A beekeeper’s notes for September

spider dangling

The spiders spin their crafty webs between the autumn sedum in September. Thousands of tiny pink star-like flowers open to welcome honeybees in their dozens to drink from a forest of nectar.

The bees trip over themselves to visit every single flower. They fly carelessly close to silken strands where garden spiders dangle beneath the leaves waiting to pounce. The bees’ tantalising electrical charge in the air attracts the webbing even closer to their wings.

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I think the variety of sedum in our garden is autumn joy? The large clump of ungainly leaves growing out from the bottom of the decking had looked suspiciously like a weed to untrained gardeners’ eyes. “I’ll dig it out for you,” my dad said, eager to clear away overgrown foliage from our garden. “No” I replied, “We’re waiting to see what everything turns into this year.”

The green clusters have slowly exploded into bright pink blooms over the past couple of weeks. “Is there a nest of bees in the garden?” John and dad both had asked me. “No, just the autumn sedum,” I replied.

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I was tempted to brush away the spiders’ webs to protect the foraging bees. But who am I to interfere and deprive a spider of her dinner? The sedum looks well established and it’s likely this dance between spiders and bees has been going on for decades in our garden. So far I’ve counted only one mummified bee in a web, the spiders are hardly winning.

The nectar flow is usually considered to be over by many beekeepers come late summer to early autumn. However, as I watch the bees in the garden few appear to be pollen collectors. Their baskets are empty as they search for every place on the flower beds to drink. This gives me hope that autumn forage will bring both more nectar and pollen to the hives, if the bees can withstand the chilly drop in temperatures.

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This hardy warm-blooded bumblebee in a garden centre seemed less bothered by the cool day than the cold-blooded honeybees.

At the apiary table beekeepers were taking a pause for tea, and honey fudge bought by Emily from her holiday. “This looks far too posh to eat,” complained John Chapple. “I think you should wrap it in Christmas paper,” agreed Stan. Emily cut the fudge into cubes for the beekeepers to (reluctantly) eat.

Talk was on about this year’s National Honey Show with Jonesy being persuaded to take part. I shared a tip passed-on by Dev from last year’s honey judges. To get out more air bubbles, spread cling film on the surface of the honey and leave (perhaps 20 minutes) then peel off…

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… air bubbles cling to the film and lift off. I’m not sure of the physics behind it, but it works. Clearer honey!

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Our three hives have ended the summer queen right. With the honey crop off and the Apiguard treatment finished, we’re checking the bees are bedding down properly for winter. To prove the point, Melissa’s colony had stuck down the hive roof hard with lots of propolis.

Peppermint’s hive was low on nectar stores (we hadn’t harvested from this artificially swarmed colony) although packed-full of bright orange pollen. There were also piles of beautiful orange pollen dropped at the bottom of the hive. Be more careful with your shopping, ladies! Going through the frames it was clear this hive would need autumn feeding to meet their quota of 20–30 lb of honey to survive winter. The bees were well behaved despite the low amounts of stores and brood in the nest, which would usually make a colony quite grumpy.

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In Melissa’s and Pepper’s hives the August wash-out had made the bees tuck into their put-away stores and left the returned wet supers unfilled. A reminder of how quickly things can change in bee land. Emily and I may decide this month whether or not these supers now need to be taken off for safer storage against wax moth. There’s no hurry, we’ll wait and see if the forecast Indian summer makes any difference.

We didn’t spot the queens this weekend, but the bees were behaving as good as gold so their majesties must be at home. I wondered if it might also be the effect of Jochen standing nearby. This German beekeeper seems to have a calming influence on our bees.

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Emily holds up a brood frame from Melissa’s colony. The hive had completed a Bailey comb change in the spring, yet how quickly the golden honeycomb turns brown after one summer of brood. It makes me think of how many bees have emerged from each cell leaving behind a cocoon.

The summer holidays felt like a distant memory as we talked about getting ready for winter. Autumn is always a reminder of how fast time flies.

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Two bees chat about their summer holidays while sticking propolis to the hive roof.

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16 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for September

  1. Hi Emma,

    Oh I do love your photo of the bee on your sedum. And I just love the sedums in September , when there is very little other forage for the bees. Mine is a variety aptly called “Brilliant” , very similar in apprearance to Autumn Joy, and it has been smothered in bees for the past week or two. Sedums are extremely easy to propagate. You just gently pull off a leaf leaving a small piece of the stem attached, and put the torn end into a pot of sandy compost. In a few weeks you will have a new plant to give away to a beekeeping friend.

  2. Hi Emma, the photographs are fantastic. If it’s the sedum attracting the bees it’s doing a fantastic job.I’m not a fan of spiders though I do recognise the need for balance in nature so not interfering was good idea, especially as so few bees seem to get caught by the webs.
    I hope the Indian Summer comes and that the hives thrive this year.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  3. Great pictures. I have three sedum plants in my garden but have yet to see the bees on them. Fickle eaters I guess. We just hit cooler temperatures in Virginia as well. Good luck with your prep.

    • Thanks Erik! Sorry for the late reply, we had cousins from Germany visiting, wonderful! Perhaps your local scout bees haven’t found the sedum yet to do the dance for the other bees 😉 Although as you say, bees are quite fussy eaters. If they find an easier and closer source (more economic to them in terms of flight miles!) of forage then they may ignore the sedum. Good luck with winter prep too!

  4. Pingback: A beekeeper’s notes for September | Miss Apis Mellifera « WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  5. Yes, having a garden is like living in your own little biosphere. The diversity is truly amazing. I am so glad you prevented your Dad from digging things up–sometimes people get a little too enthusiastic and end up destroying little worlds and as yet unseen treasures. I know it is hard to resist the temptation to destroy spiders webs, especially when you see honeybees hovering dangerously close. We had the same experiencee last year (see post https://mylatinnotebook.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/its-our-turn-for-new-roommates/). In the end we just found them fascinating to watch. So far, this year we have on in our bathroom window, on the inside–I wonder what she will eat and with whom she will mate? Of course, your photos are much better than ours!

  6. I saved this to read when I had time. A lovely round up. I once compared your bee life to the Archers – the joys, the dramas, the daily routines of Beebridge. Things changing yet staying the same. But really, it’s so much more interesting. And no scriptwriters needed to manipulate the plot… RH

    • I remember! Wish life were more like the Archers, I’d script write more free time for bees, blogs and other fun things 🙂 Thanks RH – I’m saving a moment at the end of this week to read my saved blogs too – EST.

  7. Lovely post, and your honey looks fantastic .. Yes the dew and mist the other day allowed me to take the many photos of webs in our allotment and would often wish to interfere, but spiders also do a great job of keeping our insect kingdom in balance..

    Oh I hoped I helped save a large bumble bee the other week.. I spied him looking lethargic on our front garden path as we were off to collect our granddaughter from school.. He was still there upon our return, so I got some honey and water and mixed it on a teaspoon.. It took the bee a couple of minutes as I gently put him on a flower,, I held the spoon for him to drink..

    My Granddaughter was fascinated to see him drink as his long tongue came out to sip up the liquid.. We left him on the flower and watched.. around 10 minutes later he flew off..

    We hope we helped him along his journey 🙂

  8. Lovely post. Great spider picture- thankfully most don’t catch too many bees as they’re relatively big and heavy and break out of the web. Sedum is defintely a must-have in the garden for late summer, butterflies love it too, especially Commas. Hope you and your bees are benefitting from the current glorious weather and are all set up for winter now.

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