June In Your Apiary

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Hawthorne in Flower

With May having taken a backwards into early Spring like weather on occasions, it could be difficult to believe that June 1st is the first day of Summer. Interspersed with the odd warm day, another unseasonal damp and cool May has ended with northerly winds and thunder storms. Coming out of Winter, strong colonies would have been best placed to make the most of sporadic foraging opportunities. Weaker colonies will struggle, or worse. Check for useable stores and prepare to feed when otherwise expecting to be adding supers. For much of June, daytime temperatures should (eventually) rise to low 20’s.

Any returning hot weather will bring on the colonies. They would have been able to take full advantage of early spring flowering and should have rapidly occupied available space in their hives. With the consequence that the bees thoughts will have turned to swarming, and for the unwary amongst us, those thoughts became action.

Hopefully, despite the damp and cool  May, you should have managed to get into reasonably regular weekly inspections  so where swarming preparations were found, you have been able to divert their attention.

In a strong nectar flow it’s essential to provide space for the rapidly growing colony. by adding an additional super when the first is half filled. Hive congestion, particularly in a strong nectar flow, is a trigger for swarming preparation. Strong colonies filled up to 3 supers last month!

The traditional forage in early June is the Indian Horse-Chestnut (Aesculus Indica), False Acacia, Holly and Sycamore. If the weather is fair during the first week of June you will still need to maintain a regular assessment of the need to add another super & check for queen cells.

When all your supers are “sealed” make a plan for extracting your Spring honey crop. First, check on whether there are adequate stores in the brood area before removing the last super.  If you remove the last super, it is essential you monitor through the month of June, that your colonies have adequate stores in the brood area. You should also monitor for “robbing” bees hunting for food in adjacent hives. Once the Spring nectar flow ends (this year, sometime in June) it’s best to put reduced entry blocks in place, to make it easier for colonies to protect defend their hive.

Once the Spring nectar flow finally ends, the bees will start to deplete their food stores, as the energy expended in searching for nectar, exceeds the diminishing nectar they are able to bring back to the hive. In June, this also coincides with larger colonies, which consume food at a more rapid rate. So, if you are fortunate enough to have a Spring surplus in your supers, you can, of course, remove it all but, if you do, be ready to feed each colony, particularly if we have prolonged wet spells. Make sure you have a feeder for each hive plus a spare or, two in case you also have to feed a swarm. Syrup should be fed from rapid or, contact feeders, placed over the hole in the crown board. This should be done as soon as you can see there is less than the equivalent of 2 frames of stores available to the colony. Don’t feed if you leave supers on your hive….you will get sugar syrup in your supers! There is a balance to be struck, in mid-season feeding, between ensuring your colonies have adequate food stores and overfeeding so that brood frames become congested with stores, leaving insufficient room for the queen to lay.

If you have not already watched the RBKA Online: ‘June in the Apiary talk by Simon Ford and the related Q&A’s’ either live, or its recording, view the 50 minute video now  RBKA Online – June in the Apiary

During June, a weekly inspection of the colony is still required. Particularly look for:

  1. Unsealed, queen cells (a sign of swarming intent).  If you see unsealed queen cells take prompt swarm preventive action. See for example “Learning to Manage Swarms“. If you see a sealed queen cell, a swarm has probably already left the hive.
  2. Signs of disease in the brood nest. EFB appears to be on the increase so, ensure you are familiar with this by reading European Foul Brood.
  3. Varroa mite monitoring should now be underway, with mesh floors below all hives. Insert the monitoring board and count the mite drop after 7 days. Input this data into the FERA Varroa Calculator to assess the total number of mites and whether treatment is required. If you need to treat for varroa, take the supers and queen excluder off the hive, prior to treatment. A cup of icing sugar, sprinkled over the top of the frames in the brood box and brushed down between all the frames will coat most of the bees with icing sugar. The sugar coating is harmless to the bees but, it causes them to aggressively groom/cleanse themselves, causing the mites to drop off the bees and through the mesh floor below. However, with a very high varroa load a proprietary varroa treatment will be required (and completed, before the July nectar flow).

If you didn’t do it in May, put out a “bait hive”. This may lure an itinerant swarm of bees to take up residence. The bait hive can be a four or, five frame “nuc”, preferably loaded with a couple of frames of drawn & used foundation, as well as frames with new foundation. The drawn, used comb seems to be more attractive to scout bees.

Above all, ‘be prepared’.

  • Keep making inspections, especially for those queen cells and check for brood diseases.
  • We need to capture all the swarms that we can, so create bait hives from any spare equipment, and check them for occupants. If yes, feed them to help draw out the foundation.
  • Remind yourself or learn how to undertake a swarm control method.
  • Buy or make feeders, so that you have one for each of your hives.
  • If you have been lucky and taken off any oil seed rape (or other) honey, make sure the colony has enough honey to get through the future, the so-called ‘June gap’ period when nectar is not available. Feed if necessary.
  • If a super is half full of bees, add another complete with foundation in the frames, or preferably drawn comb.
  • Check weekly for varroa. Count the number of varroa mites, and use a calculator such as that provided by DEFRA (BeeBase) click this link Varroa Calculator to help determine your treatment plan.
  • If you need to treat for varroa take off the supers prior to treatment. (3% oxalic acid in water trickled over the frames may be beneficial, or using icing sugar, or perhaps a MAQS hive strip as part of your IPM).
  • Check the super frame that you placed in the brood box to provide a ‘Drone Trap’ as part of your varroa management programme, and remove the drone brood and varroa mites.
  • Mark your queens if you have not already done this.
  • Ensure you have sufficient queen excluders. Three for two hives is appropriate, and remember to place one under your ‘swarm box’ until the colony is settled.
  • Scrape and brush wax from the excluders, and remove burr comb from the top of the frames.

Continue to keep detailed records for every hive.

And remember :-

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;

A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.

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