Summer doldrums

Synopsis : Weather, nucs, queens, swarms and wax. A potpourri of topics that have entertained me while waiting for the heather flow to start … if it starts. 

Introduction

Maybe it’s old age 1 but the calendar seems to be speeding up these days. The dawn chorus is just a chirrup or two, there are mushrooms appearing everywhere, and I can sense the end of the season galloping towards me.

Or, maybe this is just a bit of a weird season.

It barely seems to have got started before it feels like it’s about to end.

The peak swarming period in my part(s) of Scotland has long gone 2 and the ‘June gap’ didn’t really happen, perhaps because the summer flowers started early. It’s now late July and the lime and blackberry are over. There’s some rosebay willow herb left, though not much and the heather has yet to properly start.

Erratic, just flowering heather

These are the summer doldrums; the time between the end of swarming and taking the summer honey off. It’s a relatively quiet time for my beekeeping. It’s too late (in Scotland, at least in my experience) for dependable queen rearing and it’s too early for any serious winter preparations.

There’s no longer a need to conduct weekly colony inspections. I’m reasonably confident that my colonies won’t swarm now, though I expect a few might supersede 3.

That doesn’t mean they won’t swarm … it just means my confidence might be misplaced 😉 .

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s no beekeeping to do … it’s just that I’ve got a little more time to complete what I need to do, and a bit of spare time to do a few other related activities.

And, disappointingly, it looks as though the summer honey crop is going to be very poor this year, so perhaps this hiatus is effectively the end of the practical beekeeping season … 🙁 .

Weather watch

Beekeeping is greatly influenced by the weather. If it’s too cold the bees will not fly, if there’s a drought the nectar flow is likely to be disappointing, and if afternoon rain is predicted you’ll plan your inspections for the morning.

Most of my beekeeping is ‘coastal’ – I’m either influenced by easterlies coming in off the North Sea, or low pressure systems rolling in from the Atlantic. As a consequence, the weather can be ‘changeable’.

This often means wet and/or cool.

It’s not unusual to find my Fife east coast apiary blanketed in haar, while those further inland are 8°C warmer and bathed in sunshine. On the west coast the weather can change in minutes, from a balmy sunny morning to a claggy drizzle.

Dreich as it’s called in Scotland (apparently the ‘most popular Scots word’).

I therefore spend time planning things based on the (disappointingly spurious) predictions made by the weather apps on my phone.

My recent Fife trip predicted a wet morning followed by a dry and sunny afternoon with rain reappearing in the evening. I therefore planned to drive across in the morning, deliver honey when it was dry and then shift a bunch of nucs once the rain started (helpfully ensuring all the bees would be ‘at home’).

By mid-afternoon the rain was torrential as I carried increasingly soggy cardboard boxes full of jarred honey to the farm shops I supply.

The rain had stopped well before I got to the apiary to move the nucs and the bees were flying again.

Perfect … not.

Weather apps

I previously used the app Dark Sky for local weather forecasting. It seemed reasonably accurate and was particularly good at predicting what was likely to happen locally within the next hour or so. Unfortunately, Dark Sky was bought out by Apple in 2020 and killed off completely at the end of last year.

Apparently, some of the code was integrated into the Apple Weather app, but that’s little use to me as my phone is Android 🙁 .

I’ve therefore been reduced to using the BBC weather app and the one provided by the Met Office. The BBC predictions claim to be based upon Met Office data, but it’s not unusual for them to be wildly divergent from those made by the ‘official’ Met Office app.

Wildly divergent, but both wrong.

Of the two, the BBC app is more wrong and more often wrong. Not a commendable feature.

Neither are much good at providing accurate local weather predictions over short (hours) timescales.

As I carried those soggy cardboard boxes into the shop the BBC was still confidently showing a little white cloud icon with the sun peeking through behind it.

Useless.

If readers have a suggestion for a Dark Sky replacement (for Android) please leave a comment – it’s ‘hyper-local’ and short term predictions that most interest me. In the meantime, it turns out that the Apple Weatherkit API (essentially the code that accesses the underlying data) incorporates a lot of the Dark Sky functionality and is used by Android weather apps such as Real Weather, Forecaster and Weawow 4.

Are these any use?

All of which was a slight digression …

Heather watch

The lime here was hopeless. I think it was warm, dry and calm enough for the bees to access it, and the trees to yield, on only a couple of days. The bramble has flowered well and it looks as though it will be a bumper year for blackberries 5 but the main summer/late summer nectar here is heather.

