June in The Apiary & Observations Around The Hive.

Our wild garden created by Anna Maria David.

After nearly two weeks of continously good weather the bees have filled supers and the OSR fields are now green. We didn’t get the bumper crop that might have been had the weather been good for the whole 5 week flowering period, but we are thankful for something. I’m relieved that I can now fulfill the orders that have been coming in steadily for the past few weeks.

We are fast approaching the summer solstice and the longest day. Already it is light at 3am and the birds are awake but no longer in full dawn chorus. The voles have just eaten nearly all my French bean plug plants and I find a baby stumbling about like a toddler outside the woodstack trying to climb a log just behind the flowers featured below. It kept falling off and scooting about seemingly unabashed trying another approach.

The self-sown verbascum dominates this section of the garden that should be growing the garlic that is being overshadowed. I replant the verbascum in other parts of the garden and give some away. I get a lovely surprise this year as orange fox and cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) appear. I’d forgotten about sowing some wild seed a couple of years ago. These are some of my favourite daisy family flowers and I also plant these around the garden and in pots.


I’ve still got one colony that might make swarm preparation otherwise the other 10 are under my control, at last. I love the excitement of this season but it is starting to wear a little thin and a rest would be fine.

Hiving a swarm the traditional way.
The tools of the trade when working alone and not wanting to risk falling from a great height.

The Harvest.

Connie wants to help with the harvest but the first lot has to be done swiftly before the OSR granulates as it seems like the weather might change and the crop is over. However, yesterday she got her chance and came round after school to help.

My bee buddy Cynthia has been poorly this week so I harvest her honey. Cynthia is never poorly so I am concerned. She is one of the few people I know who was only off sick once, and for a few days only, in her entire nursing career. She probably had perfect attendance at school though I’m not sure if being expelled counts or not. Cynthia was ink monitor at her primary school in South Africa which meant that she was given the ink powder and the task of making up ink for the class. Adding some powder to the garden fountain entertained her classmates greatly but the nuns didn’t find it at all funny and called up Cynthia’s father to remove her at once!

The Distillery Colony.

I’m not sure if the whiff of whisky motivates the bees but the supers are groaning with perfectly capped honey on the strongest colony. It’s overcast but very warm so I leave the supers in the car till Connie finishes school and can come over to help. I’ll definitely use this strategy again to keep the honey warm and stop it cooling and granulating before it sets on the comb. The distillery bees have been at the OSR hence the urgency to extract. It flies out of the frames later and fills the tub (38lbs). I use the refractometer to check the water content and am happy with 18%. I write that along with the date on the tub and store it for Cynthia to later process as soft set honey.

Hauling home the harvest.
The trolley sides come down for safer handling.
Uncapping the frames.
Monitoring and controlling the flow.

Marketing New Zealand Style.

Photo by Graeme MacKay.
Julie buying honey. Photo by Graeme MacKay.

This week my friend Julie writes from New Zealand telling me about her shopping experiences. What a brilliant set up: I want one of these wee trucks! Mind you the honey labels would soon get soggy in our Scottish weather.

In June 2019 there were 9, 217 registered beekeepers in New Zealand including hobbyists and commercial beekeepers with a 1/3 million colonies between them. The previous year 2,361 were commercial beekeepers. 10,000 tonnes of honey are produced with 5,000 tonnes eaten in New Zealand. There is a large manuka market and a shortage of qualified beekeepers in the country so there are job opportunities for experienced beekeepers.

Hive Numbers.

It’s quite useful to number the hives with removeable markers. Following this tip from Anna Maria, and her present of some balsa wood, Linton made these up for me so that I can keep track of 11 colonies more efficiently.

Bumble Bee Rescue.

In preparation for the honey harvest, I deep clean the kitchen and the porch where the supers will sit waiting to be processed. I end up cleaning the whole house which is a rare occurance in swarm season but there is a shower of rain that keeps me indoors. I discover a dehydrated bumble bee in a tub which owes its survival to the impending harvest and safely flies off after a good feed of honey and water.

Observing Things Outside the Hive.

Floor Debris.
Wax moth larvae.

