Autumn approaches..

By | September 7, 2013

September has arrived, bringing the cooler weather of autumn, and fewer flower blooms (meaning less nectar and pollen). Thankfully England does a great autumn, with those lush green broad leaved London plane trees, Horse chestnuts, and lime trees putting on a fantastic show of colour.

August is the usual time to harvest honey at the end of Summer. While my bees did make some honey this year, unfortunately they didn’t make enough for a surplus. I’ve decided to leave what they did make for the colony over winter.

For beekeepers, autumn is mostly about preparing the colony for winter. You want to make sure the colony is healthy, large enough to be able to keep itself warm through clustering over winter and has enough food to make it through the cold months when they wont be flying, collecting nectar.

Varroa destructor, the oval shaped brown mite on a monitoring board. The other flecks are mostly wax shavings as the bees create or mold wax in the hive, with small shaving falling out and onto the monitoring board

Varroa destructor, the oval shaped brown mite on a monitoring board. The other flecks are mostly wax shavings as the bees create or mold wax in the hive, with small shavings falling out of the hive.

In terms of health, varroa destructor is a nasty mite that lives within colonies, feeding and breeding on larvae, and transmitting nasty diseases. If left unchecked, varroa in a hive can silently decimate the colony over winter.

Autumn is a time for varroa treatment and pest management, I choose to use a thyme extract called Apiguard. Apiguard is a gel that is placed inside the hive for 4 weeks in autumn, killing a good percentage of adult varroa which fall out of the hive, through the open mesh hive floor, and onto a monitoring board.

Autumn is also a time where beekeepers often supplement food through sugar syrup, to ensure the colony has enough to eat over winter. Bees cluster together over winter for warmth, and flex their flying muscles to generate heat. This requires energy, and is the reason why they have evolved to store honey. Funnily enough they aren’t making honey solely for our benefit…

Population wise, the queen is laying less eggs and the colony starts to reduce in size through the natural attrition of summer bees. In winter, the population will have reduced to around 10,000 bees. All the male drones get kicked out to die, as they’ve got nothing to contribute! Their only role is to mate with other colonies virgin queens. Over winter virgin queens won’t be flying, meaning males have no contribution to make. The evolutionary logic says why not kill off all the males and hatch some more in Spring, so they don’t sit about eating all the food over Winter..?!

Although I’m slightly disappointed to not making a honey harvest, this year has been all about practical experience and learning for me, as a new beekeeper. Its been a steep learning curve but a thoroughly enjoyable one. With the autumn preparations for winter, a season of rest for beekeepers while bees stay inside the hive, I’m preparing for some more learning.

Microscopy looks to be a fascinating area I’m going to explore, learning how to identify different kinds of pollen, and dissecting bees to learn more of their anatomy. The identification of diseases is also an important skill, to maintain the health of the colony, all of which can only be done through the microscope. Time to delve deeper into their fascinating world.

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