Today we were continuing to prepare the bees for winter. We had one colony, started earlier in the year, that was still building up; another that was looking good for the winter, having put quite a bit of stores away, although not producing any surplus for us; and the long deep hive, which had packed away over 100lbs of honey in the brood area. The odd thing about our location is how long the season extends. Many beekeepers will have prepared their hives for winter weeks ago, and honey removed by the end of August. In our sheltered southerly location, our bees persist in carrying on as though winter is yet months away. In the most recently started colony, they are still working at full speed, bringing in large amounts of pollen from various sources. As they have only had half of the season to build up for winter, we have been feeding them with sugar syrup for the last few weeks; we considered that there was still time for them to process one more liquid feed before we change to slabs of fondant.
When we turned to the next colony, we were surprised not to find any bees around the feeder. Sadly, on investigating further, we found the hive almost empty and the honey stores that they had put away – some 40lbs or more – were almost entirely robbed out. There were bees helping themselves to the remains that were certainly not from either of our remaining hives; in fact, we could not recognise what sort of bee it was. It is hard to say what caused this colony to disappear. We had noticed some weeks ago that there was little brood, but it is normal for the queen to stop laying in preparation for winter. Perhaps the queen failed and the colony simply dwindled over the last few weeks since we stopped the full inspections. We had thought this colony stood a very good chance of making it through the winter, but sadly it is entirely lost.
The long deep hive, which is entirely packed with honey stores, still had two supers on, side by side. Normally we would have removed them some time ago, but they were still working on them and there was no room in the brood area for any more honey to be put away, so we left them on late. Last week we put clearer boards under the supers, so we could remove the remaining honey this week. We already have 25lbs waiting to be extracted, and have gathered quite a bit more today. Thankfully, this colony is still crammed full of bees and looking very good indeed.
We now have to hope that at least one of the two remaining colonies makes it through the winter, or there will be no honey next year.