Report to Fisher’s Field AGM 2014
The large number of visitors to the Apiary at the recent very successful Fisher’s Field Open Day will have seen that there are now three hives. The original honey bee colony was started from a local queen bee kindly donated by my mentor. When this colony proved to be successful, queen cells were taken from it to start a second colony, and later a single queen cell was taken from the second hive to start a third. The last one is presently contained in a small nursery hive known as a ‘nuc’. Although the Apiary cage itself is somewhat crowded and access is occasionally difficult due to summer overgrowth, all three hives are now well established.
During the year I have monitored these hives regularly to check for diseases and to anticipate possible swarms, and I have fed them homemade sugar syrup when nectar sources were low. Unlike last year wasps have not been a major problem although there have been social visits from passing rodents. Thankfully the extra security measures taken have prevented further vandalism.
The bees themselves appear to be healthy – if somewhat defensive at present. Their former good nature has changed since at this time of the year they are sensitive to the changeable weather and they are particularly anxious to protect their winter store from intruders – including the beekeeper!
Contrary to what is thought to happen, honey bees do not hibernate in winter. Bumble bees do, honey bees don’t When external temperatures fall to about 15°C honey bees gather to form a rugby ball shaped cluster within the hive. They use much energy constantly vibrating their wing muscles in order to generate heat to keep each other warm. They are able to maintain the temperature in the core of the cluster around the queen and any remaining brood to about 30°C. Bees on the edge of the cluster move back inside it when they become cold, and their places are taken by warmer bees that have been inside. This ongoing movement maintains the cluster temperature and enables the bees to withstand cold winter conditions. Dampness or simply losing contact with their food supplies inside the hive is a greater problem for them than the cold. On occasional dry and sunny winter days the cluster will be looser, and since honey bees are very hygienic insects, some hardy bees will venture outside the hive for short cleansing flights.
Honey made by the Fishers Field bees in the summer was left in the hives as their winter food, and they have been organically medicated against common bee pests such as varroa. As winter approaches and temperatures gradually drop further, I will prepare the hives themselves for winter, for example with mouse guards. Nothing is certain however. As you would expect, winter is a testing time for honey bees. Although they prepare themselves and we have done our best to help them,, the rest is up to… well… whatever you believe in!