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Beekeeper’s Journal: Happy Michaelmas!

by Beekeeper Joe Shea

The first look at the colonies this year was back in April, and never knowing what wreckage the winter might have bestowed, it was with great joy and relief I found all hives in fine fettle, good numbers, all with brood coming on; very busy and peaceful at their work.

It was the first spring where I was not being faced with one or another hive in need of administration. Indeed, great was the joy, never happier! Perhaps it is at least, in part, testament to the practice of leaving the bees with goodly honey stores for the winter. I stopped sugar syrup feeding in the autumn a couple years ago. I felt this was the first real indication of the benefits of not overly harvesting the honey.

And, third time’s a charm. I can’t say enough, I was overjoyed to find the bees in such good health. So on to the summer we went with a very big show of the dandelions this year, always a boost for the brood. As I wrote in May it was quite a year for the apple blossoms--and on a good show into June. Also in May and June I gathered 3 swarms, all from the bramble hedge right in front of the apiary.

The weather in June was dry but there is rarely a concern for draught in Ireland. Thanks to the warmth and sunlight, I was busy putting the supers on. A honey super is an additional storage place on top of the hive where the bees deposit extra honey and pollen when production is high. Bees can consume stockpiled honey and pollen for survival during winter months, or it can serve as an extra source of honey to be harvested.

Everything was appearing ahead of itself, including the blackberry blossom as noted here. There looked to be no room left for the dreaded  “June Gap.” Which would have been great, but for the June Gap turning into the July Gap.

July was a thundering washout leading to a very off and on August. The bees were using up the plentiful stores they gathered in June, and this was a worry. Beginning of September was a week of Indian Summer with 20 degrees and sun, soon displaced by the normal routine–alternating sunny spells and scattered showers.

During one of these sunny spells I managed to gather 3 boxes of honey for extraction; again leaving most of the honey to the bees to winter on; and leaving an empty super on every hive to allow for storage of any ivy honey.

As of this writing, the ivy has bloomed in South County Down. Now we just need some settled high pressure to allow the bees good foraging. The ivy is an important honey with anti-bacterial properties, enabling the bees to keep the hive clean over winter.  Luckily, we are well endowed with the ivy in South Down.

Looking ahead, I have pots of honey to share out to the community here, frames to be scraped down, the shed to be tidied, insulation to put on the roofs, and honeycomb to be frozen in an effort to deal with the wax moth.

There was enough varroa, the honey bee parasite, on the clearer boards of all hives to warrant an oxalic acid spray treatment. I can heartily recommend using oxalic acid to anyone dealing with varroa mite infestation. It does not in any way interfere with the colony, the queen, or the brood, and has saved me the loss of many hives.

So there’s always something to be done. You will always be looking ahead, and sometimes a little behind; depending on the weather and whatever else the wonder and woes of beekeeping throws at you. Have courage honey lovers, and happy Michaelmas!!

Joe Shea is the beekeeper at Mourne Grange, a Camphill Community in the Mourne Mountains of County Down.


Robb Walsh