Bee Watch September – The Start of the End

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September, great Honey Fair in Conwy, reasonable weather and the seasons final major source of forage is starting to open – Ivy. Ivy attracts many pollinators, there is even an Ivy Bee, a solitary bee emerging currently, my photo of the Ivy bee happens to be on Tamarix, but that’s the Ivy bee.

Bee on Branch


Spiked ball like Ivy flowers supply pollen and nectar and bees use this to supplement their honey stores for winter. At this time beekeepers are feeding honeybees, having stolen some natural honey beeks feed the bees with sugar syrup so that they have enough stores of honey to get them through winter. This autumn feed is not just to get them over Christmas but well into March.

Given enough stores the queen would start to lay in February, so new bees have hatched and are ready to forage when the first sources of food are available, early Plum, Hazel and Willow catkins, Crocus flowers etc. say around the end of March and the queen will only lay if there is sufficient stores for bees to consume and generate heat to keep brood warm (30 deg C). Therefore, we must supply syrup early enough for bees to convert this to “bakers honey” and cap it ready and accessible for use.

Bees in summer live about 6 weeks after hatching, 3 weeks in the hive undertaking instinctive tasks and then 3 weeks foraging, literally working themselves to death. Around now the queen is laying winter bees, these are the same as summer bees but when they emerge there is little or no forage so they live of the stores built up by previous bees and since the winter bees don’t have to forage they survive longer inside the hive and will nurse new brood in the early spring.

Honeybee with pollen foraging on Ivy, I’m not sure if bees forage for pollen, nectar or both when flying, they are species specific on each flight in order to discharge their pollinating obligation so will not visit different flower species on a single flight. Bees also visit buds of tree flower and leaf to gather sap which they mix with wax to form propolis a medicinal bee glue used to plug gaps in the hive.

Many pollinating insects, wasps and butterflies visit Ivy for about the last substantial forage of the year.

At this time we are preparing for 2020, the measures we take now effectively set the scene for next year, if we feed enough at the right time colonies emerging in the spring will have the potential to develop into strong, healthy and productive colonies during 2020. Planning is important because what at first glance is a year of forage and honey production is in fact several thin slices of timeframe when some key measures must be addressed by the beek.

Looking at the chart below, the green curve depicts the rise and fall in bee population with a peak around July, exact times vary with prevailing conditions, but the chart describes the interrelationship between events I believe. The red line represents the build up of varroa Destructor the parasitic mite.

Varroa is a major threat to bees and beekeeping, we treat for the parasite using Oxalic acid, a natural acid found in Rhubarb but as a crystal it is dangerous to humans and deadly to Varroa, yet bees appear immune to the vapour. Varroa targets drone comb and lives during its reproductive cycles under the protection of drone capping’s. Drones unintentionally distribute varroa to other colonies, as the graph suggests, at Varroa highest infestation time during late summer a time which overlaps the mating season for bees. Varroa infected drones tend to fail as mates for queen bees, this results in queens which fail to serve the needs of honeybee colonies, so it is necessary for beekeepers to anticipate varroa infestation when rearing locally adapted honeybee queens.

Barry Griffiths

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