Weather difficult for beekeepers

Published: 28 Jun 2012 13:000 comments

This has been an extraordinary season for beekeepers, although I must admit that this is a phrase which seems to be more and more common as the years pass and it becomes more obvious that our climate is indeed changing, according to Ethel Irvine, from Fermanagh Beekeepers Association.

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"Beekeepers, like farmers, gardeners and many others, are dependent on good weather for their livestock's wellbeing.

"We had an excellent spell of very good weather at the end of March. Bee colonies expanded rapidly and made the most of the dandelion and anything else which was in bloom. During the cold spell which followed, the bees were unable to forage and the rate of laying of eggs by some queens slowed down.

"We had to watch carefully that colonies had enough stores to tide them through the lean period and some beekeepers had to feed their bees. There was very little rain during this time and nectar was scarce in the flowers which were in bloom. This was followed by yet another week of very hot weather at the beginning of May.

"The behaviour of the bees was interesting. They foraged in large numbers and I noticed that the cotoneaster, which was in bloom, was covered with pollen- and nectar- reliant insects of all types - honey bees, bumble bees and hover flies.

"Suddenly the foraging ceased and the honey bees collected copious amounts of water from the nearest source. One day's rain and foraging recommenced. The nectar in the cotoneaster had dried up during the hot days, the soil was also dry and it meant that the rain was necessary to enable the plants to secrete nectar again.

"The supers were filling up with honey, only to be curtailed by another spell of wet and windy weather, followed by a few good days. It has definitely been a 'stop-start' spring and early summer.

"The outcome has been difficult times for the beekeeper. At this time of year, we have to examine our colonies regularly (every seven days if the queen's wings are not clipped, every ten days if they are clipped) to ensure that we do not lose our foraging bees in swarms.

"This has not always been possible and queen cells have been built. In some instances, the old queen will have flown with up to half of the bees in the colony.

"A swarm can leave a colony and disappear very quickly in unsettled weather. In sunny conditions the swarm will leave the hive and settle in a convenient (to them!) place. The scout bees will dance on the surface of the swarm to convince the bees that they have chosen a new nesting place which is ideal for them and the swarm will lift off and go to it, after perhaps a couple of hours or much longer.

"During rainy weather, all this decision making may have taken place in the hive and as soon as the sun comes out for a blink, they are off to their new home. This can happen without the beekeeper knowing anything about it.

In Fermanagh Beekeepers' Association, members have been very busy, sitting examinations, managing their own bees, the Association bees and working at the honey extraction room which is being re-modelled.

The Preliminary class for those wishing to take up beekeeping did their examinations in May.

On the Bank Holiday week-end, Association members attended Pettigoe Fair Day and Florencecourt House Activity day.

The annual barbeque was held on Saturday 16th June in the Association Apiary on the Enniskillen Campus of CAFRE . Fermanagh BKA is pleased to host the AGM of the Ulster Beekeepers' Association this year on Friday, October 5 2012, at 7.30pm.

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