I went along to the main hall for the first lecture: Keith Pierce on ‘Autumn to Spring’ and bagged myself a seat in the front row. Keith was using a powerpoint presentation and, unfortunately, the stewards turned the lights out. This happened for nearly all the lectures in the first part of the week until they wised up on Thursday.
Most beekeepers are past their first flush of youth so, when the lights go down, so do the eyelids! If the speaker and the audience can’t see each other, especially occasionally making eye contact, there is no interaction. The speaker may as well not be there as it could be done as a TV programme. How many of you have dozed off in front of a TV? That’s the reason I got rid of mine!
It is also very difficult to write legible notes in the dark so there may be errors and omissions in what follows. AUTUMN TO SPRING. Winter losses: Keith entered last winter with 85 hives and emerged in the spring with 36. There was an average of about 60 – 70% losses last winter. Autumn management: care given to bees after the honey crop is taken off. Keep centre of the brood nest open and the queen laying. Autumn is the start of the beekeeping year. Remove supers in early August (I don’t agree with this, but it was his lecture, not mine!). The Canadian clearer board is best, enabling beeless supers to be removed after about 6 hours. The hexagonal type is good too.
Storing supers over winter. Separate wet and dry; alternating them in the stack so as to deter wax moth. August feeding: don’t assume that hives from which you have harvested have honey in the brood box. Heft them. Feeding gives a last job for the ageing summer bees and stimulates laying. Always have 4 – 5 gallons of syrup handy. Thymol is added routinely at a rate of 2 teaspoonsful to 5 gallons. Feed strong syrup 16lb of sugar to 2 gallons of water give 24lb of stores. American readers are advised that Eire uses Imperial measurements as opposed to the apothecaries’ measures used in the USA: thus an Irish gallon has 160 fluid ounces rather than 128. Not everything is bigger in America! A National brood frame holds 5 lb of stores and so the winter weight for a National hive would be about 50 – 60lb. Strong hives need 2 brood boxes or a BB and a super.
Ashforth feeders are recommended, but they may get a bit leaky as the woodwork dries out in Summer, so soak them for a while to swell the wood and close leaks.
Autumn nest inspection: check queenright; find and mark the queen if possible; find out why any weak ones are weak. Keep old queens for their genetics. Requeen any with failing queens, keeping at least one queen in an Apidea as insurance. Beware that if they are queenless they may produce what looks like a queen cell or two that really contain drones! Robbing is common in the June gap and in August. Set wasp traps. When the supers are off, treat for Varroa, using Apiguard.
At the late September brood inspection move old combs to the outside/rear of the hives for removal and replacement in Spring. Take your winter losses in Autumn by uniting any weak but healthy colonies. Put mouseguards on in October. Hives should be sited so the sun can shine on them on Christmas day. Bees need access to water to use honey. You need fat bees to last through a long winter so they need plenty of pollen.
That’s the end of my notes. I’m not sure whether that’s when I nodded off. There were a few questions that I didn’t note and then we all headed over the lawn for coffee in the cellar and ease legs, bottoms and bladders in preparation for the next lecture. I’ve noticed since getting home that my ankles are a little swollen and wonder whether this is a result of too much time sitting around in lecture halls and airports. Maybe I should wear my flight socks next time!