The serious side of this is that at the Bee Association we discuss what happens to the young people who attend the beekeeping course each year and why most of the active members have retired from full time employment. I think that the activities detailed in my blog and the costs clearly identify the biggest reasons - time and money but of course in London there is also the issue of space. If you live in a flat, or rented accommodation it is unlikely that you will have the room for bee hives.
Whilst correctly, concern has been focused on the health and reduction in the number of bees, there should also be concern at the number and age profile of beekeepers. In 1970 there were 32,000 beekeepers in England and Wales which dropped to 10,000 in 1990, attributed to the arrival of varroa in the UK (source, www.bbka.org.uk accessed 14/7/14). Government data for 2012 estimated 40,000 beekeepers in the UK (not England and Wales only) of whom 300 are commercial beekeepers (source, www.gov.uk/bee health accessed 14/7/14). As registration is voluntary, there may be more beekeepers. I would love to know how many of the young adults who have attended beekeeping courses in the last few years have now got colonies, or are part of a shared apiary. It could be argued that by attending a course these people have a far greater understanding of beecraft and related environmental issues and that this in itself is a good outcome, but we do need the skills passed on. A 53% decline in managed colonies between 1985 and 2005 is of concern (source: Breeze, Roberts and Potts (21012) Reading University, www.foe.co.uk) and I am not convinced that this figure has risen substantially.
Beecraft has a section for young beekeepers and often publishes reports on projects based in schools. Excellent, but I suspect that the active young beekeepers have parents who keep bees. What can we do?
Last Monday we extracted honey from some of the supers. We did this in the shed at the apiary in the evening. As there is no electricity supply and it is a small space it was rather intense and sticky, but good humoured. We ended up with about 109lbs and more to extract but that will be done under easier circumstances away from the apiary. Despite the Canadian clearing board there were a lot of bees on the super in Hive 1 so we left it in place.
Inspection of Hive 1 on Thursday revealed copious queen cells and one already capped. No sign of the queen. The position of the cells on the face of the frames and the large number suggests supercedure late in the season. The colony are not impressed by their queen. That single queen cell last week was an early warning. With Connie's help I removed all but two queen cells. However, Johan thinks that the new queen will be no more effective than the last so I suspect that I will have to kill her and unite this hive with another for the winter.
Update yesterday is that the two queen cells we left are open. There are two more and there is no sign of old or new queens and only old capped brood. I put in a varroa board, dosed the colony with 'Hive Clean' to promote hygienic behaviour and reduce varroa. Sadly the full super had to be left to feed the colony even though they will be united with another for the winter. No honey for me from this hive this year.
Still busy but the supers are not filling up at the same rate that they were a few weeks back. I am 'over-supered'. I did a quick inspection of just the supers and put the ones that were not fully drawn and had very little nectar into one super and removed it. I brushed the bees off each frame rather than use a clearing board. I would have then have put all the fully capped frames in super one and the almost full in super 2 and had a think about super 3 but I had an unexpected visitor so had to close up. For the winter I will need to leave a full super under the brood box with queen excluder removed so the big question is whether there is sufficient honey in super 3 for me to extract one and two or whether I will only bet one super - about 25lbs of honey this year ................ that liquid gold gets ever more costly.
I found an excellent book a few weeks ago entitled 'At the Hive Entrance' by Professor H. Storch. This old German book can be bought in translation as a reprint or downloaded from the Internet. It appeals very much to me as it focusses on careful observation of the colony rather than treatment according to some sort of automated calendar of activities. I have been observing my colony carefully from outside as well as through inspections which is how I spotted the wasps a few weeks back. This week there are two interesting aspects: first the drones are finding it difficult to get access to the hive and every now and again one that does get in is bundled out and tipped off the landing board like an old drunk at 'chucking out time' down the pub; the second is the way that the young 'hive bees' do orientation flights close to the entrance during the middle of the day in preparation for future foraging expeditions. Of the latter it was suggested that this congregating at the entrance was other bees robbing the hive. This concerned me but research suggests that with robbing I would see: capping on the landing board and on the ground by the hive entrance, bees fighting in the hive, bees entering the hive by a gap in the hive (there are none), cappings inside the hive (other than from emerging brood) and robber bees feeding in a cluster at one spot. Thankfully there is no evidence of any of this, so back to my first theory that the activities I had observed were as I first identified. However, something to watch in the future.
Bee Trivia No 4
A hive of bees flies over 55,000 miles to make 1lb of honey which is one and a half times around the World.