MARCH

Finally, with Spring just around the corner, we look forward to the coming year. The flooding on the Somerset levels apears at last to be receding and we are all looking forward to some fine weather. I have to say, despite the ground still being very soggy under foot, the signs are quite promising. There have been few days in the last month when we haven’t had at least some sunshine, anyway, enough to bring the bees out to have a brief look.

So, what have we been up to since we closed up shop for Winter. Well, apart from gazing out of the window, wishing I was laying on some sun soaked beach, having my every need indulged by a bevy of scantily clad….., sorry, dreaming again. My first task every Winter is to try to bring all my notes up to date. I seem to suffer the same problem every year in that apart from my main notebook, I seem to accumulate dozens of scraps of paper all with scriblings on. These seem to follow impromptu visits when I don’t have my notebook with me, or days when the heavens unexpectedly open half way through an inspection. Whatever the reason, and despite my best intentions, it’s a trap I seem to fall into year on year. An aquaintance of mine has a solution to this and one which he has been using for years, which overcomes this problem. and it only requires a felt tip pen. He has devised a series of symbols which relate to his inspections. i.e.,Queen seen, eggs, brood etc. and these he writes or draws on the hive roof before he moves onto the next hive. If it comes on to rain or for whatever other reason, he has to curtail his inspection, his notes are still on the roof and they will stay there for a week or more before the weather wipes them off. So, before leaving or at the next oportunity, he just looks back over his hives and brings his notes up to date. I’ve definitely resolved to give this a try this year, unless I forget my felt tip, that is.

So, what else have we been up to since we bedded down the bees for Winter ?. Well, as I wrote in the previous paragraph, I’ve made a number of feeders which now gives me a frame feeder for each mating nuc. and an Adams feeder for each hive. I now also have the luxury of a spare. Whether that will be the case at the end of 2014 who knows, with the colonies somehow multiplying whenever my back is turned, it’s anyone’s guess. Fortunately, all of the hives are in pretty good condition so no work required there. As any do become vacant they will be treated to a Spring clean and fresh coat of Cuprinol. Both of the mating nuc’s. have been given a fresh coat and have re-taken their places at the bottom of the meadow.

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                                 MATING NUC’S. BACK IN POSITION

I have a gut feeling that this year is going to the year that I finally get my Queen rearing program off the ground. What do you mean, you heard that last year and the one before. Well, if not this year, maybe next !. I’ve decided that eventually I want all my colonies on extended brood, that is to say, 14″x 12″, so I’ve made another eke to convert another hive. It is so simple to make and I’ve described it previously so I won’t bore you again. I was able to make use of timber left over from the feeders so the cost was minimal.

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                           EKE FITS BETWEEN BROOD CHAMBER AND FLOOR

Apart from the obvious benefits of the brood having more space, they will free up the brood boxes and supers from the colonies currently on double or brood and a half.

About a month ago I hefted all the hives and was pleased to note that they all apeared to have plenty of stores, not surprising really as they each went into Winter with in excess of forty pounds. Since then as I mentioned earlier, they have all had a slab of fondant and seemed to be flying well on all but the wettest of days so, in my mind I was satisfied that they had all they needed to see them through ’till the Spring. Following re-instating the nuc’s. a couple of days ago, and with nothing much else to do, I decided to give them all a quick heft before making my way back to the car, and glad that I did. One and six appeared almost empty especially compared with the others most of which I could barely shift. So, how can this be ?, a month ago, all the same and now, two almost devoid of stores. There has been no noticable sign of robbing and why would they, they all had plenty of stores. Anyway, thankful that a possible catastrophy had been avoided I returned the next day and gave them both ten pounds of syrup. I still can’t quite figure it out but it does bring home the fact thay you can’t take anything for granted in this game.

So, that’s about it for now, I shall continue to heft the hives at regular intervals and I sugest if I may, that you all do the same. At the end of the month I shall purge all the floors. I shall continue to while away the hours sitting at the top of the meadow in the sunshine, when it appears, dreaming of beautiful Queens, obliging colonies and mountains of glistening honey. Ah well.

