The last, full inspection of the season was planned for next week but, when I went over last Wednesday, I decided that was the last day I open the hive for this season. There are several reasons I decided to do that:
The weather has turned. With the temperatures dropping considerably and winds picking up, it now takes more energy for the bees to maintain the cosy 35°C inside the beehive. Every time I open it up, I am setting them back several days by disrupting their carefully controlled environment. Another significant change is the rain. It is now more humid and rains more frequently, so I do risk introducing damp into the hive, by opening it up, another factor that will force the bees to work harder and hence consume more of their stores.
Reduced foraging bounty. This factor is two-fold. As there is less available nectar, the colony’s honey stores are even more precious and important to their survival through the winter months. Any alarm or stress put on the colony negatively impacts their honey stores as they consume more energy to defend and patrol than foraging and relaxing. Additionally, a full inspection involves exposing the super frames while inspecting the main brood box. The usual suspects, wasps and robber bees, do not take long to pick up the scent and start raiding the exposed honey. Once again, I am introducing risk to their limited food supply, carefully preserved for the long winter months.
I want them to like me. From the above reasons, one can deduce that the bees will be extremely more sensitive to intruders and be particularly defensive of their hive. This inspection was especially involved as the bees have been at their most excitable behaviour (I have marked it as “Crazy” in my inspection notes). It was almost impossible to complete the inspection as they seemed to boil onto the top of the frames covering every visible surface and subsequently making it extremely difficult to handle the frames without hurting a bee by accident. Ultimately, I have no truly valid reason to cause this additional stress onto our relationship and so it is time to say “Goodnight” to my bees and let them manage themselves from now on.
So from now on, this beekeeper’s work involves limited varroa monitoring, but mostly preparing for the next season and going through some homework. There are books to be read, controversial topics to be discussed, hives to be built (and painted!) and perhaps a plan devised on how to bring more of the life of bees into the life of more humans…
Inspection Results: The most interesting point to note was how significantly the population had been reduced. For example, one of the the frames I had previously had identified as a brood frame, was no longer full of brood but was being filled with honey instead. Most of the present brood was capped and there were no strong signs of large numbers of eggs and larvae (in fact I had to stop short and didn’t identify any of the two in the frames I had gone through). This suggest a strong push towards a smaller colony, perhaps to match the amount of honey that the bees were able to store this season.
In contrast, there are quite a few bees still foraging, still bringing in pollen, but they have clearly slowed down the growth of the colony numbers. Wasps still pester the bees but the fort is still holding strong, they know how to deal with them. Finally, the BeeGym could very well be working, because there was an area of larger mite drop numbers than the others. Next week will tell more…