The season is drawing to an end and we need to prepare our bees for over-wintering. Our colony is too small to make it through currently; there are not enough bees to prepare cells for the Queen to lay into and not enough nurse bees to look after the eggs and larvae. The answer is to increase the number of bees quickly. We were given a Queenless nucleus of bees by Fiona to combine with our hive in the hope that the Queen will have sufficient resources to boost wax workers and give her a chance to increase the amount of brood. We employed the paper and icing sugar method again (see earlier post the Queen is dead) and put a feeder in with sugar solution made from 2:1 sugar to water. We did this at dusk when all the flying bees were back home. At the same time we removed 3 frames of capped honey. We haven’t taken all their reserves away but I’m keen to have a few jars in return for all our effort.
Upon inspection this weekend, we noted calm bees, we spotted the Queen and there was brood at all stages of development. Some bees were coming home covered in white pollen, so we know they have been on the Himalayan Balsam down by the river Eden. Phil and I took the dogs there this morning and took some photos.
Himalayan Balsam growing by the river Eden
This is an excellent food source for our bees right through ’til October. However, it’s a controversial plant as it out-competes other native marginal species and having very shallow roots, contributes to erosion as it dies back in winter leaving the river bank exposed to flooding.
Bee deep inside Himalayan Balsam flower
According to RHS, Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is a relative of the Busy Lizzie and in the UK the plant was first introduced in 1839. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes. It is the tallest annual growing in the UK. It typically grows to 1 to 3 m (3.3 to 10 ft) high, with a soft green or red-tinged stem, and lanceolate leaves 5 to 23 cm (2.0 to 9.1 in) long. The crushed foliage has a strong musty smell. Below the leaf stems the plant has ‘glands’ that produce a sticky, sweet-smelling, and edible nectar. The flowers are varying shades of pink, with a hooded shape.
After flowering between June and October, the plant forms seed pods 2 to 3 cm (¾ to 1¼ in) long and 8 mm broad (¼ in), which explode when disturbed, scattering the seeds up to 7 metres (23 feet). So entertaining can it be to see the pods “pop” that apparently it has even been marketed as a novelty for children – “Mr Noisy’s Exploding Plant” – once sold by, among other outlets, Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Apparently, the green seed pods, seeds, young leaves and shoots are all edible and the flowers can be turned into a jam or parfait.
Sunday we went to our Bee Buddy Stuart’s home and met fellow local Beekeepers for afternoon tea. We discussed the pros and cons of sugar solution feed v Ambrosia, swapped swarm stories, debated the value of Himalayan Balsam as an abundant bee food source against erosion of the river bank and discussed the value of expanded foam loft insulation in the hive roof or old towels for winter warmth. Fiona was there and summed it up rather nicely ….. ‘It’s like the blind leading the partially sighted’. Our conclusion is ask 6 bee keepers for an opinion on the solution to a problem and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers !