bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, September 27, 2004

Final inspection -- bees, hornet & wasps

This weekend I performed my final full inspection of my bees for the season. Just one more visit to remove the Apistan varroa control and that will be it until next March -- apart from occasional visits to make sure the colonies haven't blown over in a winter gale, have enough winter stores (occasional hefting to test the weight) and haven't been aggravated by woodpeckers hammering on the wall.

Everything looked good. Despite a poor honey harvest, there were plenty of stores and plenty of bees with no visible signs of disease.

I united four colonies into two and had a real treat in the process. I put a sheet of newspaper over one colony (this stops bees from each colony mingling too quickly and therefore decreases the risk of a pitched battle) and as I turned back to put the second colony on top I saw a rare sight. Sitting boldly on the newspaper was an enormous hornet (Vespa crabro), a real beauty. This is only the second hornet I've seen at close quarters. It was an impressive beast. At more than 4cm long, it looked enormous alongside the bees (who paid it no attention). Hornets are quite rare in Britain and are mostly found in wooded areas in Southern England. They are greatly feared although I have yet to meet anyone who has been stung by one.

I also united two small nucleii (very small colonies). I couldn't separate them by newspaper because of their size, so I just had to take my chances by putting the stronger colony in the centre with the weaker colony either side. I watched for a while and no fighting ensued. But they were curious about each other and there was a great probosces inspection going on. I probably got away with it because it was such a good day with pollen coming in great quantity. The older girls were mostly out foraging and weren't at home to create a riot.

A nearby beekeeper hasn't been as fortunate as me. He has lost all his bees and has blamed wasps (Vespula vulgaris) for robbing them out. I suspect he had very weak colonies which enabled wasps to gain the upper hand. I've yet to see a healthy colony succomb to wasps.



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