2018 in retrospect

How was 2018 for you?

It was a good year here in Fife, with more of everything; more snow, more colonies, more honey (much more honey 🙂 ), more sheds, more wasps, more swarms and more dead Varroa.

Actually, the ‘more dead mites’ isn’t quite correct but I’ll return to that later.

The Beast from the East

There’s not much to say about the winter, but as we moved from February into March Storm Emma (also called the Beast from the East) arrived. The wind whipped the snow across the Howe of Fife (the largely flat centre of the county), dumping large drifts whenever it eddied over hedges or buildings. I had to dig us out of the house and the road from the village was impassable for 2-3 days.

The Beast from the East ...

The Beast from the East …

The colonies were all snug, if not warm, and weathered the storm without mishap. The reality is that if colonies are properly prepared for winter there’s almost nothing to do – or nothing you can do – until the weather picks up again in the Spring.

During the early part of the year I finished preparing our new bee shed. The bees were installed at the very end of March, soon followed by installation of a solar lighting system.

As I write this (early December 2018) the old apiary site has recently been bulldozed flat to make way for a new road. The contractors felled most of the beautiful trees in the well-established arboretum that surrounded the apiary.

All that’s left now is a muddy, ugly scar across the landscape waiting to be tarmac’d. Every time I drive past the line from The Last Resort by The Eagles, Some rich men come and raped the land”, comes to mind.

That’s progress 🙁

On a slightly brighter note, we did save the original shed and it’s recently been reassembled on the new apiary site. This will provide some much needed storage space. The new shed is bigger, but still a bit cramped when used for storage, work and bees.

In like a lion, out like a lamb

Well, almost. March continued cold but the weather had picked up by mid-April. I’d lost just two colonies in the winter, both due to failed queens. By the third week of April I’d started inspections 1 and colonies were all looking pretty good.

The weather got better and better, the oil seed rape (OSR) flowered and the bees started hammering it. Only one of my apiaries had OSR in range and they did really well.

Capped honey super frame ...

Capped honey super frame …

By the middle of June the OSR was over and the honey was all extracted. The high glucose content of OSR nectar means it crystallises fast and very hard. It needs to be extracted before this happens in the frames. Some find OSR honey rather bland or an acquired taste. However, I’ve just processed the first couple of buckets into soft set honey and it’s excellent on toast.

The June gap

In terms of beekeeping it was non-stop. June was frantically busy. Even before the the Spring honey was off the crowded colonies had started to make preparations for swarming.

Just as the bees were preparing to move house I was also busy moving into a new house. It was manic. As fast as I put split boards into colonies more queen cells would appear. I started to run out of frames and brood boxes. I managed to hold some colonies back by slicing out great slabs of drone comb. This takes just a few seconds using foundationless frames and gives the bees something to do rather than make swarm preparations.

And in between all this I was interminably packing, driving and unpacking rental vans doing my own move.

I know I lost a couple of swarms – from about 20 colonies in total 2 – which left me feeling a bit guilty. At least they left with very low Varroa levels so, for a time at least, they would not contribute to the mite levels in the local environment. To ‘compensate’ for colonies that might establish themselves somewhere unwanted I donned my beesuit and destroyed a huge wasps nest in a neighbours roof space.

I also gratefully received a good-sized swarm in a bait hive.

The ‘June gap’ refers to the dearth of nectar that often occurs at this time of year. This year – despite excellent weather – was no exception. I didn’t feed colonies but many around me did. A few were a bit light but were OK until the summer flow started … which it did in late June or early July.

The flow must go on

Lime, blackberry, clover, rosebay willow herb and goodness knows what else. It was excellent. Coupled with continued good weather, hives got taller and taller as more supers were added. I ran out of supers altogether.

With lots of nectar and great weather for inspections it was my best beekeeping year since I moved back to Scotland.

Laden foragers returning ...

Laden foragers returning …

The good weather also aided queen mating which helped with requeening and preparing nucs for overwintering. About 75% of my colonies were requeened this year, almost all through splits of one type of another.

And then it was all over

The flow eventually stopped and the extraction was interminable. Not that I’m complaining. Super after super after super looked like this:

Ready to extract

Ready to extract …

Wasps were a big problem in late summer. I lost a queenless colony and a nuc to the stripey blighters. Amazingly I managed to save the queen from the nuc 3 and she’s now heading a strong colony through the winter.

After a fortnight or so tidying, stock-taking (uniting colonies, cleaning cleared supers, making up a few additional nucs) and ‘final’ inspections it was time to start Varroa treatment and feeding colonies up for winter.

I’ve deliberately finished the season with fewer colonies than I started, but with more overwintering nucleus colonies for sale or making up losses. The absence of a work/life balance means I want to reduce my personal colony numbers by about a third for the next couple of years (to ~10), with another 6-8 overwintering for work. I’ll still be busy 🙁

Mite news

Mite levels have been extraordinarily low this season. For work we uncapped many hundreds to low thousands of individual pupae 4 and found no more than half a dozen mites all season. We’ve seen no evidence of DWV symptoms and irregular mite counts on the Varroa trays have yielded very low numbers.

