THIS year has proved to be a revelation for members of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association, says Ethel Irvine in her report for August.

"I imagine this is the same for many other beekeepers who endeavour to look after their bees and produce honey in less than favourable climates.

"We have always envied the ability of our fellow beekeepers in, say, the South of Ireland and England to produce heavy harvests, and may even have considered that somehow our queens and their offspring are somewhat lacking in the ability to collect huge amounts of nectar and pollen.

"This year has proved that, given the weather, our locally adapted strain of apis mellifera mellifera is capable of foraging on the multiple varieties of blooms available in Fermanagh, and of storing vast quantities of honey.

"For myself, the real miracle is that our local honeybee is capable of foraging at relatively low temperatures, 7°C, often in a drizzle, and that she has evolved strategies to survive our damp and warm winter weather in Fermanagh.

"She is also a thrifty bee, and conserves her stored honey for poor conditions, unlike some other strains which have a tendency to use all incoming forage to rear brood, which results in large colonies which do not have the resources to sustain themselves in times of dearth.

"Most beekeepers will have already removed the honey supers from their colonies.

"The bees are removed from the supers using a clearer board under the supers.

"The most efficient type is the rhombus, which is fitted under the feedhole in the crown board.

"Remove the supers, place the clearer board over the brood box in the evening. The bees will pass through the clearer board to join the bees in the brood box during the cool night, and the supers can be removed early – sunrise – the next day without disturbing the brood box.

"There is a risk of the supers being robbed if they are left on too long, as bees or wasps are adept at finding any small holes to access the honey. The clearer board can be taken off later.

"When the honey is taken off can be a time of danger for bees as there may not be enough stores to keep them going until the winter feed is given.

"This year, however, has been different in that most of us have found that bees have been storing the latest nectar/honey in the brood box and they are not going to starve.

"When feeding bees for winter, it is important to remember that they require about 20kg of honey to see they safely through the winter and, by estimating the amount of honey in the brood chamber, we can work out how much to feed them now.

"Some beekeepers rely on a supplementary flow from the ivy, but there are years when the conditions are such that honeybees cannot fly to collect ivy nectar.

"Pollen from the ivy is valuable also as it can provide a supply of fresh pollen which is much more to the bees’ liking than stored pollen.

"When feeding sugar syrup to bees, its strength should be roughly 1kg sugar to 0.5 litre of water.

"This stronger mixture ensures that bees do not have to use as much energy to evaporate the excess water, so that there is no danger of fermentation.

"The feeder used should be a rapid feeder, preferably of a size to give all necessary feed at once. A strong colony will take it down in about five days.

"Always feed late in the evening, so as to cause as little excitement as possible in the apiary, and be careful not to spill any syrup.

"The quantity to be fed has been estimated, and once that has been given to the bees, do not be tempted to give them more.

"They will continue to take syrup down as long as you keep supplying it. Do not leave feeding until the temperature drops too low, as the higher ambient temperature helps bees evaporate the water, and they are able to leave the brood chamber to move up to the feeder.

"Once fed, the bees should be treated to reduce the varroa load on the bees. Varroa mites and their offspring feed upon the fat bodies of bee larvae in the cell.

"Since winter bees differ from summer bees because they have a build-up of fat bodies, which enable them to live through to spring, it is essential for winter survival that the larvae produced in the autumn should be well nourished.

"Colonies should also be health-checked. Also, if it is too small to survive the winter, the reason why should be queried – poor queen, disease or any other reason.

"It may be united with another colony, but always remember that two poor colonies will not necessarily result in one good colony at any time of the year.

"Wasps are proving to be a real problem for all of us this August. So far, they have not troubled the hives, but are feasting on the aphids and the honey dew which they produce on the leaves of trees such as sycamore and birch.

"Although wasps are carnivorous, they do crave the sugariness of the drop of liquid which is their reward when they feed the larvae in their nest.

"Towards the end of the season, after producing drones and next year’s queens, their queen stops laying, thus no larvae, no sweetness and the dying worker wasps go on a rampage in search of Coca Cola and iced buns!

"They will find the aroma of honey, warm in the hive, irresistible, and that is when our troubles start.

"As usual, prevention is better than cure, so keep a close eye on hive entrances, which should be closed down to about a 10cm slit which is easier for bees to defend.

"Any wasp traps should be set up close to the apiary, but not in the apiary, as this will attract them in.

"At the moment, the odd wasp is visiting but trying to get into the hive through the open mesh floor.

"If bees are seen fighting off wasps at the entrance, action has to be taken. Try reducing the entrance to a one-bee size with foam rubber and if that doesn’t work, put a sheet of glass in front of the entrance.

"The bees learn to negotiate the obstacle but wasps seem not to. Glass is used so that the beekeeper can still see what is happening.

"The most extreme solution is the removal of the hive to another site. If wasp robbing goes unnoticed, they will take all stores, and the larvae and eggs and the bees become so demoralised that they abscond. The hive is left completely empty.

"Robbing can be recognised inside the hive by the ragged and untidy cells edges of the robbed comb.

"It is to be hoped that we all be able to meet together soon so that we can discuss our experiences of this season – the effects of the sunny but cold weather in April; the long, cold, unpromising spring; flaming July and then normal conditions in August – and best of all, our bumper harvest."