Having consulted the weather apps I ventured up the hills behind the house to have a look at how the heather is progressing. There is a bit in the ‘garden’, but it’s a lot more sheltered down here so doesn’t give a proper indication of how well it is likely to flower.

It was lovely to be out. The hills were quiet, only the plaintive calls of golden plover on the higher slopes could be heard over the wind. There were bachelor parties of stags, all with antlers still ‘in velvet’, up on the ridges. They’re all pals at the moment, but will be implacable enemies once the rut starts in 8-10 weeks.

Heather hills

Some patches of heather were in full flower, and busy with bumble bees, but a lot was still at least 7-10 days away from flowering. Disappointingly, almost as much looked dried up and withered, presumably after the protracted drought we had in May/June.

The moors here are unmanaged and the heather is mediocre to poor at the best of times. We never get those unbroken swathes of purple stretching to the horizon you see on the managed grouse moors … but I’d much prefer no muirburn, and the chance of seeing hen harriers and eagles, than a few extra supers of heather honey.

Inevitably, the rain I got caught in coming off the hill wasn’t predicted 🙁 .

Late season inspections

Colony inspections are less important once the chance of swarming is over.

How do I know it’s over?

Firstly because most of my colonies have been requeened and secondly because the weather and nectar flow have contrived to limit midsummer colony expansion.

I’m therefore inspecting once a fortnight now, and am unlikely to look through a box much after mid-August. I’ll still have to open them for feeding and treating, but I won’t be lifting many frames.

I keep some of my Fife bees in a friend’s garden. When I arrived on Monday he excitedly described the two swarms he’d seen in the intervening fortnight, one of which had occupied his chimney 🙁 .

Having apologised profusely and talked through the options I finally got round to opening some hives to review the ‘scene of the crime’.

I’d moved the nucs from this site the night before (without opening them) but was pretty confident none would have been strong enough to swarm … not least because the boxes felt disconcertingly light 6.

All the hives had 2023 queens. Although it’s possible they could have swarmed, the queen wouldn’t have got far as she was clipped, so the bees would return to the hive. They would then have swarmed a bit later, perhaps when the virgin(s) emerged 7.

Perhaps the first swarm my friend saw was with the clipped queen and the one 6 days later (that occupied the chimney) was headed by a virgin?

However, when I checked, all the hives had the clipped, marked queens I’d last seen a fortnight earlier.

Phew!

n+1 queens

But, it turned out, there were more queens than there were hives.

One of the boxes had an open queen cell on the central edge of a frame with a – very obviously – newly emerged virgin queen walking around on the comb. She was very large, very pale and very ‘furry’. The open cell still had the flap attached and I wouldn’t be surprised if she had emerged within the previous hour.

It was a fortnight since I’d opened the box. Time enough for them to start a cell from an egg, and for the queen to emerge.

However, the box also contained the queen I had expected to find there, and she was laying reasonably well, marching confidently 8 about being tended by her retinue of workers.

This looked like supersedure in action …

I could see nothing wrong with the ‘old’ queen. The brood pattern was good, the ratio of eggs to larvae to sealed brood looked about right, she was not being shunned or chivvied by the workers.

In circumstances like this I assume that the bees know best. There seems little point in pre-judging the outcome by culling one or other of the queens. When I next visit (early August) there may be two laying queens in the box.

I was relieved the bees in the chimney – and those dropping down the flue, covered in soot, onto the cream coloured carpet! – weren’t mine.

Most swarms travel 300+ metres

It’s worth remembering that several studies show that swarms relocate at least 300 metres when choosing a new nest site.

Unfortunately I’d had to piratize the bait hive from the apiary when I’d run out of brood boxes or the swarm may have ended up there rather than the chimney (and the carpet 🙁 ).

Managing nucs

I’m planning to overwinter several nucs. Most were prepared by harvesting a frame or two of brood in all stages from a strong colony and slipping in a mature queen cell, or a virgin queen I’d left to emerge in the incubator.

All but a couple now have mated queens.

Making nucs for overwintering, and then maintaining them through late summer and early autumn, can be a bit tricky.

A nuc in a bigger box

The earlier you start them the more likely the queen will mate successfully. However, you then risk the rapidly expanding colony outgrowing the box … you can plan to overwinter a nuc and end up with a full colony.