Studying carefully the floor debris can give us several clues about what is going on inside. In winter it tells us where the cluster is situated which is really useful if you want to place fondant on the top bars directly over the bees. It saves time when you have to trickle oxalic acid/syrup over the seams of winter bees as well.

Varroa fall down and can be counted more easily against a light coloured background. I’ve discovered lesser wax moth larvae on the floor that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about because they have not yet caused damage in our apiary. Finding clear wax scales in winter tells me that the queen is laying again and that the cluster is warm and provisioned with enough stores to create the energy for wax makers to do their job.

Wax maker’s 4 pairs of wax glands.

Finding clear wax scales looking like flakes of sea salt under the latest swarm to arrive tells me that they are doing what they are primed to do and don’t need feeding right now. The honey brought along from the parent colony has given them the start they need. The wax is clear because it has fallen out of the glands during production and has not been manipulated by the bees. They add saliva and propolis which colour it during the cell construction process.

When I check on the swarm it has drawn out nearly all the frames. I remove the double dummy boards which created insulation and warmth as they got started in the brood box. The queen is a virgin and not laying yet so I place an undrawn comb between each drawn one to encourage the bees to draw them all out during the last of the OSR nectar flow. I will have no need to feed this swarm at the moment which is good and will reduce the risk of robbing.

Hygienic bees have chewed up pupae affected by varroa. Photo by Steve Riley.
Mouse damage. Photo by Jill Lopez.

This afternoon I checked up on the small colony at the out apiary and was pleased to find it was thriving with very few dead bees at the entrance and no signs of DWV which has been a problem in the past. They superseded the old queen shortly after they arrived in my care and the new one is laying well.

4 thoughts on “June in The Apiary & Observations Around The Hive.”

  1. As always, a pleasure to read Ann – thank you. My learning this week is that wax is coloured by the addition of propolis and saliva, without which the wax scale remains translucent. Which in turn reminds me that I’ve seen the scales as debris on the mite board but just not paid attention. I will now. Can I ask the best way/location to temporarily stack full honey supers, prior to extraction…and how long they can be left like this?

    1. Oh, thank you, Liz. I am pleased to hear that you enjoy reading my blog. How to stack full honey supers depends on where you live and what kind of honey is being stored. If you live where small hive beetle is rife then you don’t store honey for any time; you process it right away. If the honey has a high glucose content like OSR it can start to granulate overnight on the hive if you use clearer boards because the bees leave and it cools. I always shake the bees off the frames and gently brush the rest off just before I want to extract. I’ve never had problems with bees being defensive this way. So, I always harvest and extract OSR on the same day.
      If the honey doesn’t granulate quickly it can be stored for longer before extraction but you have to consider that honey is hygroscopic and attracts water so if some of the cells in the frames are uncapped they can attract water which may lead to fermentation late on.
      I would store them on the bee hives myself and let the bees keep them in the correct environment till I’m ready to extract but I am not a commercial beekeeper and if the colony needed stores before I harvested I would accept that they would use some up. Otherwise, I wouldn’t store them for longer than a couple of weeks on a food grade plastic tray with a similar cover on top in a vermin proof room. It is hard finding a place where no flies wasps etc have access to unless you have a commercial set up (at least in my home).

  2. Thank you, Ann, for giving us a beautiful peek at your beekeeping operation as you extract and bottle your first honey harvest this year, and you collect a swarm. I envy you the large-wheeled cart that you have fitted with racks for managing honey-filled frames, and I admire the cleanliness of your whole operation. Very nice. And yes, that little yellow truck for honey sales in New Zealand is gorgeous. As the old timers in my neck of the woods would say, “I’ve nevuh seen anything like it!”

    1. Thank you for commenting on the post Tom. The honey is OSR so it has to stay in the sealed tubs till it has crystalised then I warm it to 34-35 degs C to bring it to porrige/moveable consistency before I break down the crystals with a dedicated drill and paddle to make soft set honey. The cart is multi-purpose and very useful for carrying wood, gorceries etc. The supers sit in food grade plastic trays. I use them in the apiary to keep the supers off the ground. I don’t use porter bee escapes/clearer boards overnight as the honey will cool and start crystalising so I shake/brush bees off the frames and take them in right away for extracting.

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