Today we checked on the bees in the long deep hive. Whilst they had built up a huge colony, we were nonetheless a little concerned about how much stores they had put away, as last year they ate through them very quickly before winter had properly set in and needed additional feed to survive. We usually inspect colonies once per week, but as this is a somewhat disruptive process, we only do so where necessary. Aside from checking the general health of the colony, the main reason for such inspections during the summer is so that measures can be taken if necessary to discourage swarming. For some rather inexplicable reason, this colony showed no inclination to swarm, even though there was a very large number of bees and most frames were filled with brood. So, we left them somewhat to their own devices, making only cursory checks and keeping an eye on the honey production in the supers. When we last looked at the supers, though, we were a little suspicious that they may have been moving honey down into the brood area.
Being a little concerned to ensure that they were not soon going to run out of food, we opened up the hive, and were stunned to find that they had filled frame after frame with honey, and these are deep frames, which can hold up to 7½ lbs each when full. We found just a few hatching brood cells on one frame, and were rather worried that the queen may have died. We found her, though, on another frame, and she looked fine, so we assume that she had just stopped laying in preparation for winter. It will be a while before she has any space to lay as almost all of the brood area is packed with honey. Probably due to the open mesh floor, they do not tend to use the very bottom of the frames, but there were 18 deep frames with, say, at least 6 lbs, giving an unbelievable 108 lbs of honey, and possibly rather more. This is in addition to what has been put in the supers, and they are still packing it away. I have only been keeping bees for a couple of years now, but my dad has much more experience, and neither of us has ever seen such a huge amount of honey stored before.
We have already taken about 25 lbs from the supers and there is another 25 lbs almost ready to take, and perhaps more by the time they have finished. There is very little space left in the brood area, so they will certainly be very busy in the supers if the weather is favourable over the next couple of weeks. In total, they have produced in the order 160 lbs of honey – an amazing amount for one hive. On the other hand, our other colonies have not produced any surplus this year.
The colony could use up to 50 lbs of stores over the winter, although that depends on conditions, so we could easily remove quite a lot from the brood area, at least from those frames near the front of the hive that have not had any brood in them. However, we are rather inclined to leave it. The bees have what they need for this winter and will be off to a great start next year. Provided the colony survives the winter, we can capitalise on that by putting the supers on early next year and hope for a bumper crop.
As the season is still not finished here in our sheltered southerly location, it will be interesting to see just how much they can put away before they stop for the winter. An average sort of performance would be 25 to 30 lbs per hive. According to last year’s British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) survey, the average yield was only 8 lbs per hive, thanks to the poor weather. I imagine this year will be very much better, but even so, this one hive has produced a fantastic crop; a surplus of more than 100 lbs. It is a shame that the queen will probably need to be replaced next year, as these bees are healthy, gentle, incredibly productive, and appear to have little inclination to swarm. It is hard to imagine a better bee.