FEBRUARY

A week into February now and already we’ve had, hopefully, the first of many fine, sunny days. I decided to take full advantage and check how the fondant levels were holding up. So, first to Mendip “C” and before I left the car I could see flying bees around the hive entrances. As I made my way towards the hives it became obvious that the activity was emanating from  two and three, there was little or none from one. I decided to start with two and three, this to give me an idea of what I should be seeing when I opened one. You may recall that I use my inverted Adams feeders as ekes so it is a simple matter to just raise one edge to reveal all. The activity in two and three was just as I had hoped, plenty of bees all busily going about their bee-business. Not a single bee bothered to come and see what had caused the disturbance, which is always pleasing, and plenty of fondant in both. The story in hive one was a bit different, few if any bees to be seen on top of the frames, although something had had a go at the fondant. I peered as best I could, down between the frames and was sure that I did detect some movement. It’s difficult with 14×12″ to see down very far and I didn’t want to spend too long with the hive open, for obvious reasons, so I boxed them up and made my way back to the car. It always worries me when I see one colony behaving differently, especially when, as in this case, the conditions in each are identical, same size boxes, same amounts of stores and in the case of one and three, both queens from cells implanted on the same day and from the same colony at the meadow. I’m hoping that for some reason, the bees in three were clustering low down in the box and were there even though I couldn’t see them. As I write, the sun has made an appearance so I’m going to make the most of it and pay another visit to “C”. I’ll let you know what I find.

Again, made “C” my first port of call, this time there were quite a few bees coming and going from 1, not as many as from the other two hives but, enough to suggest that things were a lot better that I’d imagined at my last visit. A quick look beneath the crown board revealed quite a sizeable cluster with several bees on the fondant. I left feeling a lot happier and have every hope that 1 will now make it through to the Spring. On to the meadow next where from all but two of the hives, 4 and 7,  there were plenty of flying bees in evidence. These two had, by comparison with the others, seemed quiet at my previous visit. A quick look inside had revealed a relatively small cluster in 4, and in 7, lots of dead bees. It was the same story today and I’m pretty sure that 7 has failed and I shouldn’t be surprised if 4 follows suit. Why this should be I have no idea, all my colonies received the same amount of syrup and fondant and all of the hive boxes are in excellent condition. My records show that both 4 and 7 were headed by the last of my bought-in queens which, if I’m right about their chances of making it, will mean that all six have failed !

Since I last wrote the weather has got progressively worse, unless of course, you have a cold, damp weather fetish which thankfully, I don’t. The temperature has hovered around freezing with most parts enjoying the odd flurry of snow. That was, until Wednesday of this week. As soon as I opened my eyes it was obvious that change was afoot, the bedroom, even through drawn curtains, was much brighter than it had been hitherto and when I did pull the curtains back, the sun poured in out of a cloudless sky. We have hat the odd spell of sunshine in the last few weeks but nothing like this, not only was the sunlight filling the room, but the warmth also. As you might imagine, my thoughts turned straight to my bees and so, an hour or so later found me pulling into the parking area of Mendip “C”. As soon as I turned the engine off, I could hear the sound of buzzing, most coming from the direction of the apiary but also from somewhere behind me. Before making my way up to the hives, I turned towards the Cottage which is approached from the parking area, by a few steps and a short pathway. Either side of the pathway are small areas of lawn which hitherto I had barely noticed. Today was different, today there were clumps of snowdrops and crocus in every direction, not only that, but every clump had at least half a dozen bees in attendance.

February bees at Camely 040

SNOWDROPS AND CROCUS IN ABUNDANCE

February bees at Camely 039

THERE ARE BEES IN THERE SOMEWHERE, HONESTLY

I made my way back through the parking area, and on to the hives. All the while there were bees flying past me in both directions, I couldn’t remember seeing this much activity since last Summer. The closer I got, the louder the buzzing and the more frenetic the activity seemed. The bees took absolutely no notice of me so intent were they on reaping this early harvest, I reckoned that at least a half of them were laden with pollen. I’ve taken a couple of pic’s. to give you an idea of just how busy they were.

February bees at Camely 044

AFTER I HAD REMOVED THE MOUSEGUARD

February bees at Camely 046

THE SIGHT THAT GREETED ME AS I APPROACHED

The hive fronts were covered with bees, most of them carrying pollen as you can just make out from the pic. and of course, the reason they were all queuing to get in and out was that I still had the mouseguards in place. This I quickly remedied and by the time I had left, the bottlenecks had all but disappeared.