All colonies were treated by sublimation with an oxalic acid-containing treatment in early September, with three applications at five day intervals. The mite drop was so low (<200 from eight colonies in total in one apiary) that I was concerned that the treatment had failed. I therefore followed it up with Apivar strips in half the colonies. One or two additional dead mites appeared, but that was all.

So, not more dead Varroa, but probably a much greater proportion of the mite population were killed.

The Apiarist in 2018

This is the 300th post over the last five years. Yes, I’m surprised as well. I missed only one Friday when my hosting service was either not hosting or not providing a service 🙁

A few weeks ago I moved the site to a cloud-based virtual server (Amazon LightSail) which, to me at least 5 appears faster and more stable. Processor load is 10% what it was and page response times seem much better. Tell me if it isn’t.

Unique visitor numbers and page reads continue to increase year on year with both up ~33% on last year. What is particularly reassuring is that articles I’ve written on disease management now feature as the most read over the course of the year (though several were written in previous years). The ‘top five’ are:

  1. When to treat? – the importance of correctly timing the early autumn Varroa treatment.
  2. Feeding fondant – quicker, easier and possibly better for the bees.
  3. Oxalic acid preparation – making Api-Bioxal solution properly for trickle treating.
  4. Vertical splits and making increase – manipulations for swarm control and expansion.
  5. Making soft set honey – making all that OSR honey look good and sell well.
"When to treat" monthly page views

“When to treat” monthly page views (5/2/16 to 13/12/18)

The composite page on ‘Equipment‘ also featured amongst this top five, but takes visitors off to all sorts of articles on bee sheds, DIY and hive reviews.

And the future …

This post is already too long. I’ve just checked and see I have 55 posts with working titles and scrawled notes in my drafts folder 6. That suggests there’s likely to be something written next year.

Until then … Happy New Year 


 

Footnotes

  1. A full three weeks earlier than I’d managed for some colonies in 2017.
  2. Only about 8 of these were honey production colonies. The remainder were for work or were being built up for splitting and nuc production.
  3. I found her barricaded in the corner of the nuc with about a hundred harassed workers after I tried all the usual tricks of sealing the entrance and moving them to a new apiary.
  4. Individually, not dozens at a time with an uncapping fork! Every one was inspected as was the emptied cell. We need the pupae for experiments in the laboratory.
  5. And I’ve not received any comments or complaints.
  6. Though disappointingly there are more titles than notes, implying I’ve still got some work to do.

21 thoughts on “2018 in retrospect

  1. Walrus

    Great article & photos as always 😀

    Yeah, on balance it was a pretty good year for me too. I had a great honey year, no OSR, and had wasp problems. Used underfloor hive entrances which might have helped with the wasps.

    So sorry to hear about your apiary & surrounding trees being destroyed by developers.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      None of my hives with underfloor entrances had wasp ‘issues’. The hive I lost was a queenless double-brooded colony in the bee shed. The entrance was 1″ diameter, but they’d failed to rear a new queen (she emerged but either failed to mate or was lost) and appeared to have lost the will to defend themselves, despite the hive entrance being relatively small. I’ve seen queenless colonies succumb to wasps in previous years as well. The nuc was a Thorne’s Everynuc which has a very poorly designed ‘cavernous maw’ for an entrance … this, coupled with the problems establishing balanced bee populations in nucs, made them susceptible.

      In years to come no-one will remember the arboretum … it was a small tranquil corner with outstanding wildlife (red squirrels, sparrowhawks, orchids and deer) with some lovely old trees … like these:

      Tree

      Trunk

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. David Jones

    Very pleased to hear that you will keep posting. When I started the penultimate section of this one I had a brief flutter of concern!

    Do you publicise your planned speaking engagements anywhere? I’ve seen you mention them in brief asides, but not seen anything systematic

    Thanks for putting in the effort to create this unique resource. It is much appreciated

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello David
      If I remember I usually post from my Twitter account (@The_Apiarist), but often not until the week of the speaking engagement. I’ve done a lot in the run up to Christmas (Nairn, Peebles, Fortingall, Dunblane, Dundee etc.). The next couple of months are busy with other commitments and I don’t think I’m speaking again until the Cambridgeshire BKA seminar day in March.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Alan Deeley

    Hi David, We are ‘enjoying’ very mild temperatures here in Warwickshire, and the outlook is for this to continue for a while yet. This will probably mean that there is still brood in our colonies.
    How long would you recommend we leave it before doing the OA treatment? Alternatively could we do two treatments a fortnight apart?

