Getting Ready for Winter

Aoife Nic Giolla Coda An Beachaire Vol.71 No. 9 September 2016

September is here and our summer is over. While it was not a very good summer, some colonies have had a surplus honey crop. Supers should be removed at this stage and stored away. While you may be leaving on a super of honey for the bees over winter, it is not a good idea to leave all the supers on over winter. This is a large area for the bees to try and temperature regulate and a smaller space is easier for them.

Getting ready for winter

The sooner you can remove your honey crop, the better. I always harvest it in the beginning of August. This allows for plenty of time for the use of the Apiguard treatment while the temperature is closer the the 15 degrees Celsius. IT is also better to reduce varroa populations as soon as possible, so that the developing larvae are not being burdened with a high mite load, which results in a shortening of their life. Ir is essential to have varroa free, long-lived, healthy bees this time of year going into the winter.

Queen excluders should be removed over the winter. The colony may wish to move up into the super above the excluder during the winter for extra warmth. However, if the excluder is on the queen gets trapped and isolated below, ultimately leading to the death of the colony.

Make sure all hives are bee tight at this time of year. Reduce entrance size to prevent robbing and allow guard bees to protect the hive more effectively.

Late Supersedure and Uniting Colonies

You may have a colony which has raised late supersedure cells. Unlike swarm cells, proper supersedure cells are generally a bit later in the summer. There are usually between 1 and 3 of them in the colony, generally around the same age. The queen can often be still alive and laying in the colony. It is a sigh that the queen may be failing and that the colony wish to replace her, even though she could be OK and survive in another colony.

If it is early/mid August that you come across this situation, the new queen emerging could still have a decent chance at mating. However this is all relative to the amount of drones still available in the locality, which is generally dictated by the weather and the amount of stores coming into the hive.

A supersedure cell in September has a much slimmer chance of success. You could take the chance that the new queen will mate but it is at a high risk of losing your colony over winter. In this situation, it would be wiser to get rid of the supersedure cells (and queen if she is still present). Then unite the colony with a queenright one. This can be easily done by lifting one brood box onto another and placing a sheet of newspaper in between. Prick a few holes into the newspaper. Both colonies will chew away slowly at the paper, allowing the odour of both colonies to mingle and combine.

Uniting can also be carried out if you have a colony which is too small t survive the winter on its own. Many small colonies, say on 3 or 4 frames, will not be able to maintain the correct temperature in order to survive the winter months.


September is the time to carry out Autumn feeding if necessary. The colony requires 35-40 lbs of stores to carry them through the winter, so if your colony is not at this weight in September you need to feed. The most common feeds for Autumn are 2:1 sugar syrup. This consists of a ratio of 2kg white sugar to 1 litre water. Add some warm water to the sugar to melt it. It can be topped up with cold water to the correct ratio. Keep stirring until dissolved.

Another common feed is invert sugar syrup. Ambrosia syrup would be an example. It does not ferment. It is fructose and glucose so the bees do not need to use energy to invert it before storing. It is also very thick, which means less ripening off of moisture for the bees before storing.

The best way to feed this time of year in with a top feeder like an ashforth or miller feeder – there are many different types on the market. It is put directly over the brood nest where the bees access it easily. Ensure that it is well covered over with the roof placed on it properly to prevent robbing from other bees. It is a good idea to reduce down the entrance also to defend more easily against robbing. Never spill the syrup if you do ensure that it is washed away quickly.

Dead Drones

You might find lost of dead bees on the ground in front of the entrance of the hive in September (or maybe August). If you look more closely you may see that they are drones being killed off by the colony. This is a natural occurrence this tie of the year, when the colony is feeling the autumn chill and start preparing for winter.

Latest news on the County Dublin honey show

Here’s the latest update on the County Dublin Honey Show on Saturday 2nd November:

Lots of entries already in the honey show competition

_N8R2477.jpgAs of Monday 16th, we are already receiving  entries to the honey show – so it’s shaping up to be another busy show.

