It might seem a bit premature to be thinking about Summer bee forage, but when growing from seed, if it’s not planted now, then it may not flower in time. Now I know that it’s possible to grow annuals, from seed, for flowering in Summer, but I prefer to grow perennial plants. That way, the number of bee plants increase each year, rather than remain static. In line with permaculture principles, I also want to grow plants that have more than one function. I realise that you can include looks, and scent, as functions, and I do, but why stop there?
A little while ago, I set up a feeding station for my bees, about 200 meters from the Smallholding. The recent mild weather has meant that the bees have been more active than normal, although the winds of the past few days has restricted their flying. Today was much more calm, and the bees took full advantage, taking in water, feeding on Mahonia, bringing in small quantities of Ivy pollen, and descending en masse onto the feeders. Here are some pictures of them, taken today. The insulating sleeve is sitting in the syrup to help prevent bees falling into the syrup and drowning.
As well as providing food for the bees, the syrup mix contains an essential oil mix, which I am using for varroa treatment, instead of conventional chemicals. I came across a couple of web articles describing their use, and noticed that Apiguard is just synthetic Thyme Oil, Api Life Var is a mixture of essential oils, and so is Vita Feed Green. All are much more expensive than using the essential oils themselves. There are links to these articles in one of my earlier posts, Hectic, Honey and Happy, which you can find by following the link below.
The feeders are one gallon poultry water containers, and are hung up in a tree, a short distance form the Smallholding. If they were too close, it would probably lead to robbing of the weaker hives, as the returning foragers would not be able to give a bearing and distance to the new food source, only a message that it is close to the hive, leaving new foragers to investigate the immediate vicinity of the hive, including other hives.
In the pictures you can see that there are a few other insects taking advantage of the free food source. What the pictures do not convey is the noise, and level of activity. There were bees all around me as I moved in to get some close ups. It’s my 50th Birthday next month, and I’m hoping that a camera with a better zoom might be on it’s way, so that I can get better pictures. Watching the bees leaving the feeders, all of them were heading back towards my hives. There are two other beekeepers close by, but their bees don’t appear to have found the free food source.
Things have been hectic again, and I cannot believe that it’s been so long since my last post. The aspect of my smallholding life that has been keeping me so busy has been beekeeping. This is a hectic time of the year as far as the bees are concerned, but the changeable weather, and a breakdown in communications, has made it even busier.
Firstly the good news. I extracted my first batch of honey for this year. 37lbs from one hive, which came from two supers. That is all of the honey that we will use in the next twelve months, put into jars in mid May. There is still a full super on, plus a spare brood body, which is being filled as well. The brood body is to give me frames of food to give to new hives, when I make increase. That should have been last week. I ordered four new queens, from an importer who has always been good in the past, with instructions to let me know if there was going to be a delay. No message came, so I created three new hives, and removed an old failing queen from another, ready to introduce the new queens the following day. They didn’t turn up, and will not get here before the end of this week, nine days late, at least. I have had to buy a product called Bee Boost, which is an artificial pheremone, designed to replace one given out by the queen. I’m hoping that this will keep the queenless hives working, and believing that there is a queen present, until the new queens cam be introduced. I’ve not tried it before, and it’s not what I would have chosen to do, but I don’t want to lose them. The bees for the three hives all came from one huge colony. Each hive has six frames of bees, including stores, but not much sealed brood. The colony was preparing to swarm, and I think that they had stopped the queen from laying, and were trimming her down to fly. The parent colony is still very strong, and I will need to monitor them, to see if the removal of so many bees has deterred them from swarming, and that the queen is laying again.
I have also been helping a local business with their bees. We have carried out a shook swarm on one colony, and moved it to a new location, and I have to do the second hive tomorrow. Weather permitting. The work is helping out my finances, and it’s nice to work with bees in a situation where cost is not a concern. I’m hoping that this will develop into something really special. The bees are being moved temporarily, so that a better apiary can be constructed. The bees will go back onto a 500 acre Biodynamic farm, and we may be able to adjust their planting regime, in order to provide additional forage. They already grow acres of good stuff, and the farm is just over the road from my own bees:-) I’ll keep you posted.
I have used essential oils in my feed, hoping that it would help with my varroa regime. I came across this article recently, which you might find interesting. varroa article
It’s dated 1996, so I’m not sure how up to date it is, but if you look at some of the treatments offerred these days, they are just essential oils, either natural, or synthetic. the same goes for some of the feed supplements.