I wanted to check the fondant situation in the meadow hives and a brief gap in the weather yesterday gave me the opportunity I was waiting for. The weather was still pretty grim but at least the drizzle had stopped by the time I arrived. I wasted no time in getting down to the hives, only one or two bees flying which didn’t surprise me, I don’t think I’d have ventured out on a day like this if I hadn’t needed to. I made my way along the row of hives, pausing just long enough to satisfy myself that they all had enough fondant and thankfully, they did. Four was looking very much better than at my last visit, they had received a feeder of syrup in addition to fondant and pleased to say, they were attacking both with gusto. A very different story in seven which sad to say, hasn’t made it. I didn’t strip the hive apart but could see from above that there was quite a sizeable cluster between three of the frames, all of them dead. So why, seven has been treated in exactly the same way as all of the others. I know they had sufficient stores, so, were they unable to reach them and even if this was the case, they had the same amount of fondant which was placed directly above the cluster. None of the other colonies had problems accessing their stores, so why should seven be any different.

Looking back through last season’s records, seven began as my strongest colony to the point where I was able to equip two nuc’s. from them. Later I removed two queen cells that they had produced to hives one and three at “C” where they have since performed very well. I see that seven began acting strangely in July when even though they had only produced one queen cell, which I took to be a sign of supersedure, they unexpectantly swarmed. I think that it must of been after that they started to go down hill. I know the cell hatched as there was fresh brood a couple of weeks later. Maybe she was poorly mated, I don’t know. I do know that I must have missed the signs that they were struggling and the opportunity to unite them with one of their stronger neighbours. Too late to worry now, spilt milk comes to mind but I am sad to have lost them. Something I always feel when this happens and as usual, resolve to look less and see more in future.

 

JANUARY

Sitting here at my desk, the first thoughts as usual at this time, “where did last year go”? Before proceeding, I’ve just taken a quick look at last January’s entry, and I’d began it on more or less the same note so I’ll just leave it with “where did last year go”? and move swiftly on.

We are going into 2017 with our stocks more or less up to strength, the frenetic activity at the hive entrances on the days when the sun has managed a prolonged appearance has encouraged me to take an optimistic view of the season ahead. I told of how I had given them all a portion of fondant the week before Christmas, well, last Wednesday was particularly fine and warm. The first thing I noticed on pulling into the car park at Mendip “C”, even before climbing out of the car, was the number of flying bees in attendance. It was more like an April morning than one at the beginning of January. The bees were obviously enjoying this post Christmas bonus and took little or no notice of me as I approached. An opportunity to check the fondant level I decided, and was I glad that I did. In the couple of weeks since receiving the fondant, and I’m talking about a block about the size of a pound of butter to each hive, they had each managed to reduce it to little more than the size of a 10p piece.

It is easy to miss-interpret the signs at this time of year. This amount of activity around April time is a most welcome sight, telling us that our bees have over-Wintered successfully and that our queens have commenced laying in earnest. With Spring flowers now very much in evidence, there is no shortage of forage, so as I say, a welcome sight. However, in January and February it’s a very different matter. There is little or no forage about now, so the bees have little choice but to delve deeply into their Winter stores, stores which should be lasting them well into Spring, but which, at this rate, will be lucky to see March out. All that is needed is a cold, wet Spring, similar to those of the last couple of years and we have a disaster on our hands. It’s an easy mistake to make, miss-reading the signs, and sad to say, one I’ve made on more than one occasion. There can be no more sobering sight than, when at your first inspection, instead of the hundreds of bees that you expected to find, all busily going about their business, you are confronted with a tiny bottom poking out of each comb. Each one belonging to a bee which had starved trying in vain, to glean the last vestige of honey from the comb.

Suffice to say, by the end of the day, they had all received another portion of fondant. I shall continue to regularly monitor the fondant situation and give more whenever I think fit and strongly recommend that you do the same. If you need any encouragement, just picture all of those tiny bottoms looking up at you.

I’ve said before that in my view, an understated bonus to the hobby we all enjoy, is the lovely people that we come into contact with. People that otherwise, we would probably never even meet. I’m glad to say, last Tuesday was no exception. I gave my first talk of the year to a local ”Over 60′s Group”. I had never met any of them before, but, they made me feel so welcome that I felt like one of the family within moments. When the Chairman asked me to please move my table a little closer to the front row, I did enquire whether the reason was to make me a better target if they decided to start throwing things, but I needn’t have worried. They gave me an enthusiastic reception, and said some lovely things when I had finished. Some even laughed at my silly jokes, another bonus!  After a cup of tea and a biscuit, I bid my farewells. I meant it when I said that they made me feel like one of the family and even writing about it a week later, I get a warm feeling inside. I was just sorry I couldn’t leave them with a couple of jars of honey by way of a thankyou,. Ah well,hopefully next time.

Not much to report for the last couple of weeks, the weather has, to say the least, been pretty dismal. Although I have continued to visit on all but the worst days, I haven’t chanced opening any of the hives so, I can only hope that the stores situation is holding up. I always seem to find myself between a rock and a hard place at this time, does one open a hive and risk chilling the occupants, or keeping your fingers crossed, leave them to it. I’m as sure as I can be that the extra fondant they all received earlier in the month will keep them going for a while longer so, at least for the time being, I’ve decided on the latter.