If you want to enter the honey show competition, have a read of the competition classes and rules here and here – then you can enter online here.  You might like to read Keith Pierce’s tips on preparing your entries for show.

Honey for sale

As usual, we will be selling our own County Dublin Beekeepers’ Association honey at the show.  It’s beautiful honey at a good price, so we usually sell out by lunchtime.  Once the association’s honey is all gone, our members are permitted to sell their own honey – but even that usually sells out before the show closes!

Face Painting

This year we again have our very popular face painter to entertain some of the younger visitors, so bring the children along and get a bee without a sting.

Parking for the show

As the honey show’s in the centre of Rathgar, parking is limited.  The main entrance to the Honey Show in Christ Church Rathgar is on Highfield Road.  There is parking here but very limited, and we are required to keep the entrance to the inner cap park free for traders who rent spaces there.   Here’s where you will find other parking:

    • Coming from the village on Highfield Road take the first turn right onto Oaklands Drive, (entrance to St Luke’s Hospital) There is free parking on the right generally quiet on a Saturday. 
    • Almost opposite the turn for Oaklands Drive is Templemore Ave. This is a narrow road with limited free spaces, just as you turn onto the road. 
    • Parallel with Templemore Ave is Neville Road and this is free at the weekend. Plenty of spaces here.
    • All of these Roads will take a 5 minute walk approx to honey show.
    • Coming from Rathmines on the Rathgar Road into Rathgar village, at the traffic lights turn left onto Orwell Road (left at Deli Boutique), Just after SuperValu turn right into a recycling centre with parking. Free on a Saturday. From this car park is the entrance to Rathgar Tennis club and parking here is free.
  • If you miss the turn into the recycling centre keep right at the “V” and take the first turn right onto Victoria Road. Free parking Saturday. 

All these parking spots are a 5 min walk approx to Christ Church. ( a little quicker if you walk in one entrance of SuperValu  and out the other!)

We look forward to seeing you – and your entries – at the Honey Show in Christ Church, Rathgar.

Results of the 75th Dublin Honey Show

Class1 st2 nd3 rdVery Highly Commended
1G. Clancy-J. SummervilleM. Nolan
2J. Summerville---
3J. SummervilleR. FitzpatrickG. ClancyE. Fuller
4J. SummervilleD. & T. O’BrienE. ByrneB. O’Reilly
5J. SummervilleH. Martin
6K. PreschM. Gleeson--
7M. NolanR. FitspatrickG. Clancy-
8T. LynchR. BreslinJ. SummervilleJ. Fuller
10J. SummervilleJ. Keogh--
11P. WalshG. ClancyJ. HillO. Devane
12O. DevaneM. MathewsB. O’Reilly-
13O. DevaneS. MurphyB. O’ReillyA. Hamilton
14S. MurphyB. O’ReillyJ. LeonardJ. Cowan
15A. HamiltonO. Devane-B. O’Reilly
16O. ReillyH. MartinA. Cullen-
17A. O’SuilleabhainO. ReillyH. MartinK. Norton
18J. SummervilleD. McCartneyA. HamiltonM. Mathews
19J. SummervilleD. McCartney--
20D. McCartneyJ. Summerville--
21D. McCartney---
22T. O’BrienAlbert HamiltonS. MortellS. O’Hara
23B. O’Reilly---
24L. McCleanJ. SummervilleR. KleeB. O’Reilly
25C. MerriganO. Devane-D. Christodoulides
26M. WallS. O’DwyerM. O’NeillP. O’Brien
27M. KellyV. GroultJ. Thorp-
28S. GroultR. TimminsD. MorrisV. Groult
29S. MortellJ. GroultP. WasylecS. Groult
30S. GroultK. ShoebridgeJ. GroultSt. Michael’s College

Get ready for the 2019 Co. Dublin Honey Show!

It’s that time of year again when we beekeepers prepare our entries for the Dublin Honey Show.  It’s the highlight of the beekeeping year, and we Dublin beekeepers welcome visitors from everywhere to participate in our show.

