An update from Rod Oates, volunteer bee keeper at Compton Verney:
The four colonies of bees at Compton Verney wintered well and were in good shape in the early spring. However
thanks to the weather 2015 has been an unsettled season for bees generally and those at Compton Verney have been similarly affected.
Spring started well but…
as the first blossoms opened the weather turned wet and cool preventing the bees from foraging. Virtually no honey was produced from oil seed rape which normally kicks the season off to a flying start.
These unsettled weather conditions continued for some time so as the population of bees in each hive increased the swarming instinct kicked in and from early May until late June there was a huge number of swarms in the area generally, and two of the colonies at Compton Verney likewise swarmed. In itself a natural process, but as the unsettled weather continued the young virgin queens that hatched out in the hives after swarm had departed with the old queen, failed to mate properly, or not at all, so leaving the colonies queenless. This was overcome by taking some frames of brood from one of the other hives and placing them in the queenless hives, so allowing the bees to rear new queens.
When more settled weather finally arrived these two colonies were relatively weak and so produced little honey, whilst the two stronger colonies worked hard and between them produced around 100lbs of honey, of which in excess of 60lbs was extracted and sold in the shop. Not the most prolific harvest but acceptable reflecting the unsettled weather through the spring and summer.
Unfortunately as Autumn approached it was felt that one of the colonies that had swarmed had not become strong enough to face the winter and so the young poorly performing queen was removed and the bees were merged with those in another hive.
Towards the end of August when the honey flow dried up varroa treatment was applied to the three remaining colonies, followed by winter feeding with concentrated syrup to ensure each colony has an adequate food supply to last through the winter months. Mouse guards were placed over the entrance of the hives late October. Each hive will be “hefted” (checking the weight) to ensure enough food remains and if not fondant will be given to the bees to supplement food supplies.
We now hope the three colonies will fare well over the winter ready to commence their hard work through the coming season. The plan is that around early June the strongest colony will be split so creating a new colony to populate the currently empty hive.
Rod Oates, November 2015.
Many thanks to Rod for all his hard work and devotion, the bees are a real asset to Compton Verney, and long may they reside here! Gary.