    Thanks, Alan

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Alan
      There’s no right answer to this I’m afraid … the LASI folk in Sussex would recommend forking out the brood and then treating, but I’ve never done this (and it seems a bit intrusive). Two treatments a fortnight apart (I presume you’re intending to vaporise?) is probably too few and too far apart … with brood present, 3 x 5 days is the usual recommendation. After vaporisation you continue to get a mite drop for ~5 days or so when the OA remains active. I’ve got a post in preparation on the results of my winter mite treatment. I used 2 to 3 treatments at 5 day interval for those that continued to drop mites. These may have had brood (most didn’t) but I did not check this.

      As an aside, when I lived in Warwickshire I think there was usually a broodless period unless the winter was unusually warm.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Alan Deeley

        Thank you David.
        There aren’t many occasions when I can honestly say that I am jealous of the weather in Scotland😃
        We finally have a bit of a cold spell here, so I will see about treating in a couple of weeks when the brood has emerged.
        PS. Really enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work, especially about varroa. There are far too many beekeepers posting on social media that they are not treating, and that their colonies will evolve to become varroa resistant.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Alan
          A Varroa update is ‘pending’. All treatments here are complete and everything is looking good. However, going by the number of page reads that the post on preparing oxalic acid is getting, there are still many who have yet to undertake their winter treatments.
          Cheers
          David

          PS The weather may be more variable, but the views are much better …

          Ardnamurchan, Scotland

          Reply
  4. Michael street

    Hi Dave, as Kevin said above never too long always informative and useful information coupled with a somewhat Jaded! sense of humor (or is that aged) well it makes me laugh. As far as 2018 went started with 1 colony went 2 and a nuc had a queen fail so united nuc and failing queen colony, from which we harvested 48kg of honey mainly OSR (30kg) 28kg from the united colony and 20 from the smaller one. I don’t think the small one is going to make it, does not seem like enough bees probably due to a very high varroa infestation in late summer, were as the the bigger one is bursting with bees and had a very low varroa cont. We will be doing the oxalic acid treatment tomorrow so I will have a better idea of how hive 1 is doing. When I look at the year as a whole the the knowledge and experience gained is priceless so that going forward 2018 has hopefully made me a better bee keeper and part of that is down to you, when in doubt check out The Apiarist Thanks Dave all the best to you and yours Mike

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks for those kind words Mike
      It sounds like you had a pretty good season. When the OSR yields well it can be a real bonanza. If the small colony does make it (and it sounds like you’re being realistic) there are ways of ‘rescuing’ it early(ish) in the season, albeit with the loss of the spring honey crop. I’ll be posting some things on this next year sometime. Remember that you can use Apivar more or less anytime as long as there are no supers on (or you’re willing to feed the honey back to the bees … the wax remains untainted).
      Best Wishes for the coming year,
      David

      Reply
  5. Michael street

    Morning Dave did the trickle job yesterday and hive 1 is looking very poorly although they seem to be getting stuck into the fondant the few that are still there, hive 2 on the other hand was robustly healthy we have 12 frames in the brood box and there were eight seams solid with bees and the edges are well populated so not a lot to concern us, however the ladies were not happy about being disturbed even on a mild windless day and as discretion is the better part of valor it was treat, and beat the retreat if you see what I mean. Have a great hogmanay and happy new year and good beekeeping to you and all your readers, keep up the good work online it is much appreciated by a numpty like me All the best Dave Mike

    Reply
  6. Bill

    Best wishes for 2019 David. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and been stimulated by the posts – so let me also say “thank you”.

    Your blog details are now on the beginners notes we hand out at ESBA.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks Bill

      And Best Wishes to you for 2019 as well. I’d better go and revise the upcoming post on “Beekeeping courses … don’t waste your money” 😉

      See you soon (at the event on the 7th if I’m back from my travels)
      David

      Reply
  7. Dorothie Jones

    Hi David and a Happy New Year to you.
    I’m wondering about what you would consider a ‘low enough’ mite count after OA treatment? Beebase suggest treat at more than 2 per day in Jan but I thought I had read in your blog that under 5 per day was reasonable. I’ve been searching your archives but without success so I might be mistaken. All my hives are negligeable after 3 treatments but one remains at 3 per day. Any comments welcome as usual.
    I look forward to all your posts. So informative and easy to understand in an ocean of confusing info for the less experienced among us. No preaching and delivered with humour!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dorothie
      I don’t think I’ve ever posted a ‘target number’. I don’t think it’s possible to do this, other than having it as low as possible! The natural drop is very dependent on the colony size and on the amount of brood being reared. In two similar sized colonies with the same number of mites, one with brood, one without, you’d expect the colony with brood would have less phoretic mites and therefore to drop less. This is a pretty inexact science I’m afraid. I’d probably just keep a close eye on the colony that continues to drop mites and be prepared to intervene again if needed.
      Regards
      David

      Reply
  8. Dorothie Jones

    Thanks David. I must have imagined it!!!
    Good advice as always. I’ll be keeping a regular eye in mite levels in this colony. In fact prob on all of them!!

    Reply

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