This year we are staging our 76th honey show on Saturday 2nd November, from 10:00am till 4pm at Christ Church, Rathgar.  There you will find:

  • The best Dublin honey for sale
  • A competition for the best honey / mead / candles / photographs etc. If you are a beekeeper, come and enter your produce – and try win a prize!  If not, come and marvel at the beautiful exhibits.
  • A craft fair
  • Face painting
  • Teas, coffees, sandwiches and delicious cake

If you are keen on buying honey, do come early because we always sell out.

If you are entering the competition, you will need the schedule of classes and the rules.  You can download them here and here.  You can enter online using the form at, or download an entry form here.

Finally, if you are a member of the Co. Dublin beekeepers’ association and can spare a few hours to help out on the day, we’d love to have you.  If you can help out, click here to email John.

John Keogh, Honey Show Secretary

Supersedure and its Controversies

Like most topics in beekeeping, the supersession of queens has long been and still is a subject of controversy. Although there seems to be no particular mystery about the process of supersedure itself, by which a daughter-queen and her mother-queen can remain together in the hive for quite extended periods, the reasons why this might occur and the desirability of allowing it are strongly contested. I decided to look over some older books to find out quite what is so disputable in the commonplace, yet extraordinary, process of queen supersedure.

About seventy years ago, the controversy was already strongly argued between experts who regarded supersedure queens as inferior, and those who thought they were often superior to queens introduced by the beekeeper. For instance, both R.O.B. Manley (of the Manley frame) and E.B. Wedmore, who is still highly regarded today, consider that supersedure queens are less favourable for the beekeeper than the introduced queens, though for different reasons. Wedmore believed that a supersedure queen was likely to be produced in unfavourable circumstances and therefore less productive. (Successful Beekeeping, 1946) Manley, on the other hand, argued:
‘…It would seem at first sight that a strain of bees in which the supersedure instinct is strongly developed would be a very desirable one, but in my experience this is not so. I have not found that such stocks and their queens are up to average; but it is only right to say that there are other beekeepers who think differently. One must not forget that the establishment of an instinct of supersedure sufficiently strong to provide for a methodical renewal of queens by that process, would obviate the necessity for swarming as a method of queen replacement, and that any strain of hive-bees that ceases to swarm altogether is, in a state of nature, doomed to die out altogether, so that supersedure must be regarded, in so far as it is a desirable trait, as complementary and not alternative to swarming.’ (Beekeeping in Britain, 1948)
It is perfectly reasonable to argue that, without colony splitting to establish new colonies, the bees would ultimately risk dying out. Hooper argues this exactly in his Guide to Bees & Honey (rev. ed.1991).

However, at the same period we find another writer who claimed:
‘…This supersession seems to become more assured with heredity: some of my colonies have not swarmed or been requeened by me in five years, and have consistently given very high yields. Cut-down queen cells have often been found on their combs when they have not swarmed. This system is so simple that many bee-keepers will treat it with profound mistrust; but they should try it before condemning it. For three years I have had no swarms in four apiaries, and some hives under treatment have not swarmed for five or six years.’ (F.S. Stuart, Beekeeping Practice, 1947)

I have found that the same basic hypotheses and disagreements seem to have continued in the years since these books were written, with very little clear or new information about the scientific facts of supersedure. For example, I have been unable to establish that heredity (or as we now say, genetics) does really play a clear role in predisposing bees to supersede their queens. One persistent and logical opinion is that the colony uses supersedure as a means of compensating for an injured queen:
‘…It may even be true that the bees are slightly more likely to supersede a clipped queen, because she in some way seems older to them. Manley thinks this is so, if one of the wings is severely clipped, but not if both wings are slightly and equally clipped. If it is so, there is just a trifle more probability that a clipped queen will swarm than an unclipped queen, since the desire to supersede is one of the motives behind swarming. But there is hardly enough in it to influence your decision whether to clip your queens or not…’
(Kenneth C. Clark, Bee Keeping, Penguin Handbook 1951)
A couple of American beekeepers are even more insistent on this explanation:
‘Hybrid queens should never be clipped as this causes immediate supersedure in most cases! The bees think their queen is injured.’ (Ormond & Harry Aebi, Mastering the Art of Beekeeping, 1982, USA)