Slightly better survival chances, but not ideal if you want to sell overwintered nucs 😉 .

Conversely, if you make the nucs up late there’s a chance the queen may not get successfully mated (and you have less time to check the brood she does produce) and you then risk laying workers developing, or have to unite the bees back with another colony.

I prefer to make the nucs early and then bleed brood off, using it to strengthen other colonies, so delaying swarming.

This requires reasonably careful judgement of the strength of the nucleus colony, the rate at which the queen is laying and keeping a watchful eye on the forage available and the weather.

I usually take a frame or two out, replacing it with foundation or drawn comb, whilst still ensuring there are sufficient stores in the box. It’s obviously a bit easier doing this with a six frame nuc box than a five framer.

If I get things right the size of the colony plateaus. As the weather cools I stop removing brood to ensure the nuc is very strong going into autumn.

Wax works

So, even this late in the season there’s still a need for a few new frames. What’s more, I’ve expanded my colony numbers on the west coast this year and so need a dozen more supers for the – inevitably crushingly disappointing 9 – heather harvest.

The frames aren’t a problem. In a recent clear-out of the shed I found hundreds of DN5’s and SN5’s I didn’t know I had 🙂 .

But no super foundation 🙁 .

The heather nectar flow is unlikely to be good enough for them to draw a box-full of comb on foundationless frames. In addition, I need some frames with foundation to interleave the foundationless frames or risk them drawing brace comb all over the place.

This is the first foundation I’ve bought for a year or three so was surprised at the price. Surprised as in shocked … there was nothing pleasant about it. Ten packets of premium foundation are the best part of £100.

Fortunately, the shed clear-out had also unearthed a box of extracted wax. It’s not high quality and it’s certainly not good enough for candle making, or furniture polish or – heaven forbid – soap.

Not pretty, but valuable

But, conveniently, it happens to be almost exactly the right amount to trade for 100 sheets of premium super foundation 🙂 .

Which is what I did.

Wax extractors

With global warming solar wax extractors might seem like a tempting option. I built one years ago when I lived in the Midlands and it worked well … as long as I remembered to keep turning it to face the sun. However, it was too small and I was moving to Scotland (!), so it was abandoned, or repurposed.

I’ve also built a steam wax extractor. I butchered the metal side of a washing machine to make the floor of the extractor, probably one of the more dangerous DIY jobs I’ve completed 10. It worked for several years, but always leaked – wax, water and steam – and, more recently, I gave in to temptation and bought one from Thorne’s.

It works well.

I can melt out 20 frames from one fill of the steam generator 11 and – importantly – at the time of the year I’m producing the frames (the beekeeping season) I can run the extractor late in the evening or on wet days (when there are no flying bees … and no sun).

Thorne’s Easi-steam

I’m aware there are many other ways of recovering wax but I don’t produce enough to need oil drums and gas burners cluttering up the place when not in use.

I keep good wax – most brace comb, super frames etc. – and extract it separately. This stuff isn’t traded in. However, everything else gets chucked into the steamer and extracted. I then re-melt the wax with water in a slo-cooker, leaving it to settle and cool. The propolis and other rubbish sinks and can be scraped off the block to leave something that – whilst not being exactly pretty – can be traded for some shockingly expensive foundation 😉 .

And finally … a conundrum

The last colony I inspected on Monday had two supers over a single brood box. On lifting the supers off there were a couple of dozen drones – or, more accurately, drone corpses – wedged through the queen excluder.

The photo is misleading as I’ve turned the queen excluder upside down. These drones were attempting to go from the super into the brood box.

Inverted queen excluder and drone corpses

When I’ve seen this before it’s either because there are laying workers in the super or the queen had snuck above the excluder and the super frames were drawn on drone foundation.

But this colony has not been queenless and there was no sign of brood in the supers. 

I’m perplexed … how did the drones get there? The supers are kept largely covered during inspections.

Answers on a postcard please …


 

Footnotes

  1. Late middle age?!
  2. Though some beekeepers are still losing swarms, see below.
  3. Again, see below.
  4. Which is a sufficiently stupid name I’m unlikely to try it.
  5. Which will please our dog who loves them!
  6. And were short on stores when I finally checked them.
  7. It’s semantics, but is this a prime swarm or a cast? Prime means first/best, but also describes a swarm headed by a mated queen. Hmmm.
  8. If you’ll excuse the anthropomorphising.
  9. Crushingly … geddit?
  10. Now, a decade later, the scar tissue is almost unnoticeable.
  11. Mine, not the one Thorne’s sell.

