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I have had two swarm calls so far but they were only casts. This is a small secondary swarm headed by a virgin queen. They are bees never-the-less and by uniting them I have recouped one of my colony losses. They were treated with 24 hours of Apivar at the same time as hiving to knock down any varroa which had hitched a ride.

The girls have been foraging for oil-seed-rape honey but the nectar flow wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped due to the continual dry weather. This was also accompanied by foraging for hawthorn nectar on the may blossom. This is a rare honey which changes the aroma of the rape honey and crystallises very coarsely.

May blossom in the spinney

Queen cells had started appearing so now was the time to start making nucleus colonies to replace my winter losses. One QC in hive 3 was used to start a nucleus but the girls in their wisdom tore it down. A week later they had made 6 emergency queen cells.

One hive made three beautiful queen cells so I established another nucleus and gave the third cell to the other nucleus with the emergency cells.

The colony making the queen cells has not made any more so no need to do an artificial swarm.

During the CV lockdown, the road passing the apiary is no longer a tunnel of air pollution so the bees can can forage right up to the roadside.

Another lockdown effect that we have noticed is that without the noise pollution we can hear the whole garden humming.

On 12th of May, there were bees all round the garden pond so I knew the rape had finished. In the absence of nectar to fan for cooling and also thirst quenching they had resorted to water. I put clearer-boards on early next morning so I could do the first extraction the following day.

A second brief extraction for just two tubs and that was that. The June gap had already started a week before the end of May.

My first honey extraction was very late this year due to the absence of rape honey. The field was right on my doorstep but no nectar.

That’s three years in a row with rape within easy flying and all they’ve harvested is pollen. I went to speak with John, the farmer, to see if he’d changed his seed variety recently but “No, I’ve been using the same variety for the last three years.”; Campus. A quick search revealed that research done by Newcastle and Exeter Universities found that modern hybrid rape, Campus in particular yielded nectar little better than water. The bees know best; not worth the energy.

It’s ironic actually that said farmer gets a subsidy for sowing pollinator strips along his headlands but can then sow a distinctly pollinator-unfriendly crop in the remaining 35 acres.

On a similar note, another long-standing member of Saffron Walden Beepers was talking with a farming friend who was disappointed that he could no longer appreciate the once beautiful aroma of his field beans. This beekeeper had moved some hives onto his huge field which he reckoned should yield in the region 1,000 lbs of bean honey. He got 150 lbs. Yes, the farmer had changed to a hybrid variety.

Who is to blame? Is it the farmers or the seed merchants?

Queen mating has been a problem this year with the loss of seven queens failing to return from mating flights. This has left me on the verge of a problem but I should just have enough 2018 queens to go into 2019.

The last two weeks of July have seen a terrific mystery flow and this has helped tremendously to overcome the oil-seed-rape loss; not so good for creamed honey but it is at least a harvest.

This mystery flow finished on the 29th. On the 30th I saw intense robbing of hive 1. I removed the entrance block and replaced it with one which had only a one bee-width hole in it and leaned a large sheet of glass on the front of the hive.

 

Single hole entrance block

By the time I had gone round all the other hives and narrowed their entrances down to winter-width (about 40mm) the intensity of the raiding had decreased noticeably. The hive inspections I had planned for that day were put on hold. Opening up a hive under these circumstances was only asking for trouble.