Bee Watch – October – Start of a New Year?

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Honeybees are reducing colony size and consolidating honey stores for overwinter survival, feeding from buddleia and ivy the workers are also evicting male drone bees from the colonies, the drones will die but it is nature’s way of conserving stores, the drones consume honey and do not forage, new drones will be raised by the colony in the spring. But for beekeepers (beeks) this is the start of 2020 beekeeping and the prospects of next year’s honey harvest from healthy bees.

During this year I raised a few new queen bees, this is quite usual for beekeepers, a new, young and healthy queen bee in a colony reduces the chances of swarming and if the process has been managed OK, with a bit of luck, the new queens exhibit characteristics which the beek has identified in the breeder colony i.e. hygiene, foraging, resistance to certain virus, behavior, productivity etc.

So on a recent inspection I was pleased to see one of the new queens actually laying eggs, we can see the queen bee centre left in the photo, the long brown bee, her wings extend just over half her body length, we can also see eggs that she has recently laid in the cells – great. These eggs will be “winter worker bees” though these bees will not work themselves to death foraging, they will live off the stores supplied by previous workers and so winter bees live longer than the summer bees 6 weeks. Winter bees live some 140 days through winter and nurse the next generation of workers into spring foraging.

I was happy with the photo then on closer inspection I saw a varroa mite on the queens back (thorax) we can see the domed crab like red mite quite clearly, it is very unusual to see a mite on a queen so this is a rare photo and reminds me of the need to be vigilant in the continuous fight against Varroa Destructor the parasitic mite which threatens all bee colonies. I regularly treat for varroa and take a range of precautions, but we never eliminate the mite which at one stage in its life travels round the colony on a host bee in a “phoretic” (travelling thief) mode. The mite feeds of its host then drop into cells to feed off lava and infect these with deformed wing virus as well as propagating other viruses like chronic bee paralysis virus which as mentioned in the previous September notes impacts on colony survival chances.

As we have noted throughout this series what’s good for honeybees is good for a wide range of pollinating and other insects. Monty Don recently reminded us to prune buddleia to encourage a 2nd flush of flower and I did this with the desired result to find among a wide range of butterflies, bees and hover flies – I had regular visits from Hummingbird Hawk Moth.

Beeks now continue to feed our colonies to ensure they have enough stores to see them through to spring and to treat for varroa as well as prepare frames for next season.

Barry Griffiths


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