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Where's the honey gone!

The Beekeeper has been away for 3 weeks, checking the 4 hives before he went, finding all well and flourishing, good honey flow and anticipating, even allowing for leaving plenty of stores for the winter, at least 40lbs + to extract on his return; and I certainly saw plenty of activity whilst he was away.

However, he's back and went down to the hives yesterday and was most perplexed to discover the colonies in apparent good health, busy as usual...but virtually no honey Confused Much less than there'd been 3 weeks earlier, and prob not even enough to keep the bees going through the winter. I know our weather's been very er, changeable, during August but there's been no shortage of bees on the flowers, and I've barely seen a wasp all summer.

He's never had this happen before - any of you Beeks out there experienced this? Comments welcomed please!

late season swarm?

I'm more of a beekeeper adjacent than a beekeeper....

I'd suggest the same - the naughty new queen has taken it all with her!

We've had the old queen just swarm, and the hive is suspiciously empty. Coincidence...?

(we have new queen and are supplementary-feeding)
Mistress Rose

Either the weather hasn't been as good as you think, and they have had to eat quite a lot of it, or a swarm that went awol when nobody was looking.

No, OH certain no swarmimg, masses of bees and brood in each, queens well-established. And I def haven't seen a line of bees flying off with under-slung honeypots. Just a lack of honey. We've had years when there's been no honey flow as the weather's been crap at the wrong time, but there's been excellent flow and bees everywhere in the garden covered with pollen...

We don't bee-keep for the honey - but we do rather hope they'll end up with enough to see themselves through the winter...

It was all (she whispers) going so well this season too... Wink

Are there any peculiarities that cause bees to focus on pollen instead of nectar?

Pollen is important for brood, right? The missing piece is why that would over-shadow nectar collection....
Mistress Rose

If you had a dry spell as we did earlier in the summer, some plants wouldn't have been producing nectar, or not as much. Buddleia only produces enough depth for honey bees to get at when it has been quite wet for example, although bumble bees and other insects with longer proboscis can reach it.

Here the bees built well through the Spring & early summer but for the last fortnight it's been cooler & definitely wetter.
Stores at this time can get consumed rapidly when the hive is chok full of bees.
70,000 bees not only gather a lot of nectar but when shut at home can consume a large amount of stores.
If you're happy feeding I suggest harvesting earlier in the summer & feeding syrup during wet cold weather.
If you don't like supplementary feeding harvesting smaller amounts more frequently but always making sure there's plenty left for the bees is my advice.
Either that or there's been robbing by wasps or other bees from elsewhere.

Very Happy

Do the bee's consume the honey if they are about to swarm?

Do the bee's consume the honey if they are about to swarm?

I believe that when they swarm they do so with near-bursting bellies full of honey. A real beekeeper can correct me if I'm wrong.

Thanks all. No swarming & no wasps - will put it down to the weather ( Rolling Eyes ) and will clearly need to feed them. Ah well - next year will be different - it always is!!!
Mistress Rose

The other problem about a cool wet spell is that the bees can't get out and plan all sorts of naughty things, like swarming. In reality, because there are so many bees in the hive at one time there isn't enough 'queen substance' to go round to control them properly, so they think the queen is aging, and breed up queen cells, so watch out for them.

Well, what do you know??? Email from the National Bee Unit arrived this afternoon:

Beekeepers in the South West of England may want to check their colonies food levels, as stated in our previous Autumn Husbandry alert. Many of the Bee Inspectors are finding colonies on the brink of starvation with alarmingly low food stores. Remember, a colony will now need 25 kilos of food to see them through the winter. As a reminder, a strong syrup (i.e. 630ml water to 1kg sugar) should be fed to the colony at this time of the year and not a weak syrup. If you have any questions about feeding then please do not hesitate to contact us.

So very definitely not just our bees Sad

I take it that they don't know what's caused it then, with them not mentioning it in the email.
Mistress Rose

Probably the bees not being able to get out and forage.

