There’s not been much to report up until now at the apiary, but I’ll bring you up to date with what little we have done so far. As I said earlier, we administered our Oxalic Acid in January and this gve me an oportunity to quickly heft the hives, glad to say, they all seemed to have sufficient stores and so they were left to finish their over-wintering. I don’t know how the weather has been in your neck of the woods but here it has, with the exeption of just a few days, been exeptionally mild. I am probably luckier than most in that I am able to visit the Apiary most days and I can report the bees have been flying most days, sometimes just one or two but on other occasions, in quite considerable numbers. They seemed to be bringing quite a lot of pollen in. I can’t imagine there was much nectar, if any, as apart from a few Snowdrops and a handful of Crocus, there didn’t appear to be any other flowers in bloom. Now, to my mind this can cause problems of starvation with colonies running out of stores prematurely. The reason being that under normal circumstances, with a normally cold Winter, the bees are clustered and being largely inactive are not consuming their stores. With a Winter such as the one just gone, and the bees flying most days, they are, in the absense of nectar to collect, going to be using their stores at a far greater rate. Add to this the fact that the Queen is probably laying at an ever increasing rate, this signified by the amount of pollen coming in and you can see there could be problems on the horizon if left unchecked. So, what to feed and how best to go about it. If you are in the fortunate position of having a few frames of capped stores at your disposal then great, problem solved. Put one either side of the cluster as quickly as you can with the minimum of disturbance and close up quickly. You’ll have to trust to luck that they don’t ball their queen but with no stores you were going to lose them anyway, weren’t you.You could try syrup and hope the weather stays warm, the problem with syrup is that the bees can’t use it if the weather is cold as they are unable to reduce the water content sufficiently to be able to.

 You will by now have realized that most of these problems would not have arisen if the colonies had gone into Winter with more stores. My advice when deciding on how much stores, always err on the side of more.

Here at Mendip I start feeding as soon as the last super has been removed, so probably, some time in late August, and I keep feeding until they have stopped taking it down. I use thick syrup at this time although, this Winter I did feed Ambrosia(TM) to two of the colonies as part of an experiment to see whether it improved over wintering. I think that due to the mildness of the weather, the results will be inconclusive so will probably do the same again next year. 

So back to this year, the first week in Febuary the floors were re-inserted. The reasoning behind this is that by Febuary the queen will probably have started laying and I feel the slight rise in temperature afforded by having the floors in place will assist the brooding. They will be removed again the end of March, early April. At this time all hives were given a boost in the form of a slab of Candy, I in fact use Fondant Icing which is readily available from the local Supermarket, and is placed, in slices, on a piece of plastic, usually cut from an old margerine tub, this placed on top of the crown board or top frames. This is just a ”belt and braces” operation and if not used can be discarded at the time of the first full examination, hopefully next month.

I said earlier that it was my intention to have three of the colonies on brood and a half this year and so, as yesterday was a beautiful day and the bees were flying freely, I took the oportunity to have a quick look below the crown boards, without disturbing anything I have to stress, and to put in place the additional supers.These have been fitted with Hoffman frames to align with the frames in the brood chambers, and at this time were placed above the crown boards, holes open. They will be placed in their final position during the first full inspection. Incidently, very little of the candy had been used, that combined with a quick heft, reasured me that they all had sufficient stores and their numbers indicated they had all come through the Winter in fine form. Something else which indicated that all was well was how placid they were. I had suited up and had my smoker with me but I’m sure I needn’t have bothered with either. As I said, there were lots of bees flying but they were totally oblivious to me. One or two came to have a quick look and then carried on with what they were doing. I departed feeling very pleased with what I’d seen.

So, which colonies to have the additional brood space with five to choose from. Well, as I said earlier, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to visit the Apiary on most days and one thing that was most noticable was that two of the colonies were, without exception, always first out. They didn’t get the sun first or were better positioned than the rest but always were first to make an appearance, even on damp clammy days when none of the others ventured further than the hive entrance, made more unusual by the fact that the two Queens are unrelated. Yesterday, which incidently was 18th March, and as I said,was a beautiful day, I was at the Apiary shortly after nine and there they were, streaming out and equally noticably, returning with copious amounts of pollen.These then, to my mind, simply because of their industry, were obvious candidates for increasd brood capacity. The third I selected because they seemed to have a little more brood than the other two indicating to me, the likelyhood of a more fertile Queen. So there we are, three now on brood and a half. I shall be very interested to see whether the logic in my selection bears fruit, probably not !

I mentioned that during my visit yesterday I’d noticed how active all the bees seemed to be and it wasn’t until later when thinking back on the day, it occured to me that hive 1, although having plenty of bees, was reacting differently to the others. The bees, although flying, weren’t bringing pollen back to the hive. So this morning, another visit to the Apiary. A day, weatherwise, similar to yesterday and the bees were reacting as they were during my previous visit, shed loads of pollen coming in but not number 1. There were plenty of bees in evidence but not behaving with any conviction or direction. In my experience, when all is well, foragers spend only seconds at the entrance before taking off, and when they do, they seem to know exactly where they are heading, in fact if you stand in their way, they’ll almost fly through you. So why is number 1 behaving differently. I think that their loss of direction and the fact that no pollen is being collected suggests, to me , they are queenless or if not, that the Queen is under par and not laying. If I have lost her I shall be dissapointed as I had intended to use her to head my queen-rearing program this year. At this time of the year there’s nothing much you can do about it. It’s too early to fully examine the colony and if you were able to establish that she has gone, what then. With no drones about yet, they’ve no way of drawing out a new Queen for you. So, I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on them and for the first sign of drones. Hopefully, she is just a bit off colour and the next week or two will see them back to normal. I’ll let you know.