Fermanagh’s beekeepers did well despite mixed weather conditions in August

Fermanagh’s beekeepers have had an amazing honey harvest this year, reflecting the hardiness of our local bees in the face of what was generally a cool summer with a few short hot spells, writes Ethel Irvine of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association .

Ethel reports here on what August meant for local beekeepers.

It is very nice to hear that some of our new beekeepers, who have just completed their ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course, have also managed to get a harvest from their newly acquired bees.

Even our colonies in the Association apiary – which had been somewhat ravaged by the Lakeland Queen Rearing Group in their efforts to keep the queen-cell starter and finisher colonies at full strength – produced a large amount of honey.

Thinking about the conditions in the summer, we had very little rain to encourage the blossom to produce nectar, and there was also an absence of the dew that often activates nectaries in hot weather, especially those of white clover, but the honeybees have taken advantage of every opportunity to collect nectar and convert it into honey. Well done to our bees!

In August, queens will often lay fewer eggs, but this year there have not been as many reports as in other years.

I don’t know if this meant that the expected brood reduction did not occur, or that the continued less than warm weather of our Fermanagh summer resulted in queens laying eggs at a more stable rate, but not reaching the high numbers of other years, meaning they didn’t have to take their usual ‘rest’.

Colonies were still developing strongly enough to have plenty of bees in September.

Once the honey crop has been removed, each frame in each hive should be examined for disease, usually for American foulbrood or European foulbrood, but any abnormalities should also be noted so they can be addressed as soon as possible.

It is useful to note whether lime spawn is present and at what level. It should not exist at this time of year as conditions were favorable and not stressful for the bees so if seen it is worth re-queening if a mated and laying queen is available.

Otherwise, make plans to deal with it next spring. Evaluate the condition of each frame and if one is old and black and has an excess of deformed cells, move it to the back of the brood nest so it can be removed early next season.

Once the honey has been removed it should be replaced with the liquid food of your choice ie one of the commercially produced invert sugar solutions or a 2:1 sugar to water solution.

This food should be given in a quick feeder so that the bees can ingest and store it while the weather is still relatively warm, and they are not yet in their tight cluster formation, and before the syrup ferments. Fermented stores are not suitable for hibernating bees.

Also, make an informed judgment about how much to feed them – and stick to it, as bees will scavenge liquid supplies as long as the beekeeper continues to feed them.

About 20 kg of stores should last a colony until next spring, especially if there is good flow from the ivy.

Fondant is not a good fall food because the bees need it all the time even in cold weather. It is much more convenient for them to have their ‘pantry’ next to the brood nest where it is needed.

Wasps are not a problem in my own area. Fewer entrances and strong colonies are the recipe to avoid wasp prey, which will invade not only the stores, but because they are carnivorous, so do the larvae and bees.

Wasp traps are very effective but should not be placed in the apiary as they can lure them in.

All beekeepers should now be treating their colonies with the approved Varroa treatment of their choice.

It is important when using drugs to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, both regarding the application of the specified amount and the timing of the treatment applied, and all recommended safety precautions, both for bees and beekeepers.

A lot of research was done before these treatments were approved for use and we would be foolish to ignore any advice.

There are some videos and articles of beekeepers using their own control methods that should be viewed with caution until scientific evidence is provided to back up any claims.

Many of us will remember the enthusiasm with which the fogging of mineral oils was advocated to combat Varroa, and how it gradually fell into oblivion because it didn’t work.

Beekeepers are also reminded that they are required by law to keep a record of all medications used, detailing their sources, batch numbers, disposal, etc.

The Agility in Beekeeping course will resume in mid-October. The course is aimed at those who have completed the Introduction to Beekeeping course or its equivalent and wish to continue their studies.

It will have 15 sessions over the next year as part of its two-year classroom study, and students will complete workbooks as part of their assessment process.

Brian Dane will be the tutor and he plans to meet online via Zoom on Tuesday evenings, weekly, but with one evening off per month, to give students time to complete their workbooks, and with a break around Christmas .

This means that the ‘classroom’ aspect of the course and completing workbooks is designed to be more or less ready in the spring and before the beekeeping season is in full swing.

Those who have completed their first year of study must apply through the Cafre website, and those who want to start also use the Cafre system.

Members of FBKA who have studied at this level would highly recommend the course as it provides a better understanding of how the colony works, with a better understanding of bee behavior and the reasons for that behaviour.

If you would like more information, please visit the Cafre website at www.cafre.ac.uk and type ‘beekeeping’ in the search box, or contact Brian directly at tebdane@btinternet.com, or call 077 1157 1420.

Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association held its Honey Show at Florence Court House with entries received, staged and judged on Sunday 28th August, followed by opening to the public on Monday 29th August.

Honey Show Secretary Avril Campbell and her helpers had a busy morning with the number of entries very close to our record in 2019, which was very nice considering we hadn’t had a Show in two years.

Avril thanks all her helpers and everyone who joined the show for supporting a very successful event.

It was especially gratifying to see that some of the newcomers to beekeeping had entries and won awards, and many others supported by attending.

Jim Fletcher, a well-known and respected honey judge, judged the entries and, as usual, was happy to spend time speaking with anyone who asked how they could improve the quality of their entries.

Entering an item into the show improves the contestant’s presentation skills and gives the audience the chance to sample honey, in all its forms, at its best alongside the mead, wax products, honey cakes, and bee-related craft entries.

Honey from the FBKA apiary sold very well, showing how much the local product is valued and appreciated by the community.

Visitors showed great interest in, among other things, how honey comes from frame to honey jar, and gave beekeepers the opening to explain the process and the beneficial properties of honey.

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