62 thoughts on “Summer doldrums

  1. shirley sharpe

    try Wunderground for your local weather app – it picks up any local weather stations, and I mean garden related local weather stations that people have and that happily upload their data to the web.

    e.g. this one
    Glen Fyne
    Station ID: ICAIRNDO3
    Lat: 56.30Lon: -4.87

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Shirley

      I know Wunderground and my weather station feeds data to it (IACHAR11) but I don’t know how to get it to reliably tell me it’s going to rain in an hour. I guess knowing the wind direction and if there were sufficient personal weather stations you could work it out, but it used to be so easy on Dark Sky 🙁 .

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Tony Gowland

        I like wunderground. It’s a bit more complicated, but I find the cloud radar maps useful and the expanded day data shows coming rain. It’s not perfect, but more accurate than the Met Office or BBC.
        I looked at the ones you mentioned. Real weather was rubbish. It said it was raining in Tayport, but it was a nice bright afternoon. Forecaster has a nice simple interface, and the accuracy seemed to be reasonable. I couldn’t find the third.
        I’ve friends who swear by Yr, the Norwegian Met Office, but I’ve no experience with it.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Tony

          Not sure how I missed this …

          It’s always nice and sunny in Tayport surely? I’m testing a few at the moment and YR does seem reasonable. It got the rain timing and amount (I’m not in Tayport 😉 ) about right yesterday evening.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  2. Nick Milton

    !I can recommend Acuweather
    it gives local highly specific forecasts for up to 4 hours based (I imagine) on real time satellilte data.

    And it’s basic offering is free, with optional paid upgrades. And it works on Android.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Mark

      Many thanks. I edited the comment to leave out anything incriminating 😉 … I’ll check out the app for the accuracy of local, short term forecasts. The web interface looks a bit like Windy which I’m familiar with.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Julian Cox

    Your description of wax recovery suggests that you extract wax from brood frames as you say you keep the wax from brace comb and supers? Your brood frames have been treated with Apivar which must then contaminate the wax that you exchange for foundation. Your wax is potentially used to make foundation for supers and can then contaminate honey. Sorry if I have misunderstood. If you do pass on brood wax, what measures do Thornes etc use to prevent contamination?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Julian

      You’d have to ask Thorne’s that … they ‘buy’ UK wax and probably import wax as well. I’ve no idea what checks they conduct. The foundation I received will also likely have miticide residues in it … most do when tested. I’ve discussed this previously There are studies that show queens exposed to amitraz have enhanced mating frequencies (which should increase colony fitness, though this wasn’t shown).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Ross Abram

    Not sure if this is any good for you…The Weather Channel works for us and seems to be fairly accurate.
    Regards Ross

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Ross

      If they have an app and it provides live updates and predictions like “heavy rain starting in 30 minutes” then that might be suitable. I’ll have a look.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Amanda Lee-Riley

    Re weather apps, I’ve recently started using ‘Weather Radar’ and that’s been pretty good for our N Kent coastal strip that seems to have a micro-climate. Better than the Meteo and Met Office ones, anyway… 🙂

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Many thanks Amanda

      I’ll have a look. The BBC appears to either be terminally depressed, always predicting rain and wind, or so wildly optimistic I think it’s hallucinating. And their short term local predictions are woeful.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Ian

          Thanks for this … I’ve now had a look at the desktop/browser interface and it’s very clean and intuitive. I’ll check the phone version out in due course. It’s currently telling me that it’s chucking it down over Ben Nevis … why am I not surprised?

          Ben Nevis rainfall

          “In an average year the summit sees 261 gales, and receives 4,350 millimetres (171 in) of rainfall, compared to only 2,050 millimetres (81 in) in nearby Fort William, 840 millimetres (33 in) in Inverness and 580 millimetres (23 in) in London.”

          Cheers
          David.

          Reply
  6. Jason Davis

    For accurate weather reports try the Weather Underground app — much more accurate than Apple, at least here in Homer, Alaska (where the rosebay willow herb, which we call fireweed, is JUST getting started, a month behind schedule due to a very wet and cold May, June & early July).

