Your second season

Synopsis: In your second season of beekeeping use swarm control to create an additional colony. It will improve your beekeeping and provide insurance against calamities. Make plans now and buy equipment in the sales.


Going by the sound of the wind and the rain outside, the beekeeping season is now well and truly over. Entirely appropriately, as it was the autumn equinox on Saturday, the first of the equinoctial gales (Storm Agnes) is currently battering the west coast and I didn’t see a single bee when I checked the hives earlier.

Storm Agnes

It’s too soon to review the season but, with the National Honey Show approaching and end-of-season 1 sales from some suppliers, it’s not too soon to think about equipment needs for next year.

If 2023 was your first season then I hope it was successful … you’re allowed to define success using broad and generous criteria.

Do you still have the colony you started with? Did you manage to get any honey? Have you started feeding them and treating them to control Varroa?

If you can answer yes to those three questions then it was probably successful.

If you answered no to the last question then you need to get a move on to ensure that you have bees at the start of next season.

And, to be frank, it’s only if your bees are doing well at the start of next season that you can properly conclude that this season was a success. Getting the colony to the autumn is like being three under for the first nine holes of a round of golf … it can still all go horribly wrong 2.

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Synopsis: Think laterally, use your imagination, hoard stuff … there’s lots you can repurpose to make both your beekeeping and bank balance better. And it’s something to fill the months until the season starts.


The big equipment suppliers – Thorne’s, Abelo, Dadant etc. – are very happy to sell you everything you need for your beekeeping … and a whole lot of stuff you probably don’t. A ‘hard sell’ approach to marketing isn’t needed, they simply provide an enticing catalogue or website and rely upon the long, cold, dark, wet and windy winter to do the rest.

It’s disturbingly effective … I’ve got the receipts.

An enthusiastic beginner might need a second mortgage after a trip to Rand or a winter afternoon in front of the fire browsing the catalogue.

Beekeeping is not an inexpensive pastime 1 when starting from scratch. Hives, beesuits, bees, smokers, hive tools, multi-purpose eke/clearer/insulated crownboards 2 and other essentials leave little change from a substantial chunk of moolah.

Buster the hivebarrow

Of course, with certain exceptions, buying shiny new kit makes things easy. Equipment is compatible, it’s been tested, built to a high standard and ‘just works’. It’s one less thing to worry about when starting out, and – midseason – it provides a quick fix to rectify an urgent problem.

However … as well as sometimes being painfully expensive 3, it turns out that the suppliers don’t sell everything you need. With a little effort, some opportunism, a sprinkling of imagination and those long winters you can rectify this and save money.

Today I’m going to discuss repurposing things you beg, borrow or steal find (or perhaps buy cheaply) to enhance, or even improve, your beekeeping.

And your bank balance.

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Munchity crunchity

Synopsis : 5%, 40%, 80%? What proportion of the Asian hornet’s diet is honey bees? It depends where and how you look, but we need to know to help mitigate the impact of the hornet invasion.


Munchity crunchity are the words that usually come to mind 1 when I watch a dragonfly chewing on whatever hapless insect it has just caught. There’s the crunching as the chitinous exoskeleton is pared away and discarded and the munching through the soft abdominal tissues and thoracic musculature 2

Golden-ringed dragonfly

I’m not sure whether munchity crunchity is onomatopoeic 3 or possibly just a phonestheme 4.

Whatever it is, it’s a term that nicely describes the sight – and sound if you’re close enough – of eating something crispy on the outside and squidgy in the middle, like a dragonfly eating a wasp, an otter eating a sea urchin, or a dinner guest scoffing the last of the dark chocolate pralines.

Munchity crunchity is not ((Yet.)) the accepted technical term describing how an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) worker dismembers a honey bee to prepare a protein-rich pellet to take back to the nest to feed the developing larvae, but perhaps it should be?

Although most of the press coverage (and inevitably most of the beekeeping coverage) has been about the decimation of honey bee colonies by Asian hornets, their success as an invasive insect is because they have catholic tastes and are opportunistic predators.

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Asian hornet week

Synopsis : The Asian hornet is here, perhaps to stay. Be vigilant and report any sightings as it will have a big impact on our bees and beekeeping.


Beekeeping involves observation, and good beekeeping requires good observation.

As the late, great, Yogi Berra said:

You can observe a lot by watching

It’s not just a case of looking, you have to see and interpret things as well.

What’s happening in the hive?

What’s not happening that should be happening?

Is anything significant new or unusual?

And these observations should not just be restricted to the times you are elbow deep in the brood box. Start on your way to the apiary … in fact, keep an eye on things all the time. What’s flowering, is it early or late? Have the migrant birds arrived (or left) yet?

I’ve mentioned phenology previously and, if you apply yourself, you get to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons.

And sometimes you see completely new things … to you or your environment. These probably indicate gradual – or potentially dramatic – changes to the environment that your bees share.

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Apiguard advice

Synopsis : Apiguard activity is temperature-dependent but the instructions are vague on the minimum temperatures needed for high efficacy. Is Apiguard appropriate for the bees in your area? How might you determine this?


A few months ago I discussed the instructions supplied with some formic or oxalic acid-containing miticides beekeepers use to control Varroa. The post was titled Infernal contradictions reflecting the state of the documentation provided, either with the purchased products or via the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) database of approved treatments.

Are the instructions clear, unambiguous, meaningful, accurate and helpful?

Sometimes … but not always 🙁 .


This time I’m turning my attention to Apiguard, a thymol containing miticide that – used properly – is very effective at reducing Varroa levels. It’s an organic treatment and there is no evidence that mites can become resistant to the active ingredient.

Effective and no resistance … what’s not to like?

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