 

DECEMBER

Well, it’ll soon be Christmas. I know this to be the case as I’ve just seen my local supermarket unloading their first consignment of Easter Eggs, always a give away. I frequently hear people, mainly of my age group bemoaning the fact that ” It’s not the same as it were when I were a lad” and of course, they’re right. But then, very few things are, are they? I suppose it’s human nature to remember the good things and it’s right that we should. I imagine that the same sentence has been repeated since time immemorial and will still be fifty years from now, not that I’ll be around to hear it but history has a habit of repeating itself, doesn’t it!

I gave my last talk for the year last week, and most enjoyable it was. The subject was as usual The Honeybee with in addition, a brief touch on candle making, by request I have to say which was most gratifying. It’s always a bit of a step in the dark when you address a group for the first time but so far, nobody has actually thrown anything at the stage and if anyone has dozed off, they’ve snored quietly. This talk was at the Christmas meeting of a local Horticultural Society and because horticulture and bee-keeping go more or less, hand in hand, I had a feeling that it would go down well and thankfully, it did. We got a very nice round of applause at the end and I received some lovely comments. Also, the questions at the end were relevant and indicated that most if not all, had been listening, another plus. Afterwards there was a light supper and it’s then, in the relaxed atmosphere that accompanies a mince pie and a sandwich that you really find out how the evening has gone. “You know, I had no idea that there that many bees in a beehive” and ” I found that bit about the waggle dance really fascinating”. Just some of the comments but, the best one for me, from the Club Secretary,”Geoff, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your talk, I’ll never look at a jar of honey in quite the same way again”. It has to be the greatest plus of being a beekeeper, that you  constantly  meet the loveliest people, not just at functions but, just going about your daily business. I’ve lost count of the number of people, and I’m talking about people who I’ve never seen before, who’ve come up to me, smiled and said, “I know you, you’re The Bee Man aren’t you”! For a while I used to feel a bit embarrassed but now it gives me quite a warm glow.

This week’s weather has been as warm as last week’s was cold. Not an ounce of movement last week, at last they’re clustered I thought, an I’m sure they were but today, I could see flying bees, in numbers from barely half way down the meadow. That’s not what you want to see at this time of year. Active bees are feeding bees and although they have had plenty of syrup, this sort of activity will quickly deplete the stocks which might have to last well into April if we have the sort of Spring that we’ve experienced the last couple of years. I took a quick look at the hives that had received fondant last week and all the bees were attacking it with gusto. An hour later saw the remaining hives each with a portion of fondant. Using the now inverted Adams feeders as ekes makes the whole operation so simple  With the fondant on the cages that I’d made last week, it’s just a case of gently lifting one edge of the feeder and placing the cage above the frames  The bees were showing interest in the cages and their cargo in seconds and checking on their progress will only take seconds and involve a minimum of disturbance.

A week before Christmas now and not much to report from the apiaries which I’ve continued to visit as the weather has permitted. A couple of bees flying from each hive on most occasions, probably defecation flights I shouldn’t wonder. I’m pretty much up to date with the jobs I had planned for the quiet season so not much to get excited about there. I have, however, acquired another six pairs of castellated runners. I first used these at the Mendip “C” last year. I have used the eleven slot spacers which places the frames at 37mm centres as opposed to the Hoffman spacing of 35mm. I recall that at one of the David Maslen talks which I attended it was stated that 37mm was the spacing of wild comb and therefore the preferred spacing as far as the bees are concerned. Seemingly, the narrower spacing of the Hoffman frames was an effort, on behalf of beekeepers, to restrict the numbers of drones that the bees produced. I subscribe to the thinking that whatever stresses our bees must be in the long run, detrimental to their well-being and anything that we can do to reduce this must be to the good. If my bees are happy to produce a few extra drones, then, who am I to deny them. So, that was my thinking behind the fitting of castellated runners at the new site and thus far, they have worked well. There is little or no propolising of the frames which with 14×12″ makes their removal and replacement much less of a chore. I did need to acquire a “J” type hive tool, a small price to pay I decided. The only problem I encountered was when I needed to introduce a queen cell in a spring type cell protector because of course, you can’t slide the frames along the runners. This was easily overcome by just bending down a couple of the castellations opposite one another allowing the frames to be slid far enough apart to allow the cage to be inserted. The metal used in the runners is soft enough to be bent just using your fingers and just as easily re-instated once the queen had emerged and the cage had been removed.

So, there we are for another year, not a good year as far as honey yield but we have got our stocks back up to strength which was my prime objective. All of the hives have had a fresh coat of Cuprinol this year, barring a couple of boxes, and they won’t hurt to wait until the Spring. A couple of the hive stands are beginning to look their age but hopefully, the repairs I’ve carried out will keep them going for another couple of years. I purchased another three eke’s. at one of the equipment sales, enough to convert the last of the hives still on standard brood to 14×12″. In addition, I now have enough nuc’s to have a proper try at The Cloake Board method of queen rearing. So, barring any unforeseen catastrophes, this will be my last time of writing until the new year and so all that remains is to thank you for joining me here at my little Mendip Apiaries and to wish all of you a Very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year.