MARCH

Well into the month now and all the signs are promising, Crocus and Primrose continue to bloom in abundance, much to the delight of my bees. Blossom, on what I imagine to be Flowering Cherry, is now very much in evidence and the nearby Oil-seed Rape fields are turning speedily yellow. We have enjoyed a brief spell of really pleasant weather during the last week or so, with yesterday being the warmest day of the year so far. Time for this season’s first inspection I decided. On each of my last few visits there have been greater numbers of flying bees issuing from all of the hive entrances, enough to convince me that they were no longer clustered so, today was the day!  As usual, “C” was my first port of call, so, for the first time this season I approached with smoker in hand. Always a feeling of nervous anticipation accompanies my first inspection. I know what I’m hoping to find but am never quite sure until that first crown board has been removed and the hive’s contents revealed. This will not be the first time this season that I’ve removed my crown boards but the other occasions were just to administer candy and to re-assure myself that I was feeding living colonies, none of the frames were disturbed. So, first to hive 1, supers and upturned feeder to one side. I hadn’t removed the supers at the close of last season as there seemed little point. The fact that they were above the upturned feeder ensured the bees had no access to them and with both supers having some drawn comb in meant each hive would be sure of keeping their own, quite important I feel. And so to hive one, gently removing the feeder revealed exactly what I was hoping for, hundreds of bees crawling over the tops of the frames, the fact that I had just torn the roof off their home didn’t seem to bother them at all. A vastly different scene from that which we were greeted with when first we took on this site. If you remember, each of the colonies we brought from the meadow became ill-tempered within a very few days of arriving, to the point where they had to be returned to the meadow where surprisingly, they reverted to normal placid behaviour. Apart from the behavioural problems, we were beset with swarming and failed supersedure attempts. Also, two of my “bought in” queens mysteriously disappeared. So, as I said, to see them behaving in this way is really gratifying. Although it was a lovely warm day, I planned to keep my inspection as brief as possible so, straight to frame one. I’ve mentioned previously that all three hives are fitted with castellated runners. The absence of propolising and the additional 2mm. spacing really does make frame removal a simple matter, increasingly important when using 14×12″ brood boxes as a full frame can be quite heavy and awkward, especially when propolised. With that in mind, I expected the frame to yield when I gently inserted my “J” tool under the lug and began to lever, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see there was no brace comb or propolis holding the frame and I was afraid to lever any more firmly for fear of snapping the lug off. Eventually a combination of hive tool and fingers persuaded the frame to relinquish it’s hold and I was able to slowly withdraw it. The frame hadn’t been stuck in place as I had first imagined, instead it was the sheer weight of stores which was holding the frame in place. I can’t remember ever seeing a frame this full, and so early in the season, before. This is when I’m glad that we go to the trouble of fitting an additional cross wire, imagine that lot falling at your feet or worse still, into the hive.

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1ST FRAME FULL OF STORES

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4TH FRAME, BEES, BROOD AND STORES

It was frame four before I reached bees in any numbers and when I did I was pleased with what I saw as the above pic. will illustrate. On frames six and seven evidence of brood so time to box them back up. Thankfully, it was much the same story in hives two and three.

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BEES IN 2

Hive two is the only one of the three still on standard 14×9″  brood as, if you remember, they were born of the last remaining nuc. and it was too late in the year to get them on 14×12″. They are progressing at an alarming rate, so much so that I have earmarked them for my nursery hive. I will install a second brood box at my next visit and if all goes to plan, hive two will host this year’s Cloake Board queen rearing operation.

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2 PROGRESSING AT AN ALARMING RATE

I fitted a queen excluder and re-instated the two supers on hive one before I left as it looked as though they were in real danger of running out of space. I will be keeping a close eye on three as they weren’t very far behind one and I’ve every expectation that they too will be wearing supers before the month is out.

On then to the meadow where thankfully, the story was much the same. Not quite so advanced as “C” but then, being at the bottom of a meadow, next to a brook and partly shaded by a belt of trees they always take a little longer to warm up, but, lots of activity and brood in all of the hives. Not really much more to be done with the hives at the moment other than to change the floors. I shall wait for the next prolonged warm spell for this and combine it with my first full inspection. Any used comb has been removed from the empty hives and has now been rendered down. I usually do this in the greenhouse at the top of the meadow, it gives me something to do on a day that’s too wet to do anything else, and the fact that it’s raining keeps the bees from making nuisances of themselves.

Another little job that I like to catch up on at this time is replacing the foundation in the frames which Liz and I boil up at the close of each season. These are frames which either been replaced because of the condition of the comb or had come from a colony which we’d lost. If we do lose a colony, whatever the reason, we never take a chance with re-using the comb, nor the box for that matter, not until it has been scraped, torched and given a fresh coat of Cuprinol. The frames, having had the wax removed, are stored in black bin liners until we have enough to warrant dragging the boiler out of store at which point they each receive a good dousing in boiling water laced with a spoonful of washing soda, and a vigorous scrubbing. The whole operation takes no more than a couple of minutes per frame and the results are truly remarkable, apart from which, you now have the piece of mind in knowing your frames aren’t harbouring any nasty’s. After hanging them in the roof of the greenhouse for a couple of days until they’re completely dry, they either go into empty nuc’s or brood boxes, or clean bin bags where they await re-waxing which is where we are now.