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Jason

      That’s the second Wunderground vote, so they must be doing something right. You’re 3°N of me so interesting to read how the season progresses at different rates in different regions. I had to look up where Homer is … your coastal location will probably create similar problems to those I experience.

      I hope your bees enjoy the fireweed … with the temperature and duration of your winter they’re going to need lots of stores.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Tony

    Hi Dave…. i use http://www.metcheck.com on my Android phone, better than BBC and met office i think. i noticed this afternoon robbing bees in the apiary three /four weeks early ? Drone laying queen in hive i was banking on don’t you just love them…..

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Tony

      I seem to remember looking at metcheck previously … I looked again … they weirdly have predictions that show a “rainrisk” of 100% with predicted rainfall of 0.0 mm. Here’s an example for today:

      weird

      I’m seeing more robbing bees around as well at the moment, but think that’s because there’s a shortage of forage. Strong colonies, small entrances and minimising inspections all help.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. MMB (Anon : Miranda Brackenbury)

        David. . .
        I agree the “BBC Weather” App is useless.
        (Not any better on their Youtube Channel. Don’t have a TV so Bees are my Entertainment ! )
        I am to an Android Phone user too.
        I like Weather Forecast as my 1st ‘view’.
        My cross Referencing uses Meteored, and Accuweather as my 2nd, 3rd Weather App “local” Checks.
        Finally (Samsung Phone) has a useful “Yesterday” Weather Data. Good for when you are to Bee’d out in keeping your Daily Bee Journal ! 🤭
        Have tried to keep a daily Record / and watch the Hive Entrances each Day.
        It has been a Baking June, and super Soggy July,
        here in the Scottish Borders. Dreich conditions (Rain Drizzle on Mass) hasn’t been good for the Honey Crop or for the Achy Beekeeper (!)
        Have made more Hives and Nucs over any Jars of Honey. Still have plenty from 2022 and x1 Jar of Oil Seed Rape set Honey from 2021 ! My favourite Honey for sure. Alas Agriculture has not planted much these last few Years in my locality (Valley). So the Bees will need to go nearly x6 Miles away to get me a replacement ‘Jar’!
        Hope we have a better Autumn (Fall.) Ideally warmer than the average 12c -17c Days we have mainly had for week and weeks of. . . Last July 2022, we “Recorded” the Hottest Scottish Day Temp ever ! (Charterhall Weather Station : is probably awash with surface water and much mud by now.) We still have x2 Days left to see if it’s been the Wettest July ‘ever.’ Whats going on with the Weather ???? BBC wont help me on thiis ! Have a ‘Dry’ day now. . . Off to do as many Bee things Pronto (. . . Before the next downpour.) 🙄

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hello Miranda

          It’s amazing how local the weather differences are … here on the remote west coast, perhaps 150 miles from you, July has had similar rainfall to last year (120 mm vs 150 mm). However, this year May and June were dry (total of 121 mm) compared to over 300 mm for the same period last year. Our hot days – which are never that hot – were in mid-June. This month hasn’t exceeded 24°C, and won’t tomorrow or Monday.

          There’s a lot of variation in what and where the farmers plant. I know OSR has been a problem for some with sinter flooding and beetles. In almost every year my Fife bees have some OSR in reach, but the honey yields are so much better when it’s just over the apiary fence … this was my apiary in Warwickshire where I used to get huge amounts of OSR honey:

          OSR

          Good luck for the remainder of the season.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  8. Alison

    Thanks David – I always love to read your posts.
    Almost but not quite!) makes me want to swap northern Italy for the UK!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Frank

      Don’t you just love the internet … using a Norwegian-based app to predict the local weather in New Zealand! They have some weird terms on their website for the weather translations as this screenshot shows:

      yr.no

      Not sure what ‘dung’ weather is … I suspect it’s a poor translation of ‘the weather today is going to be crap’ which – looking at the other two headlines – sounds about right.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. Helena Jackson

    Hi David, I triangulate using The Met Office, BBC & AccuWeather. I agree BBC weather is most inaccurate. I use an iPhone and have never used the std app, so I may swap this for the BBC one & see if it’s better. But this season, past End of May just feels so erratic that no predictions would ever get it right.
    HJ🐝

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Helena

      It’s been all over the place this afternoon with the BBC and Met Office both predicting little chance of rain after a wet morning. I walked the dog before lunch in the dry and have spent the afternoon dodging frequent heavy showers while fixing new guttering on the shed. It would have been a perfect chance to test half a dozen apps for accuracy … but I’ve got a life and ‘stuff’ to do 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  10. Simon Fisher

    Re. A conundrum
    I had exactly the same thing in one of my hives. The queen was below the queen excluder and no sign of having been upstairs. There were also too many, I’d have thought, to simply fly into the supers during an inspection. I’m very confused.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Simon

      One possibility perhaps is that they’re small enough to get through the excluder straight after emergence, but then ‘plump up’ a bit and can’t get back.

