Summer season doldrums – The Apiarist


Synopsis : Climate, nucs, queens, swarms and wax. A potpourri of matters which have entertained me whereas ready for the heather movement to begin … if it begins. 


Possibly it’s outdated age however the calendar appears to be rushing up today. The daybreak refrain is only a chirrup or two, there are mushrooms showing in all places, and I can sense the tip of the season galloping in the direction of me.

Or, perhaps that is only a little bit of a bizarre season.

It barely appears to have gotten began earlier than it feels prefer it’s about to finish.

The height swarming interval in my half(s) of Scotland has lengthy gone and the ‘June hole’ didn’t actually occur, maybe as a result of the summer season flowers began early. It’s now late July and the lime and blackberry are over. There’s some rosebay willow herb left, although not a lot and the heather has but to correctly begin.

Erratic, simply flowering heather

These are the summer season doldrums; the time between the tip of swarming and taking the summer season honey off. It’s a comparatively quiet time for my beekeeping. It’s too late (in Scotland, a minimum of in my expertise) for reliable queen rearing and it’s too early for any critical winter preparations.

There’s not a have to conduct weekly colony inspections. I’m moderately assured that my colonies gained’t swarm now, although I count on a number of would possibly supersede .

That doesn’t imply they gained’t swarm … it simply means my confidence may be misplaced 😉 .

After all, that doesn’t imply that there’s no beekeeping to do … it’s simply that I’ve bought a little bit extra time to finish what I have to do, and a little bit of spare time to do a number of different associated actions.

And, disappointingly, it seems to be as if the summer season honey crop goes to be very poor this 12 months, so maybe this hiatus is successfully the tip of the sensible beekeeping season … 🙁 .

Climate watch

Beekeeping is drastically influenced by the climate. If it’s too chilly the bees is not going to fly, if there’s a drought the nectar movement is prone 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 both influenced by easterlies coming in off the North Sea, or low strain techniques rolling in from the Atlantic. As a consequence, the climate could be ‘changeable’.

This usually means moist and/or cool.

It’s common to seek out my Fife east coast apiary blanketed in haar, whereas these additional inland are 8°C hotter and bathed in sunshine. On the west coast the climate can change in minutes, from a balmy sunny morning to a claggy drizzle.

Dreich because it’s referred to as in Scotland (apparently the ‘hottest Scots phrase’).

I subsequently spend time planning issues primarily based on the (disappointingly spurious) predictions made by the climate apps on my cellphone.

My current Fife journey predicted a moist morning adopted by a dry and sunny afternoon with rain reappearing within the night. I subsequently deliberate to drive throughout within the morning, ship honey when it was dry after which shift a bunch of nucs as soon as the rain began (helpfully making certain all of the bees could be ‘at house’).

By mid-afternoon the rain was torrential as I carried more and more soggy cardboard containers stuffed with jarred honey to the farm retailers I provide.

The rain had stopped properly earlier than I bought to the apiary to maneuver the nucs and the bees had been flying once more.

Excellent … not.

Climate apps

I beforehand used the app Darkish Sky for native climate forecasting. It appeared moderately correct and was significantly good at predicting what was prone to occur domestically throughout the subsequent hour or so. Sadly, Darkish Sky was purchased out by Apple in 2020 and killed off utterly on the finish of final 12 months.

Apparently, a few of the code was built-in into the Apple Climate app, however that’s little use to me as my cellphone is Android 🙁 .

I’ve subsequently been diminished to utilizing the BBC climate app and the one supplied by the Met Workplace. The BBC predictions declare to be primarily based upon Met Workplace information, nevertheless it’s common for them to be wildly divergent from these made by the ‘official’ Met Workplace app.

Wildly divergent, however each fallacious.

Of the 2, the BBC app is extra fallacious and extra usually fallacious. Not a commendable function.

Neither are a lot good at offering correct native climate predictions over quick (hours) timescales.

As I carried these soggy cardboard containers into the store the BBC was nonetheless confidently displaying a little bit white cloud icon with the solar peeking by way of behind it.


If readers have a suggestion for a Darkish Sky alternative (for Android) please depart a remark – it’s ‘hyper-local’ and quick time period predictions that the majority curiosity me. Within the meantime, it seems that the Apple Weatherkit API (basically the code that accesses the underlying information) incorporates quite a lot of the Darkish Sky performance and is utilized by Android climate apps equivalent to Actual Climate, Forecaster and Weawow .

Are these any use?

