of them a block or two of fondant, either dropped directly into the feeder of the Everynucs, or laid across the tops of the frames in Paynes poly nucs.
Within days the weather picked up, the colonies quickly used up their fondant and several of the larger nucs (the 8-framers in butchered Paynes poly nucs) all started running out of space. I moved these into full sized hives. At the same time the full colonies had started piling in the nectar so a few were given extra supers in the hope of getting a bit of honey late in the season.
Give them more supers …
As soon as this period of settled weather looks like ending it’ll be time to start thinking about preparations for the winter. This means taking and extracting any honey, Varroa treatment and feeding up the colonies. I usually like to get my Varroa treatment completed early as Apiguard (which I routinely use) has a tendency to stop the queen from laying. On warm early autumn days the smell of thymol in Apiguard-treated hives can be overpowering. However, this year I’m going to use vaporised oxalic acid on the majority of colonies. I’ve used this a few times already this year – on colonies with undesirably high mite levels early in the season and on swarms – and think it’s very well tolerated by the colony, with no apparent interruption to egg laying by the queen. By treating three times at 5 day intervals – to account for the sealed brood in the colony – at the same time as I feed fondant I hope to let the queen lay well into the autumn, generating the all important winter bees that will get the colony through to the next season.
Note … this post has been sitting unfinished on my Mac for a week or more as I struggle with an endless pile of boxes to unpack. The weather looks to be gradually deteriorating and the supers will probably be taken off this weekend.