Feeding our autumn bees

Last Saturday was a balmy 16 degrees in London, which is warm enough for bees to fly out. What will they find to eat? At this time of year the forage is scarce for bees and they may have little choice than to collect nectar from ivy. Honey from ivy nectar crystallises very quickly inside the hive and sets like hard candy, which is almost impossible for bees to eat. This can cause starvation if all, or most, of the colony’s winter food reserves are ivy honey.

Emily and I have been continuing to feed both our hives syrup and the bees have been taking this quite happily. Usually, we stop feeding syrup between the middle and end of October, but an unusually mild autumn has tricked our bees into eating their precious honey reserves so they can fly out and forage for more nectar and pollen. We want to make sure that our ladies are re-stocking their larder with honey made from sugar syrup and not from ivy nectar.

I played hookie this weekend and skipped the Saturday afternoon apiary session for an art class at the studio of artist Nick Malone. Painting bees instead of keeping them. Meantime, Emily reported that Lavender’s hive has drunk all their syrup and that a heft test showed the hive has built-up its winter reserves. Rosemary’s hive has not drunk all their syrup but this is not surprising. Rosemary’s hive had good honey reserves even after we extracted the honey crop and has continually eaten syrup throughout late August and September. The colony probably has little room spare to store more sugary goodness.

We have bought two bags of fondant – one for each hive – from our apiary, which I am impatient to put in the roof. It is fun to see bees climbing through the holes in the crownboard to tuck into a mountain of sugar. However, Pat advised that we wait until December to give them fondant, because it is better for them to stay warm inside the brood nest eating up their honey reserves first.

A second spring for bees?

I have been reading the BBC’s Autumnwatch blog and found a great guest post called Mild autumn, second spring by Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s naturalist-in-residence, who reports on the repercussions for our wildlife of November’s record-breaking mild weather.

Matthew says that flowers are enjoying a second spring: ‘dandelions and white dead-nettle prominent along verges, and Aubretia, Kerria, Magnolias, Skimmias and Viburnums blossoming in gardens’. He also comments that this has been a fascinating autumn for insects: ‘Butterflies, moths and dragonflies just won’t stop’. Our bees won’t stop this autumn, it seems! I just hope that they have been finding their flower friends waiting to greet them in gardens and not their nemesis ivy!