The last few days haven’t been brilliant weather-wise, so I’ve spent part of them fitting new foundation. The addition of a re-enforcing cross wire to the 14×12″ frames makes the job a bit of a chore, but for the peace of mind it gives me, I think it’s worth the extra trouble.

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ADDITIONAL CROSS WIRE, WORTH THE TROUBLE IF ONLY FOR PEACE OF MIND

A different story with the standard frames as I had quite a number of them which had received the boiling water treatment at the back end of last season, so, a simple matter to ease off the retaining bar and insert the new wax foundation. I usually move the pins to a new position which gives the bar a better hold and even with doing that, the whole operation only takes a couple of minutes. These standard frames are destined for the second box on hive 2 at “Mendip C”, and that’s where they are now. I no longer have empty standard brood boxes available but it was a simple matter to prise one of the eke’s off of one of the empty modified 14×12″ hives. That done, the box received a quick scrape and torching and yesterday took up residence at it’s new home.

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HIVE 2 NOW ON DOUBLE BROOD.

This pic. gives an idea of the numbers of bees but this was after I’d returned to the car for my camera, two minutes earlier the front of the hive was literally black with bees. I’ve every hope that they will now stride on and be ready for my Cloake-board queen rearing in a couple of month’s time.

I returned the following day to satisfy myself that they had accepted the new addition to their home. Knowing how unpredictable bees can be, and having returned to a similar situation on one occasion to find more bees crawling over the outside of the hive than in it, there obviously being something they were averse to, I was keen to know all was ok. I needn’t have worried, they were all busily coming and going as though nothing had happened.

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ALL GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS AS THOUGH NOTHING HAD HAPPENED.

I mentioned earlier that following my first inspection at “C” I had left hive 1 with a couple of supers, such was their rate of growth and left vowing to do the same to 3 at my next visit. Well, following fitting the additional brood box to 2, I opened 3 fully expecting to see much the same as I had in 1. The activity at the entrances was much the same in fact, 3 was a bit busier if anything, which further boosted my expectations. Imagine my surprise then to find that 3 were lagging behind 1 by at least 50%. They seemed happy enough and there was still quite a lot of candy left. There was brood and stores so I wasn’t overly concerned but, why were they so far behind 1. From my notes I see that it was in June last year that both were re-queened. They had each received sealed queen cells on the same day and from the same meadow colony. A quick look a week later confirmed that both queens had emerged and the copious amounts of pollen being taken in shortly afterwards, indicated that both queens had began to lay. My notes for September and October recorded that both colonies were progressing at a similar rate so why I ask myself, is 3 now lacking so far behind. As I said, I’m not unduly concerned but I will be keeping a watchful eye on them and if nothing else, It gives me an excuse to scratch my head.

The weather forecast for today was that it would be the warmest this year and it has to be said, after a less than promising start which included mist and fine rain, around eleven o’clock the sun finally broke through and stayed with us for the rest of the day. Thankfully the forecasters had for once, got it entirely right. By the time I reached “C”, I had the car windows down and couldn’t wait to get out of the sweat shirt I was wearing. For the first time this year I spent the rest of the day in a T-shirt. The bees, as you might imagine, were in fine mood and paid little or no attention to me. 1 and 2 were exactly as I had expected, lots of bees, all of them doing what bees do best, but it was 3 that I was most anxious to have a look at. What a difference since my last visit, bees on nearly every frame, I would guess their numbers had more or less doubled. I took a quick pic. but as usual, by the time I got my ‘phone sorted out, half of the bees had disappeared, but it does give you an idea of what confronted me when I lifted the roof.

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MOST OFTHE BEES HAD GONE DOWN BY THE TIME I’D TAKEN THIS PIC.

Another thing which surprised me was that they had finished the tub of candy which they seemed to be taking very little interest in when I last looked at them. I refilled the tub before leaving and I must say, I left today, feeling a lot happier than at my last visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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SNOWDROPS AND CROCUS IN ABUNDANCE

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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.

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AFTER I HAD REMOVED THE MOUSEGUARD

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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.

The day before yesterday we were visited by Storm Doris and I must say, I didn’t venture far. Doris threw the lot at us, storm force winds, rain and even the odd snow flurry. The last time we had winds this severe we lost one of the Willows at the meadow. Fortunately a few yards away from my little apiary but much too close for comfort. Those were the thoughts I went to bed with Thursday night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, unable to shake off visions of fallen trees and broken hives.

The following day, yesterday, was by comparison, probably the best day, weather-wise, this year, and so, to the meadow where thankfully, everything was just as I had left it at my last visit. I think my sigh of relief could have probably been heard streets away. I left for “C”, taking the three trays of fondant I’d made up the day before. Since the beginning of the year, “C” has been streets ahead of the meadow in terms of activity and I guessed that they could probably make use of a little more help in the stores department, and I was right. All three had little or no fondant left. This was remedied before with the trays I had brought with me, if things go according to plan, probably the last they’ll need this Spring.

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ALL THREE HAD LITTLE OR NO FONDANT LEFT

The activity around the hives was much the same as at my last visit so had a quick look at the flower lawn which had seemed to be occupying all of their attention. If anything, there were even more bees in attendance, good to see and worthy of a couple more pics.

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WORTHY OF ANOTHER COUPLE OF PICS.

 

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.