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Yes, it really was an extraordinary season

IMG_4139“Oh, it’s been a strange beekeeping season.” I’ve heard beekeepers say that every year that I’ve kept bees. So I will say it this year and claim that it really has been the oddest of years … in this part of southern England at least.

It started with extraordinary rains (the wettest December/January in 248 years) that raised the water tables in the chalk downlands so high that the road past one of my apiaries was a fast-flowing river for several weeks.

After a very mild winter, I discovered in April a completely unexpected Varroa infestation. The colony recovered well after drastic management through shook-swarming and the application of Apistan.

Spring was waterlogged and sluggish to start. Parts of the oil seed rape fields around my apiaries had been washed out and blossom was limited, so the spring harvest wasn’t huge.

Then came summer — and it was a real one, one of the hottest of the century! The season caught up so rapidly that it concertinaed and there was an early June gap (when there are few flowers and little nectar). Suddenly, bees were sniffing around the bee-shed as if it was August.

With such a high water table, the nectar flowed and the summer harvest was bountiful, with the flow lasting much longer than normal.

But there was payback in August when it was the coolest in a century and the bees decided to stay home and prepare for winter.

However, there were yet more tricks in the seasonal arsenal. September and October blossomed. September was one of the warmest and driest ever.  A big second flush of dandelions turned many fields yellow and the ivy (producing honey only the brave can enjoy) gave bumper yields.

The bees took note and started expanding colonies again — to such an extent that uniting colonies became very problematic. I united two only to find that the resulting single colony swarmed and the stay-at-homes were unable to get a new queen mated, leaving me with a drone-laying colony in October. It’s one way of reducing colonies, I suppose!

It was a record-breaking season for weather and for my honey harvest too. I’m now left with too many colonies going into winter as they are still rather too strong to unite. I’m getting to sound like the archetypal farmer.

And now we await what is expected to be the warmest Hallowe’en in decades with the UK expected to be hotter than Istanbul! Spooky!

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

 

 

 

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