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"To Autumn" by Keats: 100th anniversary Sept 19th 2019

posted Sep 22, 2019, 3:33 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Sep 22, 2019, 3:35 AM ]
I was on my way to help a beginner with a queenless colony last week when I heard a feature on the radio about Keat's poem, "To Autumn".  They played a recording of Seamus Heaney reading the poem and it was very fitting to be driving through country roads brimming with autumn wild fruits and berries, just like in the poem.  Here is the first stanza, which refers to the honey bee in it's brimming clammy cell.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
But things are not always so pretty in Autumn.  I include a photograph of some drone brood which, for whatever reason (probably the good weather and ivy flow) was laid last week, and which we cut out of a colony yesterday, as a way of reducing mite count ( and it was brace comb so it was in the  way of a hive we were converting to double brood).  Little did we know that we would find so many foundress mites on one larva- we think they are all gravid mothers because of the young age of the larvae, just sealed in many cases, and the brood is roughly all the same age.   Each of those mites can produce two to three young in a drone cell, so you can do the maths and work out that there would be a surge in the mite population at the worst time of year, when you want really healthy winter bees in development. 

Queens go off lay in August, after the main flow, and during varroa treatments, and start again after a few days of ivy pollen being brought into the hive by the foragers. When there is no open brood the varroa can't reproduce.  When it becomes available again, the mother mites have to compete for space in the maturing open larval cells, and very often you will get up to ten mites in one of these cells, as we saw with our own eyes yesterday.  Needless to say all drone brood was removed- in another colony I saw the bees pulling out drone brood and throwing out adult drones, as is routine this time of year. 

Thankfully there was still time last week to treat varroa with apiguard and there are still more options, along with mite trapping in newly sealed brood,  that are less temperature dependent.  Many beekeepers prefer the treatment free option, and once you know when and how to trap mites, it is definitely a good option as it does decrease the mite load significantly.  We call the use of chemicals plus physical methods of removal "Integrated Pest Management" and we use both chemical and physical methods where possible.