Here are some more useful links. Varroa Control
I hope that you find them useful. I got the most from them by reading them, and then following all of the links, and reading those too. It helps with doses, methods, etc.
As I’m not looking to sell honey, but would prefer to raise more bees, I’m toying with the idea of only having two colonies at a time producing honey, and keeping the remainder for bee breeding. This would allow me to keep feeding with essential oils, without worrying about them getting into the honey. Having said that, I would rather have them in my honey, than some of the other chemicals. This regime would allow me to create strong colonies for splitting, with plenty of stores. The stores would contain the oils, which would then be used to raise young bees. The benefits of that are apparent from the first link. Less varroa, more bees, clean bees.
I’ve been making new hives, nucleus hives, a swarm box, and a couple of bait hives. I have liaised with a local pest control company, and arranged to collect their swarms, and put leaflets through doors in my village, to let people know that they can contact me for swarm collection. I suspect that when this windy, wet weather breaks, swarming will start in earnest, and I might run out of hives. I should be so lucky.
There are some things to update you with, that are not bee related, but I’ll save that for later this week.
I went into Lincoln to visit the Bee Auction on Saturday, and attended a training day on Bee Husbandry today, in a small town/large village. Traveling into the city, I was struck by the abundance of flowering trees and shrubs in the gardens, and was actually a little jealous of the forage available to an Urban Beekeeper.
Here in my village we have about 150 homes. There are some flowers out, but there are four other beekeepers within flying range, and all of those bees are competing for a limited number of plants. We have quite a few trees, but the variety is quite small. In Lincoln almost every garden had something in flower, and whilst the size of some gardens were quite small, the number of gardens made up for it. There seemed to be Ornamental Cherries everywhere, Forsythia, masses of Heathers, and many others that I would have had to get out of the van to identify. Hives sited around the periphery of the city would have access to those gardens and still be able to make use of crops like Oilseed Rape (Canola), grown just outside.
It reminded me that Bees are one of the few creatures that we use for producing food, that we just let free, and that they provide one way of producing food from quite a limited space. Whilst there are structural concerns about growing vegetables on the roofs of urban buildings, siting beehives up there make a lot of sense. Their flight lines are above head, and vehicle height. The weight will not be a concern, they do not require daily access, nor constant watering. On top of that, the market for hive products is all around. If I wasn’t working to reduce the amount of vehicle travel that I do, it would make sense to start looking at potential apiary sites further afield. The nearest towns also have quite a good selection of forage, but we have quite a few beekeepers already located there.
The contrast between Urban forage, and Rural is quite staggering. We are in a large arable farming area, with high useage of herbicides. Most of the arable crops provide little forage for the bees, and there are no wildflowers in the fields either. Most of the hedges are ‘scalped’ annually by a contractor paid by the council, so that they do not produce flowers. It’s only along the roadsides, and in the waste ground that we see the sort of flowers that used to sustain the bees. Luckily we do have some organic pasture nearby, and the White Clover in those fields is a real blessing later in the year. It should flower in June/July, but it’s often cut for hay/silage then, which makes the Clover give a later flush of flowers.
My solution is to plant as many early and late flowering trees as I can. I’ve written about this in my earlier post, Thinking Outside of the Box. The downside is that some of these trees take a while before they start to produce flowers. On which I have high hopes for is Eucalyptus Perriniana. It flowers in August, which is great for setting stores for the Winter. Eucalyptus generally produce large quantities of nectar, and it starts to flower after just four years. Some of my plants are a year old, and I have several trays planted for this year. Eucalyptus oil is also used in some Varroa treatments, such as Api Life Var, and I hope that if the bees are bringing a lot of Eucalyptus nectar into the hive, that it will have some impact on the varroa mite. Here is a link to Dave Cushman’s website page that deals with Essential oils.
Whether or not there will be any benefit in the fight against Varroa or not, the Eucalyptus should help to widen the availability of forage.
Returning to the Urban versus Rural theme, I cannot see myself ever living in a town again, but there are certainly opportunities there for new beekeepers, of which there are many more coming into the craft. There are also opportunities to make a profit out of the fashion for gardening that has been spreading for some time. It almost seems like a shame not to make use of all of those flowers, lovingly tended by adoring gardeners.
Until next time