Bridget Beattie, PhD, NDB
Guidance for beginners: bees are still foraging and combs must be protected from wax moths
SEPTEMBER CAN be a golden month in so many ways. Autumn is here and that wonderful poem of John Keats comes to mind. Most of us remember the first line of Ode to Autumn: ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!’ but later on we find:
‘to set budding more and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they think warm days will never cease, for summer has o’er brimmed their clammy cells’.
In autumn the population of the colony continues to diminish but bees are still out and about, collecting nectar and pollen from the later flowers. Yes indeed, there is still a lot of forage around but we should leave this for the bees themselves.
By now we have removed the honey supers and extracted them, returning the wet supers for a day or two above the crownboard to be dried up by the bees. I am not spending time on honey and its extraction here as Wally Shaw has contributed a mini-series on the subject, so although this is the time of year when it would normally be dealt with, let’s have a look at other issues which are important to understand when starting out.
After removing cleaned supers we applied any anti-varroa treatment deemed necessary to help the bees going into winter to keep healthy. Depending on the method chosen, treatments will be left on the hive for six to eight weeks and it is very important that the timing is followed correctly. It requires discipline! If the weather has become miserable by the time the treatment has to be removed, there is a great temptation not to bother with taking off the remains of the treatment so that it stays in the hive until it is opened up in spring. That could lead to resistance in mites which would render the treatment useless for the future. We must ensure that our very small arsenal against pests is carefully husbanded. There are times when we have to do things with hives in miserable weather. We work as fast as possible, focused on the task in hand and causing minimum disruption to the bees. If you have to use an umbrella, remember it’s there to keep the bees dry, not the beekeeper!
There are two critters which like to live alongside bees and are very beneficial in nature but a blooming nuisance to managed colonies – the wax moths!
There are two species, commonly known as the greater wax moth and – wait for it – the lesser wax moth. Their Latin binomial names are Galleria mellonella and Achroia grisella respectively.
Why are they important, these dull relatives of butterflies? It’s because they live in hives and, given half a chance, will munch away at honeycomb. Let’s have a look at what happens in a wild colony which makes wax moths beneficial insects.
In a wild bee nest, comb is built and used for brood and storing pollen and honey. When it gets a bit manky, the bees have the space to move along and build a new comb while the oldest ones are put out of use. In this way the colony