Wasps begone


“How long do bees live?” Ruth asked me at work. It’s a good question. I replied, “Six weeks in summer and around five months in winter, while queens can live for two or three years.”

It was funny to hear Pat get asked the same question by a family of new beekeepers on Saturday. Though it’s late in the year for visitors, a curious crowd had gathered to find out more about the bees. “The workers live for six weeks in summer, but now they’re fattening up to live longer over winter,” said Pat, as Jochen, Emily and I hovered behind to listen. David had opened his green hive to give the new colony a quick inspection before winter.

An observant beginner pointed at workers on the side of the hive with raised abdomens. I could hear Emily explain about nasonov glands and releasing pheromones for other bees to find their way home. “Sort of like a homing signal,” said the beginner.


It was lovely to enjoy a beekeeping lesson at the apiary and to hear the ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and gasps of beginners. With not much beekeeping doing, the winter months are a chance to enjoy the company of beekeepers.

Emily and I put the mouseguards on our four hives this week, with a few pins from Jonesy, and topped up the feeders. Our dry sugar experiment hadn’t worked out, so I took away the bags. Like children who realise they can no longer play with an unwanted toy, it was only then bees scrambled up to drag down spilled sugar.


Melissa’s clever bees had also built their own honeycomb cover for one of the holes in the crownboard.

Chamomile’s hive had more diarrhoea at the entrance. It is a worry but there is not much we can do to treat nosema. Emily has Thomas’s thymol recipe to make up at home, but I’d be happier to get this colony shook swarmed in spring.

The mild autumn has kept bees, and wasps, active for longer. The wasp problem seems to have sorted itself out with only one or two lingering around hives. As I told a beginner, I hoped the bees flying out and about could find forage to replace all that honey they were eating to sustain their unseasonal activities.


A puff of smoke to clear the bees…


… as David cleans up wax from the queen excluder.

In fact, this autumn seems to have confused bees and beekeepers alike with some still opening hives for inspections. I asked Alan and John their views. Alan was firm this does more harm than good, “You’re letting out all that warmth and breaking up the propolis. Leave them alone.” When I said that some had even found queen cells in the hive, Alan just shook his head and shrugged: “They’re not going to mate now and there’s nothing you can do. Wait till spring and if you have a drone layer, then replace her.” Personally I agree. Sometimes we have to let nature alone and accept what will be.


Jochen puts his hand over a hole in the crownboard to feel the warmth that the bees generate inside the hive, probably around 30°C. 

Sitting at the table I remembered how much I enjoyed being an Ealing beekeeper. Perhaps one day when I keep bees away from the apiary I’ll be able to enjoy visiting just for tea and cake. Jonesy and Stan checked out the suspected wasp nest, confirming it was indeed a wasp nest. Stan even offered to remove it, but we all agreed that the wasps will die out soon. Better to give the wasp queen a chance to fly away first and find somewhere to hibernate till next year.

That done, the Ealing beekeepers cleared up tea cups and brushed off biscuit crumbs. It was time to leave the apiary gently humming in the warm autumn sun.

Postscript notes
Aside from the wasps, this has been a great year beekeeping. Check out my new blog index for posts on this year’s and past year’s beekeeping adventures, along with posts about lots of other things!


15 thoughts on “Wasps begone

  1. Anytime we find a wasp nest in New Zealand, we DESTROY. There are so many thousands of colonies in the beech forest this time of year, it is hard to walk in the bush without getting stung. I support nature in all her glory, but wasps get no mercy. I am glad other countries still have a balance, where even the less loved have their place.

    • I wouldnt like to walk in a wasp wood! Luckily we don’t seem to have that problem over here. Since 2012 (a very wet summer) I’ve not seen many wasps about. But I agree everything in its balance. The wasps at the apiary aren’t that aggressive – the nest has been sitting behind our communal area all summer and we’ve only just noticed. They also seem less interested in us than the bees, and as they should be dying out soon it seems best to leave them alone. Still, I’ll remember that about the beech forest if I visit NZ 🙂

    • I rescued a wasp from a puddle once and it tried to sting me! 😉

      Alan is a smart guy, I like him ‘cos he says it as it is. There will always be new things found out about bees, new beekeeping methods learned, and changing seasons, but I always value the hardwon wisdom of beekeepers’ with decades of experience at our apiary. We are very lucky. Good luck with your bees over winter and safe journey to the queens till spring.

  2. I feel sympathy with the bees in their confusion with the mild autumn. I have lots of honey bees visiting the garden and they look very bright and happy, frequently the bumble bee workers are slower and their colours are faded.
    I think it must be so nice to to have lots of people to chat to about the bees, knowing they are as happy to talk about the bees as you are. If you were designing your garden to have a beehive, what distance would you leave between it and the rest of your garden – knowing that friends and children would be visiting and even people allergic to bees? I have heard they could become upset if you mowed your lawn beside them with a sit-on mower or a strimmer. Amelia

    • That’s so funny you mention beehive distances and gardens. They were talking about that exact thing on Saturday. Apparently the height and distance of a net between the hive and the house has been calculated so that bees fly over and don’t disturb neighbours or visitors. Ealing apiary is a fount of all knowledge.

      I heard at Dave Goulson’s talk that bumble bees are warm blooded and can be active in winter. He showed a picture of a bumble in mahonia in snow. I’m going to look out for winter bumbles this year. Although today keeping fingers crossed for people, bees and the rest as high winds and rain travel across the UK. It is autumn 🙂

      • Thank you – I’ve never heard of the net idea before. What does the Ealing apiary think about strimming or driving a ride-on mower near a hive?
        I’m going to be planting another Mahonia soon and I have divided my winter flowering honeysuckle so I have more flowers for the bees and bumbles this winter.

      • I recall some one there telling me that the honeybees get annoyed by mowing but I can’t remember why. Perhaps the vibrations bother them? We have a net up high between the hives and communal area at the apiary though largely to deter new visitors beyond a certain point without a suit!

        I hope to see some winter bumble bee pics in your mahonia and honeysuckle!

    • This year is breaking all the rules it seems, a lovely long summer and mild autumn. Good for bees and wasps and all hymenopterans! I do hope the bees don’t use all their stores flying and about though and that the wasps disappear soon!

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