October has arrived, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees and my apiary visits are becoming less frequent now that I have finished treating the bees with Apilife Var for the Varroa Destructor (parasitic mite) and feeding the heavy sugar syrup that will help to sustain my girls through the winter and replaces some of the honey that was removed back in August.
Apart from a very brief cold spell it has been quite a warm autumn so far in the south and the bees are still busy, the queens in two of my hives are still producing brood, once hatched these will be the workers that remain with her over winter and into the start of the season next year, but all the bees are still flying and bringing in lots of pollen. I am very fortunate that my apiary is located in a semi-rural location and falls adjacent to a heavily forested area with plenty of ivy at this time of year, but my bees do not appear to foraging there, they are returning to hives looking like miniature ghosts dusted in white pollen and not only in the pollen baskets on their rear legs but also all over their thorax as well.
Sloes growing on the blackthorn bushes
After a brief check on the colonies last weekend I took a wander further down the valley to have a look at the sloes growing on the blackthorn and to see if they were ready to pick and seep in gin, as it was they looked ripe but still feel a little bit hard and its probably best to wait a little longer until they are holding a bit more juice before harvesting.
However as I wandered along the paths through the woodland I was greeted by a familiar buzz and could see my girls working the pink flowers scattered amongst the bramble, ferns and nettles.
A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.
These flowers are the ‘Himalayan Balsam’ (Impatiens glandulifera) and as the name suggests it is a non-native species that is considered by many to be a weed due to its fast growing and invasive nature. It will tolerate low light conditions and will rapidly displace other plants in the area if not controlled. However my bees seem to absolutely love it with virtually every forager returning to the hive wearing white overalls.
You can see from the two close-up images of the flowers below (apologies these were taken with a phone camera so not that great quality) that the hood-shaped flower invites the bee in to drink nectar held in the central ‘cup’ but there is a small pollen brush above with passes over the top of the thorax as the bees enter and exit, this is a very effective strategy for the plant in order to reproduce.
Himalayan Balsam Flower open for business
Himalayan Balsam Flower
I can’t help looking at this and being reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the film ‘Withnail and I’ where Withnails uncle Monty, played by the late Richard Griffiths, is having a rant and says ‘ Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.’
But what is good for the bees is not considered to be so good for other species and a biodiversity balance has to be struck, these plants local to my hives are self-seeded and appear to be spreading year after year and supply a rich source of late forage. In July 2011 the BBKA released a statement specifically relating to this plant that says:
“It is unacceptable (actually illegal) to actively distribute balsam seeds to encourage its spread, but this does not preclude the option for beekeepers to have some balsam in their gardens to provide the late nectar and pollen whilst carefully managing it so it does not spread to other gardens, agricultural land and especially watercourses.”
In my opinion it’s nice to see nature fighting back and giving something positive to the bees when there are so many other environmental pressures currently working against them, whether it be agricultural practises that are actively destroying the habitat that they require through removal of hedgerows and wild spaces, monoculture and the excessive use of dangerous pesticides (neonicotinoids) or the spread of parasitic mites and other bee diseases as well as the increasing threat of the arrival of the Asian Hornet in the UK.
I won’t be back to my hives for a little while now, I hope that the weather holds and as the brood area reduces the bees fill all available space with stores as winter approaches to give them the best chance of surviving again (I lost one weaker colony to isolation starvation last year in the winter). When I return it will be to fit the metal mouse guards to keep out unwanted visitors, the chicken wire to keep the green woodpeckers away is already in place following reports of damage in Hampshire already this year!
Fly agaric growing in the woodland adjacent to the apiary, October 2013
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