So it seems there are definite ‘for and against’ camps among expert beekeepers. Perhaps the most emphatically stated case for introducing specially selected queens comes from Brother Adam:
‘The same applies to queens which are being superseded – a sure indication that their life’s strength is at an end. As a matter of fact. I have never come across a supersedure queen whose performance equalled those raised from eggs derived from a breeder in her prime and whose laying abilities have been restricted in the way I have indicated. I am aware this sounds all very unorthodox and contrary to the commonly held views, but our comparative tests leave no doubt on this point. Indeed, for many years now we have replaced any supersedure queens found in the honey-producing colonies in the spring.’ (Brother Adam, The Bees at Buckfast Abbey 1950)

In the opposing camp, however, the natural beekeepers line up in favour of supersedure:
‘…Beekeepers have long known that colonies often supersede emergency queens with normal ones. The two types of queen may look the same but the bees can tell the difference. All commercial queens sold as queens are emergency queens, only they are usually raised in round cells from the outset after grafting the larva into a plastic cup. Alternatively they may restarted by confining the queen in a plastic cage mounted on a comb in the colony so that she is presented only with an array of plastic cell ‘plugs’ in which to lay. The plugs are then transferred to plastic holders that maintain them in the normal vertical orientation in which queen cells are constructed, and placed in a queenless colony. In order to introduce a queen resulting from this process, the colony needs to be brought to the point of ‘desperation’ to receive her…’ (David Heaf, The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper, 2010)

You will have seen by now that the underlying question for beekeepers concerns the excellence or otherwise of the new queen herself. On the one hand, some breeders definitely discourage the ‘natural’ and unmanaged process of supersedure and prefer to select queens from stocks which are quiet, productive, hygienic, and so on. On the other hand, a different philosophy of beekeeping encourages the idea that the bees know best and they will produce excellent queens by supersedure when they feel the need.

There seem to be virtues on both sides of this controversy. It seems to me that most of the good beekeepers I know have reckoned on this and they tend to hedge their bets; so although they may use queen-rearing as such, they are also delighted to find a supersession queen working away in their hives. This is not uncommon after winter, for example; when they open the hive in springtime, they find their marked queen may still be there but an unmarked supersession queen is happily working beside her mother. The peacefulness of this arrangement has often been noted: it seems to run counter to the beekeeper’s expectation that the stronger queen will kill off any rival very quickly. Various suggestions have been put forward to explain the peaceable nature of supersedure: the diminution of the old queen’s pheromones, leading to her being tolerated as a harmless relic, perhaps? Or again, there may even be some question of patriline influence here, as seems to be the case with certain ant-societies where the recognition of kin relatedness gives rise to special treatment in the colony. Some research findings about honey bees have recently been put forward, showing that worker bees may preferentially feed their nearest relatives in the hive (full sisters with same father as well as mother). Until this aspect is teased out, the mystery remains.

However, maybe there is a clue in an article published in a Dutch journal in 2004: the researchers aimed to stimulate supersession artificially, in order to reduce colony losses overwinter. The team, led by Harmen P. Hendriksma, hypothesised that, if they could induce colonies to supersede early enough before the winter set in, they would enable them to survive the winter. They tried introducing queen cells containing 1-day-old larvae or capped queen cells into 50 needy hives, but although the larvae were fed at first, none was reared to maturity and not one of the colonies performed a supersedure. They concluded that ‘supersedure cannot be evoked by artificially by-passing the initial phase of the process.’ The inference is that the ‘initial phase’ is determined by the super-organism which is the colony itself. I think that this inference is consistent with a different study which found that ‘neither swarming nor supersedure can be predicted by prior queen replacement events in a colony’. (M.H. Allsopp & M.R. Hepburn, ‘Swarming, Supersedure and the Mating System of Apis mellifera capensis’, Journal of Apicultural Research, 1997). The interesting thing here may be that there could be much more to supersedure cells than we can yet understand.

