Fermanagh Beekeepers have had a bumper honey harvest this year, reflecting the hardiness of our local bees in the face of what, on the whole, has been a cool summer with a couple of short hot spells, writes Ethel Irvine of Fermanagh Beekeepers' Association.

Here, Ethel reports on what August meant for local beekeepers.

It is very pleasing to hear reports from some of our new beekeepers, who have just completed their ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course, that they also have managed to get a crop from their newly acquired bees.

Even our colonies in the Association apiary – which had been somewhat ravaged by the Lakeland Queen Rearing Group in their endeavours to keep the queencell starter and finishing colonies at full strength – have produced a large quantity of honey.

Reflecting upon conditions over the summer, we had very little rain to encourage the blossom to produce nectar, and there was also an absence of the dew which often activates nectaries in hot weather, especially those of white clover, but the honeybees have taken advantage of every opportunity to collect nectar and convert it to honey. Well done to our bees!

Often in August, queens will reduce their laying of eggs, but this year there have not been as many reports as in other years.

I don’t know whether this meant that the expected reduction in brood did not occur, or that the continued less than warm weather of our Fermanagh summer meant that queens laid eggs at a steadier rate but did not reach the high numbers of other years, meaning that they did not have to take their usual ‘rest’.

Colonies still developed strongly enough to have plenty of bees as we go into September.

Once the honey harvest is removed, every frame in every hive should be examined for disease, usually for American Foul Brood or European Foul Brood, but any abnormalities should also be noted so that they can be dealt with as soon as possible.

It is useful to note whether or not chalkbrood is present, and at what level. At this time of year, it should be non-existent, considering that conditions have been favourable and non-stressful to the bees, so that if it is seen, it is worth considering re-queening, if a mated and laying queen is available.

Otherwise, make plans to deal with it next spring. Evaluate the condition of each frame and if one is old, black and containing an excess of deformed cells, move it to the back of the brood nest so that it can be removed early next season.

Having taken off the honey, it should be replaced by the liquid feed of your choice, i.e. one of the commercially produced inverted sugar solutions, or a 2:1 solution of sugar to water.

This feed should be given in a rapid feeder so that the bees can take it down and store it while the weather is still relatively warm, and they are not yet in their tight cluster formation, and before the syrup ferments. Fermented stores are not suitable for over-wintering bees.

Also, make an informed judgement on how much to feed them – and stick to it, as bees will take down liquid stores as long as the beekeeper keeps feeding them.

Approximately 20kg of stores should last a colony until next spring, especially if there is a good flow from the ivy.

Fondant does not make a good autumn food, as the bees have to access it continually even in cold weather. It is much more suitable for them to have their ’pantry’ beside the brood nest where it is needed.

In my own area, wasps are not, as yet, a problem. Reduced entrances and strong colonies are the recipe for avoiding robbing by wasps who will take not only the stores, but, being carnivorous, the larvae and bees, also.

Wasp traps are very effective, but should not be placed in the apiary, as they may lure them in.

All beekeepers should now be in the middle of treating their colonies with the approved Varroa treatment of their choice.

It is important when using any medications to follow the manufacturers’ instructions, regarding both application of the specified amount and the timings of treatment applied, and any safety measures recommended, both for bees and beekeeper.

Much research has been done before these treatments are licenced for use and we would be foolish to ignore advice.

There are some videos and articles of beekeepers using their own methods of control which should be viewed with caution until scientific evidence, to back up any claims being made, has been produced.

Many of us will remember the enthusiasm with which the fogging of mineral oils was advocated to combat Varroa, and how it was allowed to gradually slip into obscurity as it failed to work.

Beekeepers are also reminded that they are legally required to keep a record of all medications used, with details of their sources, batch numbers, disposal etc.

The Proficiency in Beekeeping Course resumes again in mid-October. The course is designed for those who have completed the Introduction to Beekeeping course, or its equivalent, and who wish to take their study further.

It will have 15 sessions in the coming year as part of the two-year classroom study, and students will complete workbooks as part of their assessment process.

Brian Dane will be the tutor and he plans to meet by Zoom online meetings on Tuesday evenings, weekly but with one free evening each month to allow students time to complete their workbooks, and with a break around Christmas.

This means that the ‘classroom’ aspect of the course and the completion of workbooks is designed to be more or less finished by spring and before the beekeeping season is in full swing.

Those who have completed their first year of study are required to apply using the Cafre website, and those wishing to start also use the Cafre system.

Members of FBKA who have studied at this level would thoroughly recommend the course as it gives a greater understanding of how the colony operates, with a better insight into the behaviour of bees and the reasons for that behaviour.

If you would like further details, see the Cafre website at www.cafre.ac.uk and enter ‘beekeeping’ into the search box, or contact Brian directly at tebdane@btinternet.com, or call 077 1157 1420.

Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association held its Honey Show at Florence Court House with entries received, staged and judged on Sunday, August 28, followed by being open to the public on Monday, August 29.

Honey Show secretary Avril Campbell and her helpers had a busy morning with the numbers of entries being very close to those of our record in 2019, which was very pleasing considering that we had had no Show for two years.

Avril thanks all her helpers and all those who entered the Show for supporting a very successful event.

It was especially pleasing to note that some of the newcomers to beekeeping had entries and won awards, and many others supported by attending.

Jim Fletcher, a well-known and respected honey judge, judged the entries and, as usual, he willingly spent time speaking to anyone who asked him how they could improve upon the standard of their entries.

By entering an item in the show, the presentation skills of the entrant are improved and the public have an opportunity to see honey, in all its forms, at is very best, sitting alongside the mead, wax products, honey cakes and bee-related craft entries.

Honey from FBKA apiary sold very well, showing how much the local product is appreciated and valued by the community.

Visitors showed great interest in, amongst other things, how honey gets from frame to honey jar, giving beekeepers the opening to explain the process as well as the beneficial properties of honey.