The end of August is traditionally the finish of the beekeeper's year. The bees have gathered their honey, the new queens have settled down and there's a bit of a lull. Or so I'm told!
We've been busy extracting our summer harvest from the combs. We weren't sure if the long hot dry summer would reduce the crop, but if anything it's bigger as plants & trees have rushed to produce nectar. So far we've extracted about 130kg of honey (that's over 280lb if you use the traditional British beekeeping weights & measures). A good result from 6 productive hives and there's still more there. We may leave it for the bees though, they have certainly earned it.
We checked the varroa levels in our colonies and got a very strange result: 7 of them are almost free of the mites while the 8th needs immediate treatment. Other beekeepers are reporting much the same. We don't know why, especially after last year's huge infestations - maybe this summer's heat was a factor?
So it's nearly September and the start of the new year. The queens should start laying more eggs which the colony will raise as winter bees. They have a different metabolism from the summer workers with bodily reserves of fat to see them through the next six months. And what of the drones? Well boys, there's good news and bad news. Good news: you've made it this far, albeit without getting your chance to mate with a virgin queen and die in the act. Bad news: your sisters will throw you out of the hive to die when it turns cold. Disposable genes eh?
If the hives are low on winter stores we will feed them sugar syrup to replace the honey we stole. This sounds unkind, but it's only a food supplement; they still have plenty of honey and pollen stored in the brood box. And there's another good reason to give them syrup, because the ivy is just coming into flower and they are gathering its nectar. Unfortunately ivy honey sets like concrete when it cools, so it's useless as a winter food when they can't fly out and fetch water to dissolve it. Bees can starve in a hive surrounded by ivy honey. But if they mix it with syrup it stays soft and available throughout the winter.
There's a hint of coolth in the air now, and the robin in our garden is singing his wistful autumn song. So the year turns...