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Tales from a Top Bar – 4

A mix of fortunes since I last posted.  On the up side, the bees have continued to build and fill lots of comb – they now have eleven full combs bulging with honey, and a couple of incomplete ones at either end which also have some stores in them.   The following pic shows what they were up to during August.

This is what I can see through the window now:

On the down side, I was very sad to discover evidence of deformed wing virus early in August.  However, the healthy bees were dealing with these poor specimens with great vigour, evicting them from the hive at every opportunity, so after taking advice, I have not worried too much.

I was happy to welcome visitors during the SWHBK Bee Safari and found their comments of much interest.  Fortunately, the bees behaved themselves – they are generally very gentle and I don’t always need to wear my suit when I look at them.

The bees have displayed some curious behaviour from time to time.  On one day in mid-August we noticed a large cluster of them in their entrance (it had reduced a bit by the time I got there with my camera).  I still have no idea what that was about, but there were also evictions in progress at the time so perhaps this was part of that process.

Rightly or wrongly, I have continued to feed syrup, though in reduced quantity.  The inverted jam jars are now working well.  However, in the last 2-3 weeks, as signs of autumn began, the bees have reduced their consumption significantly.  They now seem to be starting on their stored honey, which I hope is not too early.  Following on from John Haverson’s talk to us and his recommendation not to feed syrup, I shall endeavour not to continue with the feeding of syrup next year, though I will keep a close eye on them over the coming winter and spring, and be ready with fondant if necessary.

The bees are now definitely settling down for winter.  Since my last posting, they have reduced in numbers – as well as evicting the deformed ones, they also seem to have chucked out the drones.  They have also reduced their comb building activity, which towards the end of August seemed to become a bit more erratic – they started to build one or two small combs across the bars rather than along them (see pic below) – apparently this is a known hazard of top bar hives – but fortunately they don’t seem to have continued with them. 

Their focus now is on filling the combs…

On cooler days they are now starting to cluster in the centre of the hive around the first combs they built.  However, there is still some activity around the entrance, and when the weather permits, they are still out and about – the Michaelmas daisies are a popular destination.

I am considering whether the hive should be insulted for winter.  It is built of thick western red cedar which should provide some insulation, but it’s designer (Jim Binning) said he put a fleece across the top bars for winter.  After listening to John Haverson I was quite taken with the idea of using dry leaves, of which we have bountiful quantities here in autumn – I have bought some hessian sacks to stuff with them and put over the top bars.  We shall see how that goes!