Country Cousins

As a townie, I am starting to learn about country beekeeping. For example, fields of oilseed rape are not common in London. In Suffolk, careful management of strong bee colonies close to these flying carpets of canary-coloured flowers is required if you are not to lose an early swarm – or if you do not require a good deal of hard-to-extract, solid-setting rape honey.

Bees go mad for the sweet blossoms of oilseed rape and will fly on auto-pilot over other forage to get to it. But this crop is there for the benefit of the farmer, not the beekeeper, so these vast chrome-yellow canopies provide an abundant source of nectar and pollen for a relatively short time of the year – and which deplete rapidly once the seed-pods start to set in mid-May. Many rural beekeepers have reported that their bees become short-tempered for a short while after the nectar flow ends – and then the pumped-up bee population needs to find sustenance elsewhere. Luckily, our locality has many well-stocked gardens, hedgerows, woods, brambles, horse-chestnuts and neatly-tended allotments to keep the bees supplied with nectar and pollen throughout the late Spring and Summer.

In Suffolk, the School House Bees are stirring: this is Snape Hive.

Snape Hive 2014-03-24
Snape Hive – Looking Good, Ladies.

And the oil-seed rape is coming into flower in an adjacent field:

School House Rape
Field Of Rape About To Burst Into Full Flower

Q: What happens next ?

A: I have added a new brood box of undrawn foundation on top of the over-wintered brood box (pictured above), so that the bees can use the nectar flow from the rape to build wax brood comb in the upper box. This gives me the option of keeping the two brood boxes as a super-charged, double-brood colony. This arrangement should suck in nectar faster than a top-of-the-range Dyson going head-to-head with Usain Bolt over 100 metres. But I could also divide this turbo-charged colony into two viable units relatively early in the season. Remember that it takes 10 pounds of honey to make a single pound of beeswax – and in my new country apiary, I would rather have a new box of brood frames drawn with fresh white comb than a couple of supers stuffed rigid with crystallised rape honey. A great way to convert a haul of unwanted oilseed honey into valuable new brood comb.

At least I think that is what happens next. Watch this space !

7 Replies to “Country Cousins”

    1. So did John Chapple when we talked about it this morning – over a few mugs of tea and bee-chat amongst a dozen local keepers. It must be that great bee-minds think alike! Or is that just “hive mentality”?

        1. Hi Emily, Sincerely, yes ! By the way – the brood box was fully drawn this weekend out with all that oil-seed rape nectar. We not only agreed, but we also got it right. So far….

  1. ‘hive mentality’ yes, Dale, especially when no aggravating ‘pests’ around to disrupt things! Was a very entertaining and enlightening morning, as they always are. Bee serendipity as everyone always learns something new – and some folk even got some bees!

    1. I can’t think of a nicer group people to celebrate the Apis anniversary with. As it says in the Rubee-aiyat of Omar Khayyam…. “A Mug of Tea, a Chocolate Digestive – and you Bunch of Beekeepers”.

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