July Notes & Uniting Weak Colonies

Hello Beekepers!

Hello all and apologies for the delay in getting this out to you!

July is usually a less hectic month than May and June. Most of the swarming is done and dusted. The colonies should have a good fertile queen and a strong population of bees, often depending on how successful your swarm control method was. Supers should be heavy and continue to increase in numbers. We’re coming to the end of the beekeeping year and most are looking forward to the harvest.

July Notes

I’ve found this July to be somewhat challenging and the girls have left me scratching my head umpteen times. Was it the fluctuating temperatures and the gallons of rainfall? Newly emerged queens seemed to have taken much longer to mate.

I’ve also seen backfilling in some colonies. This is when the girls fill cells in the brood box with nectar/honey instead of ensuring that these very same cells are clean and empty for queenie to lay in. This is another sign that they might be planning on swarming. With that said, queenie can stop or slow down her egg laying from time to time. This can happen when there’s a temperature drop and there’s no nectar flow.

If you’re waiting for queenie to start laying, pay attention to what’s being brought into the hive. It’s so good to see pollen being brought in and is a fairly sure sign that the colony is preparing the larder for the welcome new brood. You might even catch a glimpse of her majesty, which is brilliant. If you see polished cells — i.e. cells that have been cleaned by the housekeepers so that queenie can lay in them — that too is a great sign. However, if you’re concerned about the queen-right status of the colony, put in a test frame of eggs.

The bees here are working hard and keeping me very busy. The lovely weather recently made it easy for them to work all sorts of flowers but in particular the white clover and the bramble. What delicious sweet honey we can look forward to! Always remember to ensure that they have adequate space for storing all their gatherings. Nectar requires much more accommodation than honey. There’s still a lot of work for the girls to do before it’s ready for harvesting. If perchance, the bees have swarmed and the population is diminished, supering poses no problem. If this is the situation, plan a better strategy for next year. Bees regularly outwit us and let’s not forget that their natural urge is to reproduce colony numbers and that honey and stores are just fuel to do the same.

A high population in the hive determines high honey yields. Of course, we also rely on the weather being favourable and that there’s adequate forage. If I find that I have a struggling weak hive I’ll unite it with another colony. I’ve learned the hard way over the years. It’s not the number of hives you have, it’s the quality of the hives you have. A strong hive can produce enough honey to keep a family sweet for much of the year and requires a lot less effort on behalf of the beekeeper.

Collecting pollen from white clover.

Uniting Colonies

So how do you unite? It’s easy!

First, you must decide which queen is the best. Sadly, you must cull the less efficient one. The reality is that she and her entourage would probably not survive the coming winter anyway. Your hive records should help you determine which queen should lead the united colony. I look for a good development pattern, good producers, less swarming impulses than other colonies, good manners/docility, healthy bees, a good laying pattern, etc. The hive that has done better is generally the queen to keep.

The weak colony that you’ve made queenless should be left for 48 hours. They will have very quickly realised that there’s no queen and will have started making queen cells. When you return after 48 hours, break down all of these cells. They are now ready to be united with the other colony.

Put 2 to 3 sheets of newspaper over the queen-right brood box, leaving a queen excluder under the paper (you don’t want queenie travelling north!) You then place the queenless brood box on top of this. You could slice a few little openings in the newspaper to give them a head start. They’ll slowly join forces when the queen pheromone gets a chance to disperse to become a strong united colony.

Return to this new colony in 7 days and remove the top brood box. You now have a strong colony, which is in a better position to forage more efficiently and a much better chance of overwintering so that next spring they’ll be all business.

A queen and her retinue.

Coming Up – Zoom Meeting, 20th July @7.30 pm

We’ll be meeting via Zoom this month instead of in person. We look forward to a presentation by Keith Pierce, a very renowned and experienced beekeeper. The topic is ‘Harvesting and Presenting Honey’. This will be broadcast via Zoom on July 20th, commencing at 7.30 pm. The Zoom link will be forwarded to you and it would be great if you could attend. Next month we will host an extraction evening and we’ll have a chance to meet face to face.

For those of you who plan on attending the Summer School at Maynooth University at the end of the month, enjoy! The itinerary is wonderful and I look forward to meeting you there too.

But when the meadows shall be mown,
And Summer’s garland overblown;
Then come, Thou little busy bee,
And let thy homestead be with me.
— Charlotte Smith

Happy beekeeping agus slan,
Mairead Love & the team at FABKA