All of which was a slight digression …

Heather watch

The lime right here was hopeless. I believe it was heat, dry and calm sufficient for the bees to entry it, and the bushes to yield, on solely a few days. The bramble has flowered properly and it seems to be as if it will likely be a bumper 12 months for blackberries however the principle summer season/late summer season nectar right here is heather.

Having consulted the climate apps I ventured up the hills behind the home to take a look at how the heather is progressing. There’s a bit within the ‘backyard’, nevertheless it’s much more sheltered down right here so doesn’t give a correct indication of how properly it’s prone to flower.

It was beautiful to be out. The hills had been quiet, solely the plaintive calls of golden plover on the upper slopes may very well be heard over the wind. There have been bachelor events of stags, all with antlers nonetheless ‘in velvet’, up on the ridges. They’re all buddies in the intervening time, however will probably be implacable enemies as soon as the rut begins in 8-10 weeks.

Heather hills

Some patches of heather had been in full flower, and busy with bumble bees, however lots was nonetheless a minimum of 7-10 days away from flowering. Disappointingly, virtually as a lot appeared dried up and withered, presumably after the protracted drought we had in Could/June.

The moors listed below are unmanaged and the heather is mediocre to poor at the very best of occasions. We by no means get these unbroken swathes of purple stretching to the horizon you see on the managed grouse moors … however I’d a lot favor no muirburn, and the prospect of seeing hen harriers and eagles, than a number of further supers of heather honey.

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

Late season inspections

Colony inspections are much less necessary as soon as the prospect of swarming is over.

How do I do know it’s over?

Firstly as a result of most of my colonies have been requeened and secondly as a result of the climate and nectar movement have contrived to restrict midsummer colony enlargement.

I’m subsequently inspecting as soon as a fortnight now, and am unlikely to look by way of a field a lot after mid-August. I’ll nonetheless must open them for feeding and treating, however I gained’t be lifting many frames.

I hold a few of my Fife bees in a good friend’s backyard. Once I arrived on Monday he excitedly described the 2 swarms he’d seen within the intervening fortnight, one in every of which had occupied his chimney 🙁 .

Having apologised profusely and talked by way of the choices I lastly bought spherical to opening some hives to evaluate the ‘scene of the crime’.

I’d moved the nucs from this website the night time earlier than (with out opening them) however was fairly assured none would have been sturdy sufficient to swarm … not least as a result of the containers felt disconcertingly mild .

All of the hives had 2023 queens. Though it’s attainable they might have swarmed, the queen wouldn’t have gotten far as she was clipped, so the bees would return to the hive. They’d then have swarmed a bit later, maybe when the virgin(s) emerged .

Maybe the primary swarm my good friend noticed was with the clipped queen and the one 6 days later (that occupied the chimney) was headed by a virgin?

Nonetheless, once I checked, all of the hives had the clipped, marked queens I’d final seen a fortnight earlier.


n+1 queens

However, it turned out, there have been extra queens than there have been hives.

One of many containers had an open queen cell on the central fringe of a body with a – very clearly – newly emerged virgin queen strolling round on the comb. She was very giant, very pale and really ‘furry’. The open cell nonetheless had the flap hooked up and I wouldn’t be shocked if she had emerged throughout the earlier hour.

It was a fortnight since I’d opened the field. Time sufficient for them to begin a cell from an egg, and for the queen to emerge.

Nonetheless, the field additionally contained the queen I had anticipated to seek out there, and she or he was laying moderately properly, marching confidently about being tended by her retinue of staff.

This appeared like supersedure in motion …

I may see nothing fallacious with the ‘outdated’ queen. The brood sample was good, the ratio of eggs to larvae to sealed brood appeared about proper, she was not being shunned or chivvied by the employees.

In circumstances like this I assume that the bees know greatest. There appears little level in pre-judging the end result by culling one or different of the queens. Once I subsequent go to (early August) there could also be two laying queens within the field.

I used to be relieved the bees within the chimney – and people dropping down the flue, lined in soot, onto the cream colored carpet! – weren’t mine.

Most swarms journey 300+ metres

It’s price remembering that a number of research present that swarms relocate a minimum of 300 metres when selecting a brand new nest website.

Sadly I’d needed to piratize the bait hive from the apiary once I’d run out of brood containers or the swarm could have ended up there fairly than the chimney (and the carpet 🙁 ).

Managing nucs

I’m planning to overwinter a number of nucs. Most had been ready by harvesting a body or two of brood in all phases from a powerful colony and slipping in a mature queen cell, or a virgin queen I’d left to emerge within the incubator.

All however a pair now have mated queens.