      Or that my excluder has some bent wires 🙁 /

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  11. Paul Whatley

    Regarding the Drones, I had the exact same issue this week in one of my hives. It was queen-right & calm with 2 Supers. The Supers contained nectar & honey only, although reduced due to the poor July weather. About 20 Drones had tried to force their way through to the Supers & become stuck.

    My theory is that due to the poor weather the Drones have been somewhat neglected within the colony. Food has been rationed & the Drones deprioritised. On closer inspection I found that the brood box was virtually empty of nectar/honey, which is rare in my colonies, and so the Drones couldn’t enjoy the buffet. With the Workers declining to offer them food, their only option was to raid the store cupboard upstairs. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Paul

      My drones were going in the opposite direction … from the supers to the brood box. In pondering this I’ve come up with three explanations (and there are sure to be more):

      • drones entered the super when it was last removed … possible, but unlikely as the supers are usually shifted a few feet away and the crownboard is left on,
      • the drones were small enough soon after emergence to get up into the supers and then wanted to return
      • drones had previously tried to get from the brood box to the super (as you describe) and I’d returned the QE to the box inverted without clearing the corpses … unlikely because I’m usually reasonably careful about getting the QE the correct way up

      A conundrum … and probably unsolvable without more information 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  12. Meriet Duncan

    Love, love, love your blogs, but I think I’ve told you that before.

    A question. One of my fellow beekeepers has started using plastic foundation and after initial concerns that the bees weren’t happy with it he’s now very pleased with the results.

    I’m not sure I like the idea. But my reservation is because I feel we keep “wild bees” in “unatural” habitat, but of course try as hard as we can to adhere to what comes naturally to them. To me, giving them plastic foundation takes some of that away from them. They have wax glands for a reason… I know they are still using them… but it makes me feel uncomfortable. Am I being sentimental and not moving with the times? Is plastic foundation a way forward for beekeepers? Are we messing too much with nature?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Meriet

      You may have said it before, but I don’t get tired reading it 😉

      A hive is already a very artificial environment so I don’t think using plastic foundation stops them doing what comes naturally to them. They just want to build comb. I’ve not used it, so can’t really comment on the benefits or drawbacks. I know you need good conditions for them to draw the comb, and that the resulting comb is advertised as ‘practically indestructible’. However, I probably only lose 1% of frames during extraction and the additional cost and – and this isn’t insignificant – use of petrochemicals means plastic foundation doesn’t appeal to me for supers. With brood frames, where they have a finite lifespan and should be periodically cycled out of the hive, I see even less benefit … though that’s partly because I’m not sure how easy they are to strip back to the plastic sheet and re-use.

      Sentimentality might have a place in beekeeping, but if you took that seriously we’d all be using stacked clay pots like they did in Egypt. The priority should be the health of the colony and their efficiency and convenience for beekeeping, tempered by the environmental impact.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  13. Archie McLellan

    Hi David

    Quick question, since you mentioned it above: how do you introduce virgin queens to mini nucs?

    Many thanks. Another very topical post.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Archie

      I very rarely do that so my successes/failures have no statistical validity. As long as the receiving mini-nuc know they’re queenless it doesn’t seem to be a problem; with one made up properly with young bees, or one that’s sat in the dark for a day or two with no brood just getting miserable, I’d probably just run the queen in through the entrance, possibly after a puff or two of smoke. For pretty much any other situation I’d cage the queen and treat it as I would a 5 frame nuc or full hive i.e. wait until there was no aggression and then take the plastic cap off the cage and let them eat their way through the queen candy. The cage is probably overkill.

      All of the virgin Q’s from the incubator this year went into cages and then 2-3 frame nucs. I’m reasonably risk-averse with my queens. I never seem to have enough ‘spare’ to try and cut corners.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  14. Colin

    I’m ‘rain today’ app is brilliant. Often accurate to the minute and as it shows the actual cloud formation you get a feel for what kind of rain it will be. The free version only forecasts one hour ahead, which is fine for me as my apiaries are close to home; the paid version gives you 24 hours I think.

