Beekeeping in August sees the apiarist’s activities step up a gear. Now is the time to and extract and bottle the honey. The first thing to do is to clear the supers of bees. There are several ways of achieving this. Some people use clearer boards that are placed under the supers. These allow the bees to pass down through a bee escape but not back up again. Over the space of 24 to 48 hours the supers should be relatively free of bees and can be taken off the hive. Others prefer to use fume boards which are sprayed with a product which contains essence of almond oil. The bees don’t like the smell of this and are keen to run down out of the supers. You have to be a bit careful how much you use as you don’t want them running all the way down and out the front door! This approach clears the supers within 5 minutes. Any remaining bees can be gently brushed off the frames before they are removed from the apiary.
The next step is to locate yourself in a clean and bee free environment where you can remove the wax cappings and place the frames into an extractor. Here the frames are whizzed around until all the honey comes out. The honey is then filtered into a settling tank and left to stand for a few days so that any bubbles rise to the top. Finally this liquid gold can be put into jars. It is a thrilling and very sticky job! The wax cappings aren’t wasted either. Once drained of honey they too are cleaned and saved in preparation for making candles or beeswax polish . . . but more of that later in the year!
Once the honey has been extracted the “wet” supers are returned to the hives from which they came. The bees will clean the frames within a few days leaving them spotlessly dry and ready for winter storage.
Once the excess honey has been taken off the hive it is time to treat the bees for varroa mite. The mites are reddish/brown in colour and are about the size of a pin head. They transmit disease and viruses in the bees. They are also extremely clever. The adult female mite will lay her eggs in the male drone brood cells which are slightly larger than the female worker brood cells. Drones have a longer gestation period than workers and this suits the varroa’s breeding cycle. She lays several female eggs and one male egg in each drone cell. The male mite will then mate with his sisters before the bee emerges from his cell. Left uncontrolled the mites can multiply at an alarming rate.
Luckily there are quite a few products at the beekeeper’s disposal. The main consideration is to use an integrated pest management system so that the mites don’t become resistant to the treatment. Throughout the year we monitor the “mite drop” within the hive by inserting inspection boards under the hive. Most hives these days have mesh floors and mites drop through these onto the inspection board thus providing evidence of infestation levels. When the inspection board is not in place the mites drop through the floor and any live mites cannot climb back up into it which reduces the burden by approximately 25%.
We also need to be on the lookout for wasps. As the summer progresses the wasps go into “sweet” mode. Once a wasp has gained access to the hive it picks up the hive pheromone and the bees don’t seem to bother fighting the intruder. The wasp will then fly back to its nest and tell the other wasps about the wonderful restaurant they have just found. They love the honey as well as the small eggs and larvae so can completely decimate a colony very quickly. We need to reduce the hive entrance before this starts so that the bees have a chance of defending themselves. Wasp traps can also help at this time of year. So August for the beekeeper means it is time to batten down your hatches and strengthen your defenses.
This Month’s Public Awareness Announcement
If by any chance you see a bee that looks like it needs help please resist the temptation to give it some honey. Sadly much of our supermarket honey is imported from abroad and harbors notifiable diseases like European Foul Brood or American Foul Brood which are really bad news for our honeybees. It is far better to feed them a little sugar dissolved in a spot of water. Similarly please wash out any used honey jars before disposing of them.