June Gap

On Thursday evening (16 June 2022) Members from the Association me at the Shugborough Apiary for one of our weekly ‘Bee Chats’. This week’s topic was all about the ‘June Gap’ which Gill Stanford kindly looked into and gave a talk on her findings.

Super delicious cakes were also enjoyed thanks to Chris and Roberts. Huge thanks to you both for setting up and preparing the teas and cake.

With thanks to Gill Stanford for this week’s topic:

The topic of the ‘June Gap’, though is interesting, as I personally believe that it has changed considerably over the decades, along with global warming. As Beekeepers, we become weather watchers too and I think, also become acutely aware of our environment and the seasons, the flowers and the available
forage for our bees. For the ‘newbie’s’, this may already be happening but for me personally, it took some considerable time before I realised that I was doing this!

So, you’ve successfully got your bees through winter and the colony has built up through Spring, where the bees have vast volumes of pollen and nectar from trees and hedges, then in May, if you are lucky enough (or unlucky, depending how you look at it) you have the oilseed rape flowers which bring a glut, sending our bees into a forage frenzy and the hives are reaching their peak colony size, Queens are being fed to keep them laying at a prolific rate and colonies have many larvae to feed.

Then comes the dreaded June Gap – in the simplest of terms, this is when the spring flowers and the fruit blossom is over, flowers that have been pollinated stop producing their nectar and the height of summer flowers are not yet in full bloom. This means that there is a sudden reduction in the amount of pollen and nectar available for ALL bees and of course, the rapeseed has gone over, and the grass is long, which suppresses most wild flowers.

It is also weather dependant, and bees require a consecutive flow of pollen and nectar throughout the year and no nectar is produced when the temperature is low or in the rain. The weather affects the times when plants flower, which can make the gap greater or smaller – and whilst some will be in flower – it’ll just be less.

June 2022 has already been a really strange month so far – hot days, cool days, rainy days and even hail stones in between and now – a heat wave!

If there is a significant gap, the Queen may stop laying and then of course, this impacts on the amount of worker bees that help make the July and August honey crop. Also, you may notice a gap in the brood development, as the bees stop feeding the Queen because they are aware of the lack of food; they may remove eggs too (so that there are no new mouths to feed) and this might fool new beekeepers into thinking that the colony is Queenless!

Be mindful too, that if the bees are hungry, this can also result in robbing from another colony and those vile wasps and hornets are also on the lookout for food.

Be aware that colonies CAN starve if there is a serious lack of pollen and nectar. So, what can we do about it?

Record keeping gives us the opportunity to reflect on the changes – not just weekly but year on year.

Many of us have already taken honey at this time of year, so it’s vital to keep an eye on stores; check your bees; leave reserve honey in the hive; supplement if necessary.

Plant for the June gap and encourage your friends, family and neighbours to do the same, for example: Hardy Geraniums, Oxeye Daisies, Field Poppies, and Herbs, such as Thyme, Chives, Catmint, Lemon balm, Coriander, Rosemary – Borage is particularly fantastic, it’s prolific, self seeds, has a long flowering period and the bees love it. Lots of the soft fruits (Raspberries and Gooseberries) provide nectar and pollen from late Spring into early Summer.

It’s not all doom and gloom though as the June gap usually lasts only a couple of weeks. With only 9 years experience as a beekeeper, I consider myself relatively new and so, I’d like to ask Dave, who has the wisdom and experience: “in the 21st Century and with our climate change crisis – has the June gap changed?”

Gill Stanford

With thanks to Gill on this week’s topic – certainly food for thought in terms of what is available in terms of local forage for our bees. The topic continued with lots of discussions amongst Members in terms of the impact of Climate Change over the years and how the 2022 seasons is looking so far.

So, what do you think, is there a June Gap this year. How are things in your Apiary and with your bees?