    I use on iPhone but it seems to be available in android too:

    https://raintoday.en.uptodown.com/android

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Colin

      Many thanks … I can’t find it on the Google Play store at the moment. Not sure if there are security implications if I install it from elsewhere. I’m reasonably computer literate, but phones (with all my banking and credit card details) are a bit of a closed book to me 🙁 .

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Fiona

      I know Windy but I’ve not tried the app. On the desktop/browser the forecast is for quite a large area (if I’m using it correctly).

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  15. Andy Cameron

    I agree likely after first emerged, I’ve seen similar and watched day old drones move up. Slightly different topic but in the same vein- I noticed on last inspection after replacing the QE that my worker bees were having a hard time squeezing through into the super and felt if I was a worker bee that would deter me from moving up, so I removed all the QE also as had a reasonable honey pollen barrier. Been away working for past 3 weeks so looking “forward” to my next inspection to see if this helped things or added some further challenges .

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Andy

      Queens shouldn’t cross a honey super and some beekeepers omit the QE until the bees have started drawing super comb. I almost always use a QE. It’s a real pain if the queen does move up as lots of my super comb is drone and the hive ends up filled with drones! On the few occasions I’ve needed a QE but not had one I’ve used a sheet of Correx that covers the topbars of the brood box, leaving just a half inch gap around the edge (it happens that my Varroa trays for homemade floors is exactly this size … I don’t make the Correx sheet just for this duty). The queen rarely ventures to the extremeties of the brood box and this approach has worked to allow the workers up, while keeping the Q in the bottom box.

      3 weeks? … the supers will be littered with capped swarm cells 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  16. Tim Myers

    Hi David, I split hobbies, bees in summer and astronomy in winter, the best weather app I’ve ever found is Clear Outside for amateur astronomers, it’ll even tell you when the ISS is passing over!

    For steaming I used a jerry-rigged BBQ- spread the wax on top of some muslin on the grill to filter and it drips nicely down the holes into the ash can at the bottom for collection. Keeps the steam in well too… the wallpaper steamer hose ends have the same threads as pneumatic fittings so you can get a cheap fitting on eBay, add some nuts and washers to fit them to the lid and you’re away.

    Best of luck and enjoy the coffee!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Tim

      Thank you for the coffee 🙂 … when you wrote you used a BBQ I had visions of hot charcoal or gas flames and melting wax, a recipe for self immolation. The mention of the wallpaper stripper then made sense. The hose ends seems to come in different diameters. The one sold by Thorne’s is different from the wallpaper stripper I already owned, so I needed to purchase a replacement connector.

      Clear Outside looks interesting (at least on the browser, I’ve yet to install the app). Here on the west coast there’s almost no light pollution – no streetlights for about 50 miles and few houses – so clear skies in winter are wonderful. Even if it doesn’t help with my beekeeping (some of which is beyond help 😉 ) I can always look out for the ISS.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thank Jeff

      Installed and being tested … I’m going to have to write a follow up with my conclusions now!

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  17. Mr P Stromberg

    Years ago I used to go gliding at the club near Scotlandwell which could be near you. As gliding is quite weather sensitive we used to phone the met room at RAF Leuchars and their advice was about 100% accurate. Even though this is now an army base the RAF still maintains a presence there. I know the world has changed and they may not be so accommodating to outsiders but it is worth a try. The RAF will really only be interested in weather forecasting in about a 20 mile radius. Failing that you could ask the gliding club or advice.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      I regularly drive past the club there and have watched the gliders fly along the scarp slopes of the Lomonds. I sell honey almost within sight of the airfield. However, only about half my bees are in Fife and I’m looking for a more generic solution.

      Ideally I want something that – when I consult my phone (or, even better, it sends me a ‘pop up’ message) – I can see it’s going to start raining heavily in one hour, but then be clear for two, or whatever. Dark Sky used to do exactly that, pretty accurately.

