President’s Ramblings – June 2024

Who would have guessed that flaming June was here?

This time of year is often referred to as the June gap because the Spring flowers have finished and the summer blossoms have yet to appear. Over the last few years I’ve noticed that often the spring flowers have continued flowering into June and plants like blackberry have started blooming earlier than perhaps I would have expected. The weather has a big effect, and every year is different. If the cold and wet that we’ve experienced this year is anything to go on I would expect honey crops to be lower than average. I’ve heard reports of beekeepers still feeding colonies.

I wrote last month about European Foul Brood. Many of you may have heard that there has been a localised case in an apiary of one of our members. Unlike American Foul Brood, which is generally spread by beekeepers themselves using contaminated equipment, EFB happens to the best of us. So it is certainly no reflection on how good or bad a beekeeper you are. If there is more than one case in an apiary then recommended treatment is to do a shook swarm on all the hives in the apiary. In order to carry out work on the association apiary all the hives were moved out to be looked after over the winter by volunteers. Thankfully all but one came through the winter and they were successfully returned to the apiary after all the work was finished. So far so good! Unfortunately one of the hives had been in the apiary of the member where EFB had been found, so the association apiary was subject to an inspection, following which it was felt necessary to carry out EFB treatment of all the association hives. A shook swarm of all the hives was carried out. This needed dozens of new frames to be made up. My thanks to those volunteers for making frames, helping to carry out the shook swarms, sterilisation of the hives and destruction of all the old combs.

We’ve created a tool to help you calculate sterilisation percentage based on NBU guidance: Sterilisation calculation

Photo from Members EFB frame
Photo from Members EFB frame

Asian Hornets have become a worry to some after a reported sighting near Wrexham. I guess it was a European Hornet though. Beebase has a list of all the confirmed sightings of the Asian Hornet and in 2024 they are all in Kent, East Sussex and Romford. So no need to worry yet.

I was recently asked about my thoughts on clipping the wings of queens. I have to say that I am not a supporter of this practice! Some years ago leading up to taking the General Husbandry Assessment I clipped all my queens. It is a requirement of the examination to demonstrate clipping so I did plenty of practice. At the time I had about 50 colonies and I clipped the wings of every queen! Before you all start picking up your queen with bare hands and holding her gently on the ball of your thumb and trapping her legs with your fingers, then using a very sharp pair of scissors to cut off about a third of one wing (hopefully not cutting off a leg as well!) – a word of warning. Not only do you need to be brave and dextrous, because bare handed beekeeping is not something every beekeeper wants to do, but you need to know why you are carrying out this partial wing amputation. You need to understand swarming and the timing between inspections that is required for us to control swarming.

During the active season we need to inspect every 7 days, and the reason for this is all to do with the timing between an egg being laid in a queen cell and the emergence of a swarm. The timings are – 3 days for the egg to hatch and then about 6 days between then and the cell being sealed. It is about then that the swarm will happen. Sometimes the swarm will be just before the cell is sealed or if the weather is inclement the swarm may be delayed. So when we do an inspection, if there are no eggs in queen cells there won’t be a swarm for at least a week. If there are larvae in the Q cells then a swarm will definitely happen before the next weekly inspection. The theory behind clipping is that if the colony swarms with a clipped queen, she will not be able to fly well and will fall to the ground. The rest of the swarm, having lost their queen, all return to the hive. When the first new queen emerges the colony will swarm with that virgin queen. With a clipped queen, the period between inspections can be extended to 10 days and still not lose a swarm. There are a number of potential pitfalls though. Firstly when we come to do our inspection after the first swarm and loss of the queen what are we going to do? A relatively new beekeeper will be hard pressed to understand the situation. They won’t be able to find the queen (but this is not unusual anyway), there will be lots of sealed queen cells and there will be lots of bees. The question is “have the bees swarmed or not?” In a panic some beekeepers will go through the hive and remove all the queen cells. The colony will then have been made totally queenless with no chance for them to make a new queen. Then you have to do something or they will swarm as soon as the first queen cell hatches. You can’t do an artificial swarm because the queen isn’t there. Even though at the time I had many years of experience and knowledge I found the situation difficult! One other downside that I realised was that I had lost the queen. Having spent many years improving my bees by selectively breeding, I was actually losing some of my best queens. I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t clip the queens’ wings then if I happened to lose a swarm that queen was out there, somewhere, producing good drones to mate with my good queens and that was better than just losing the queen. I never clipped another queen from that day onward. “But I’m busy and can’t always inspect so regularly”, is often the reason people choose to clip queens but it doesn’t stop the swarming instinct. To avoid all that do a spilt or artificial swarm before the bees start making queen cells!

So there you have it. I’m not an advocate of queen clipping! If you want to do it and think it helps then carry on. Like so many topics in beekeeping everyone has their own way of doing things. If it works for you great – if not, try doing it another way.

That’s it for now, more ramblings next month.