by Duncan Heather & Brian Green
I would be surprised if I wasn’t the only one to be pleases to see the back of the 2021 beekeeping season. For me personally, it was the worst season I’ve had in 15 years of beekeeping. Cold weather then, near continuous rain, well into May, meant the queen rearing was off to a very slow start. To put 2021 into context, I spent more money on buyer sugar to feed my starving hives than I did on Petrol. When we did manage to get into the hives, they were small, due to lack of available forage and from there-on-in basically refused to build up. Trying to find enough sealed brood and nurse bees to populate mating hives was a real struggle.
“To put 2021 into context, I spent more money on buying sugar to feed my starving hives, than I did on Petrol.”
When we did manage to set up a starter/finisher, the grafting success was well down on previous years. And to add insult to injury, many queens that hatch out into roller-cages (despite being fed honey) where left to starve by the workers within 48 hours of hatching. The bees just weren’t interested. Something I have never experienced before.
Those queens that did make it, then had to battle wind and the rain to try and get mated. And those that did, once laying, their nucleus colonies failed to build up sufficiently to go into winter.
What did we learn?
I suspect lack of forage due to poor weather and bad flying days was the main culprit. Disease and varroa where almost non-existent in the hives. We only treated twice, once in April and again in September and both times, mite drop was negligible. We did an alcohol wash in July and only found 5 varroa in a total of 20 hives.
The mating apiary is strategically placed, surrounded on 3 sided by woodland. Meaning the main flight path for the bees is due south. Approx. 1000m away, we have a second apiary where we keep the drone hives. This way, we try to control (as best we can) the mating of our queens.
Its possible the mating apiary was over stocked last year for the available forage. So this year we have decided to limit the number of full hives to 2 starter/finisher hives and 2 queen castles housing our AMM breeder queens which have come through the winter reasonably well. In addition, we will keep 20 No. 3 by 3 British national mating hives here. The Drone Apiary will house 20 colonies which will be both brood factories and drone colonies. And we are excited to announce two new Nucleus apiaries 3 miles apart. Here we will have 20 No. 5 by 5 British National brood boxes which will have additional 5 frame brood boxes added above, to make 2 story 10 frame hives.
AMM Nucs and Queens for sale
This set up allows use to bring on the queens into full lay and to assess their performance. It allows us to sell 5 frame nucs or mated queens. We can also supply spare virgin queens to BBOBI members to get mated in their own apiaries.
Education & Training
Last year we ran a series of workshops which proved to be very successful. We were joined by 6 BBOBI members every Saturday and they spent the day with Brian Green and I, going through the entire queen rearing process. We hope to do something similar this year, so watch this space for dates and times.
If anyone from Bucks, Berks or Oxfordshire would be interested in joining BBOBI, please feel free to contact Brian Green directly and we wish all our members a very happy and successful beekeeping season in 2022.