Making nucs for overwintering, after which sustaining them by way of late summer season and early autumn, could be a bit tough.

A nuc in an even bigger field

The sooner you begin them the extra possible the queen will mate efficiently. Nonetheless, you then danger the quickly increasing colony outgrowing the field … you possibly can plan to overwinter a nuc and find yourself with a full colony.

Barely higher survival possibilities, however not best if you wish to promote overwintered nucs 😉 .

Conversely, should you make the nucs up late there’s an opportunity the queen could not get efficiently mated (and you’ve got much less time to test the brood she does produce) and also you then danger laying staff creating, or must unite the bees again with one other colony.

I favor to make the nucs early after which bleed brood off, utilizing it to strengthen different colonies, so delaying swarming.

This requires moderately cautious judgement of the power of the nucleus colony, the speed at which the queen is laying and protecting a watchful eye on the forage obtainable and the climate.

I often take a body or two out, changing it with basis or drawn comb, while nonetheless making certain there are ample shops within the field. It’s clearly a bit simpler doing this with a six body nuc field than a 5 framer.

If I get issues proper the scale of the colony plateaus. Because the climate cools I cease eradicating brood to make sure the nuc could be very sturdy going into autumn.

Wax works

So, even this late within the season there’s nonetheless a necessity for a number of new frames. What’s extra, I’ve expanded my colony numbers on the west coast this 12 months and so want a dozen extra supers for the – inevitably crushingly disappointing – heather harvest.

The frames aren’t an issue. In a current clear-out of the shed I discovered tons of of DN5’s and SN5’s I didn’t know I had 🙂 .

However no tremendous basis 🙁 .

The heather nectar movement is unlikely to be ok for them to attract a box-full of comb on foundationless frames. As well as, I want some frames with basis to interleave the foundationless frames or danger them drawing brace comb in all places.

That is the primary basis I’ve purchased for a 12 months or three so was shocked on the value. Shocked as in shocked … there was nothing nice about it. Ten packets of premium basis are the very best a part of £100.

Happily, the shed clear-out had additionally unearthed a field of extracted wax. It’s not prime quality and it’s definitely not ok for candle making, or furnishings polish or – heaven forbid – cleaning soap.

Not fairly, however worthwhile

However, conveniently, it occurs to be virtually precisely the correct amount to commerce for 100 sheets of premium tremendous basis 🙂 .

Which is what I did.

Wax extractors

With international warming photo voltaic wax extractors would possibly seem to be a tempting possibility. I constructed one years in the past once I lived within the Midlands and it labored properly … so long as I remembered to maintain turning it to face the solar. Nonetheless, it was too small and I used to be transferring to Scotland (!), so it was deserted, or repurposed.

I’ve additionally constructed a steam wax extractor. I butchered the metallic aspect of a washer to make the ground of the extractor, most likely one of many extra harmful DIY jobs I’ve accomplished . It labored for a number of years, however at all times leaked – wax, water and steam – and, extra just lately, I gave in to temptation and acquired one from Thorne’s.

It really works properly.

I can soften out 20 frames from one fill of the steam generator and – importantly – on the time of the 12 months I’m producing the frames (the beekeeping season) I can run the extractor late within the night or on moist days (when there are not any flying bees … and no solar).

Thorne’s Easi-steam

I’m conscious there are numerous different methods of recovering wax however I don’t produce sufficient to wish oil drums and gasoline burners cluttering up the place when not in use.

I hold good wax – most brace comb, tremendous frames and so forth. – and extract it individually. These things isn’t traded in. Nonetheless, every little thing else will get chucked into the steamer and extracted. I then re-melt the wax with water in a slo-cooker, leaving it to settle and funky. The propolis and different garbage sinks and could be scraped off the block to go away one thing that – while not being precisely fairly – could be traded for some shockingly costly basis 😉 .

And eventually … a conundrum

The final colony I inspected on Monday had two supers over a single brood field. On lifting the supers off there have been a few dozen drones – or, extra precisely, drone corpses – wedged by way of the queen excluder.

The photograph is deceptive as I’ve turned the queen excluder the wrong way up. These drones had been trying to go from the tremendous into the brood field.

Inverted queen excluder and drone corpses

Once I’ve seen this earlier than it’s both as a result of there are laying staff within the tremendous or the queen had snuck above the excluder and the tremendous frames had been drawn on drone basis.

However this colony has not been queenless and there was no signal of brood within the supers. 

I’m perplexed … how did the drones get there? The supers are stored largely lined throughout inspections.

Solutions on a postcard please …



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