      Perhaps, like being able to call the local RAF station for a personalised weather forecast, ‘things have changed’ and the functionality of Dark Sky is no longer available.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  18. Elaine

    Hi David, l was also recommended Weather Radar by a group of beekeepers. They say it’s the most reliable they’ve found for that day / next 24 hours

    Heather also in bud here in the Pennines – I’d say c10 days – 2 weeks away from a potential flow. Had enough rain, drizzle and wind (didn’t stop much in July here) need some sun mid August!
    Best wishes, Elaine

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Elaine

      We certainly need an improvement in the weather for the heather to be a success, though I fear the prolonged drought we had in May/June may have done sufficient damage that any subsequent combination of rain and good weather won’t rescue things. The problem is that that colonies have to be strong and – if there’s no flow – they soon start to starve.

      I’ll look at Weather Radar – with thanks.
      David

      Reply
  19. Graham Read

    Yes, apologies. Seems not.

    I guess the nearest equivalent is the rain radar on the Met Office App – under the map button on the app, and select “last 6 hours”. This also lets the user run the radar back and forward to see what’s coming rain wise. It’s not as nicely presented as raintoday though.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Graham

      No worries … their website has the Google Play link so maybe it was there once upon a time. The absence of https security makes me suspect that the website isn’t maintained.

      The Met Office rain radar has been variably effective for me … accurate sometimes, but woeful others. It’s predicting rain this morning by 11:45, clearing by about 6 pm … let’s see how it does. Weather & Radar says no rain until 1 pm and yr.no confidently tells me it’s raining now (it isn’t!) and will continue until the end of the day.

      And, for completeness, AccuWeather tells me no rain until this afternoon … but that the wind speed is currently 27 km/h. It’s not far short of flat calm, with yachts motoring past in the loch 🙁 .

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  20. Willy Aspinall

    Drones in QE
    Hi David, in late July I found that, in one of my hives, the QE was about 60% blocked (by area) by drones heading up towards the supers. This has not occurred in the other three hives. This particular colony had a difficult summer, it swarmed five or six times in the last week of May, but then seemed to settle down and build up again during June. Unfortunately I was unable to inspect from mid-June to mid-July, but in early July I had installed a WaspOut gate (on all four) because wasps are an horrendous problem in my garden (in Wilts). Last year I tried the HiveGate device, found lots of dead bees on the floor, and convinced myself the undertaker bees couldn’t navigate its tricky pathway. Now I’m wondering if the WaspOut device prevents drones from exiting, but suspect it’s more likely the drone-blocked QE signals the colony ended up, after all the swarming, with a drone-laying queen …. while the suppers had about 12 kg of honey, brood stores were also in short supply.
    Always something to make one think harder!
    Willy

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Willy

      Interesting. I’ve looked at the adverts or descriptions for some of those ‘fancy’ hive entrances and wondered if they restricted the exit of undertaker bees and their cargo. Drone laying workers are one of the worst things that happens to colonies … ruined brood comb, undersized and weakling drones and a bit tricky to resolve.

      Grrrr.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  21. Tony Volkas

    Dear author,

    I enjoyed reading your article and found it to be an interesting and engaging piece. The way you describe the changing seasons and the impact of weather on beekeeping is captivating. I could sense your disappointment with the unpredictable weather and its effect on the honey crop.

    I also appreciated your discussion on the challenges of accurate weather prediction and the difficulties you face in finding a suitable replacement for the Dark Sky app. I hope you find a solution that meets your needs.

    Your observations on the progress of the heather and the unmanaged moors were insightful. It’s refreshing to see your prioritization of conservation and natural habitat over honey production. The encounter with the swarms and the potential supersedure situation added an element of suspense to your narrative.

    I found your insights into managing nucs and the difficulties of timing their creation and maintenance to be helpful. Your experience and judgment in balancing the strength of the colony and the available forage were valuable lessons.

    Lastly, your mention of the need for new frames and the shockingly high price of foundation was relatable. It’s always a pleasant surprise to stumble upon unused resources, such as the box of extracted wax you discovered.

    Overall, I found your article to be informative and enjoyable. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Best regards, Tony V

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Tony

      Thank you for your AI-generated response which contributes precisely nothing to what was already written. It’s this type of garbage that will kill off discussion forums and make the internet an even greater waste of time for readers. There are already entire websites that are AI generated, contribute nothing unique or novel and – like your verbiage above – simply regurgitate stuff using slightly different words.

      Of course, the real giveaway was the URL you provided which my not-so-artificial-intelligence managed to spot and edit out.

      Close but no cigar 😉

      Best regards, The Apiarist

      Reply

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