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September 01, 2018 0 Comments

This article is from one of Simon's monthly columns that he writes for the NFU's Countryside magazine  


The honey harvest in mid August usually marks the end of our beekeeping season, so it’s appropriate to do our annual review now and so far, its been a very topsy-turvy season here in Hampshire dominated by a very wet spring with a late cold snap and snow followed by a heatwave lasting from May into August, with barely any rain during that time.

Bee Good hives in March under 3" of snow

Bee Good hives in the snow taken in March- This was supposed to be Spring!


As in recent years we had barely any frost in the usual winter months until early March when we had a cold snap and several inches of snow followed by over twice the amount of expected rainfall in Hampshire which meant that most of the significant early pollinator food sources such as Willows, Hazels, Blackthorn and Hawthorn had few flowers, and it was still too cold for the bees to start foraging in earnest, scuppering any chance of a late spring honey harvest this year.

The lack of forage in the critical spring period seemed to significantly reduce the swarming instinct this year as we had far fewer call-outs in late spring and summer, and there were few signs of swarming amongst the Bee Good colonies. This might come back to haunt us next spring as the older Queens might fail before the colonies can replace them. We’ll see...

Pointing out a new Bee Good Queen

A brand new Bee Good Queen bee just above my finger

The weather completely switched in April starting with a lot of rain and ending up with record warm temperatures in the middle of the month. The hot weather carried through May into August with barely any rain falling during this time. The late spring flowers exploded into life driving our bees into a foraging frenzy with large volumes of nectar coming into the hives until late July when the flowering trees and blackberries finally dried up. Our colonies near rivers and streams had a late harvest of Himalayan balsam and rosebay willow herb which enabled us to harvest a fair amount of honey from the stronger colonies turning what would have been an almost non-existent harvest into something just about acceptable.

Beeswax comb full of honey prior to being capped

A close-up view of a frame of honey prior to being capped

Harvest over, we treated the colonies for Varroa mites and now try to ensure that each colony goes into winter with plenty of stored honey and hope they top-up their reserves with a bumper harvest from the late sources - especially flowering Ivy. An essential skill of any beekeeper is to always leave enough honey for the bees to get through the winter and we always err on the cautious side.

Our perfect beekeeping winter is short and sharp where the cold weather keeps the bees warm and cosy inside their hives feeding on their stored honey. However, we closely monitor all the Bee Good hives and leave each one with a pack of sugar candy just underneath the roof that the bees can use if they need it. All’s that left to do now is to firmly strap down the hives to their stands before the first of the Autumn storms...

So, here’s to a short but hard winter and an early mild spring in 2019...