At something of a loss to decide which side of the controversy I should stand, I thought it might help if I looked at related insects, and this confirmed that ants and wasps may also supersede their queens, as do some forms of stingless bees. I also found that some species of ant regularly support several queens working together in their nests, giving them a population advantage over less prolific types of colony. Yet another variation was found in a stingless bee (sweat bee) in USA where the single species could avail of two different strategies: it could either retain the queen throughout the season, leading to a ‘eusocial’ structure where all the workers are daughters of the queen and they raise their own sisters and brothers; or it could at need raise a supersedure queen, leading to a ‘parasocial’ structure where the workers were in fact sisters of the queen and therefore raise nieces and nephews. Honey bees are ‘eusocial’ and this confers a closer relationship among the members of the colony, with advantages which are beginning to be understood. However, perhaps the potential to supersede a queen when necessary is retained at a very profound evolutionary level. I also found an old, very interesting paper about bumblebees by a Russian entomologist, G.S Voveikov, called ‘Natural Requeening of Bumble Bee Colonies’ (1953). He shows that bumble bees can supersede their queens in a single season, and believes that ‘a two-fold supersedure, with two events at different times, appears very favourable for colony growth.’ He even proposes that the early season requirements of the colony can differ so much from the later ones that this change of queen is highly beneficial. [He also considers that this predisposes bumble bees to evolve cuckoo-bee species as well as true bumble bees.] For example, he argues that the overwinter queen may be exhausted by founding her new colony, and that a supersedure queen (probably a heavier bee) could lay with renewed vigour. I was reminded of Brother Adam’s contention that a well-bred queen, selected by him as the beekeeper, would be more vigorous and productive than a supersedure queen with uncertain breeding. How odd, that in bumble bees this might be considered exactly the reverse and supersession seen as an advantage to breeding. But then, bumble bees have no beekeepers!

Meanwhile, the best guideline, whichever side of the controversy you may prefer, would seem to be seasonal. There is consensus that at the early and the late part of the beekeeping season, you may well find a few supersedure cells in your hive. There will be far fewer than swarm cells at the height of the season, but you may see no other difference; some say that supersedure cells tend to be in the middle of the frame, but other writers deny this. In the early part of the season, the chances of a supersedure queen being properly mated are less good than at the height, and you may find that the bees will replace her during the season. In the late season, the bees may replace a failing or elderly queen in order to survive the winter. There seems to be some indication that there is no true ‘broodless’ period in our winters nowadays, and so perhaps late supersedures are a reversion to an evolutionary potential. This might be compared to the recent understanding of ‘hygienic’ behaviour in honey bees, which seems to be called forth under the extreme genetic ‘bottleneck’ effect of colony losses from varroa (as Professor Tom Seeley has argued). Perhaps one could say that this extreme environmental stress has brought out an evolutionary defence which has not been apparent until now. I wonder whether supercedure represents another underlying evolutionary trait, to complement the normal swarming strategy?

I will finish by quoting a clear and useful summary from Pam Gregory, Healthy Bees Are Happy Bees (2013)
‘…Really, it is the time of year that indicates whether the cells are swarm or supersedure cells….
There are two types of supersedure: perfect and imperfect. In a perfect supersedure the old queen does not die until the new queen in mated and laying and then she just seems to politely fade away. This is the only natural circumstance when two queens will be found in the hive together. In an imperfect supersedure the original queen dies before the new queen’s mating process is complete. This is then a risk for the colony’s survival because if the new queen is not well mated or does not return to the hive, the colony is unable to raise another queen. Lack of mating will not prevent a new queen from coming into lay, but of course, it will prevent her from laying anything other than drone eggs.
In my opinion, supersedure is rather a desirable trait to encourage, as the colony produces a new queen as well as collecting a honey crop, so beekeepers should always be aware of this possibility when thinking about replacing and old queen. Maybe the bees would do it better!’

Mary Montaut