Climate change is having an effect.
The weather pattern here is mild late winter/early spring, followed by warm dry springs. & then wet cooler summers.
The met office confirms this trend with 9 from the last 13 years.
You should IMHO be setting your beekeeping calendar a month earlier.

As for feeding now, the Ivy has started flowering here & between showers my bees are working so I'm not reaching for the sugar yet.

Very Happy

Well, you feed when your bees are hungry! First lot of sugar syrup went into the feeders yesterday evening, 2 1/2 litres per hive: feeders were checked this morning and all 3 were bone dry. OH was flabbergasted. There really have been bees feeding on all the flowers, ornamental and fruit/veg blossom, all summer, weather permitting, and plenty in the garden today.

I think you're right re the beekeepers' calendar though.

Second lot of syrup is cooling as I type.

Plants are typically going to flower regardless of conditions (to a point), but the amount of excess sugar they have to put towards something like nectar is completely dictated by how much sun they're getting.

The sun was up for about the same number of hours every day this week, but my solar panels only generated about 2.5 kwh the other day because of the clouds. The day after they generated 14.5 kwh.

It's the same way with plants, but it's a carbon budget not an electrical one. First the plant needs to be meeting its energy needs for respiration (day to day life), then for structural needs (building leaves and flowers), then depending upon the plant (annual or perennial) it will be allocating sugar to storage (starch in roots) or enhancing reproductive success (e.g., nectar) or some combination of both.

The amount of absolute power shining down really drops with just a bit of cloud cover, so even with lots of bee visits, there may not be enough sun to make lots of nectar.
Mistress Rose

There is also the condition of the bees to consider. Firstly, if it is very wet they can't get out to forage, and if it is windy they will be bringing in less as they need some for energy to get there and back. Secondly, if it is still warm there may be a longer reproduction season, so more bees in the hive for longer and more mouths, both adult and larvae to feed.

All very gloomy really. Last night's feed went the way of Tuesday night's: feeders empty this morning. 3rd lot in feeders now.
Mistress Rose

They may be storing most of it if their stores are badly depleted, so I wouldn't worry that they are taking it all. Now is the time they want to make sure they have enough stores for winter and they will still be very active, so a good time to lay them in.

3rd night's syrup has also disappeared...OH off to buy more sugar...

We're certainly hoping they're storing it.


I don't expect anybody to follow my philosophy on beekeeping but there are many like me who are finding a more natural approach does work.
Flowers, as slim says will flower regardless but nectar flow can be seriously depleted by wet cooler summers.

White clover which has been a reliable crop & a mainstay of the beekeeper for generations is much reduced. Because of nectar only being produced at temps over 20c, & when produced easily knocked down & diluted by heavy rain. Also so few pastures are managed now in a way that encourages white clover so it's not as prevalent as it used to be.
Ivy as I have said many times here in the past has the ability to recharge its nectaries until pollination is successful.
That's good for the bees & the plant, & makes it a very reliable source.

I will feed sugar in an emergency. But if you are going to feed sugar until they stop taking it, you will end up with a hive full of sugar, also bees that wont bother foraging, even on days when it's possible. It's part of a bees nature to gather from the nearest & strongest source first. So if there's a full feeder on top the hive, they aren't going to waste energy flying to a source a few hundred metres away.

In emergency I make blocks of fondant.
Feeding syrup can encourage breeding & I would rather have bees that breed when nectar is abundant & reduce breeding when it's not.
A kilo of fondant on top of a hive will keep even a large colony alive for a week a smaller one longer.

Very Happy

Alright mate? Long time no see, how's things?

More in touch with nature than ever, & loving my land even more as well.
Had a long internet break, needed to spend time in the real world & get things done.
Have I missed anything?

Very Happy Very Happy Wink

missed you and your blogging as well, Tavascarow Smile
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