Yesterday, as usual, saw me at the meadow. By 10.30 the low cloud had cleared and the sun felt pleasantly warm as I made my way down to my little apiary. There were plenty of flying bees in evidence, always a satisfying sight. I wanted to check whether the bees in one and six had found their way up into the feeders. It is sometimes the way with Adams feeders early in the year, that the bees even if only loosely clustered, are reluctant to enter the feeder. Of course, one of the benefits of the Adams feeder, especially if you use a clear plastic container to cover the feed post, it’s that you can see at a glance exactly what the bees are up to and without disturbing them unduly. Anyway, there were no signs of activity to sugest the bees had found the syrup, so, I decided there and then on a “belt and braces” approach. Placing a shallow Eke below the feeder I gave them both a portion  of fondant. I placed this on a small piece of kitchen foil directly onto the brood frames, the bees were busy investigating before I had replaced the feeder. I know I said earlier that one of the benefits of the Adams feeder is that you no longer need to employ the use of an Eke when feeding, and usually this is the case. Normally the bees are up sampling the syrup before you have finished filling but just occasionally, early in the season, as I  said earlier, they are not quite so keen. So, rather than take a chance, it’s “belt and braces” for me. As I had done when installing the feeders, I trickled a little syrup down through the feeder hole before boxing them up. A quick look an hour later as I was leaving the meadow revealed that the bees had now found the syrup. A drop of syrup through the hole usually does the trick but for the sake of an Eke and a slice of fondant, not worth taking the chance.

A week has passed since one and six had received their syrup, the weather since then hasn’t been too bad during the day but the temperature has really dipped at night. The result of this has been that none of the colonies have been making much of an appearance before lunch time. A quick look at one showed that although there were quite a number of bees flying, the bulk were still loosely clustered. They were attacking the fondant but not the syrup in any numbers. I’ve no doubt this will change as the weather warms and as they seemed happy enough I left them to it. I didn’t bother six as outwardly at least, they were behaving the same as one. I shall continue to keep an eye on both of them but for the moment at least, they both look to be doing ok.

The little brook that skirts the bottom of the meadow is a very pleasing feature and greatly adds to the charm of my little Apiary meandering as it does, just a few feet behind it. The banks are dotted with a mixture of primroses and snow drops, the latter being very much in evidence this year. I very much look forward to seeing their appearance, evidence that Spring is once again, just around the corner. For the last three or four years I’ve been scattering packets of wild flower seeds at the bottom of the meadow. This, in an effort to provide an additional splash of colour and give the bees something a little closer to home to forage on. I have, however, to report that, for some unknown reason, thus far, none have decided to show their heads, or if they have, they duck down when they hear me coming. Odd that nothing has come up and this despite trying different methods of sowing from just broadcasting the seed to digging and raking selected patches. Strange, someone more cynical than I might be forgiven for thinking that these so called “packs of selected wild seeds” were not all that they’re cracked up to be. Anyway, a month or so ago, I planted a handful of spare Polyanthus down by the brook and pleased to say, they at least, are looking good, or at least, give them a couple of years and they will.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                          JUST WAIT ‘TIL WE ALL GROW UP

Not too much has happened over the last ten days, not surprising really as the meadow is still struggling to shed it’s Winter garb. The weather as usual for this year, has been unrepentant, the rain of the last few weeks has at last thankfully abated but with little evidence of the promised sunshine replacing it. Cold winds and fog patches at least until a couple of days ago, have been the order of the day with only brief spells of watery sunshine. Glad to say, the bees have been taking full advantage of the sun when it has broken through with copious amounts of pollen being collected. The syrup given to one and six thankfully, seems to have done the trick. The activity at the hive entrances sugests that all are now moving in the right direction.

I have long held the view that activity outside the hive is the best indication as to the well-being of the colony and it has been noticable  this year, as with most others, that one or two colonies seem to come out of the Winter a little ahead of the others. This year it’s eight with five and two coming a close second and third. As with previous years, it has been the colonies which have over wintered on double brood that have appeared to do the best. I’m sure that this cannot be coincidence and is another reason why I want eventually, to have all my hives on extended brood. In my mind and looking ahead, I see eight as my queen supply colony with five as a back-up. It was two which swarmed last year so they won’t be part of the equation to supply queens although if they continue in strength, I may well use them for queen rearing if required.

Of all the activities associated with bee keeping, it is Queen rearing which interests me the most. Frustratingly, thus far, it is the one area that I have had the least amount of success with. With the previous couple of years of failed Cloake board attempts behind me I decided last year to go for the Demaree method. I used my two strongest colonies, both on double brood. The Queens steadfastly refused to lay up my Miller frames while the workers unobligingly filled them with stores. You would normally expect colonies which were in the Demaree mode, with plenty of eggs and emerging brood in the top boxes to start producing Queen cells more or less immediately but last year this didn’t happen. At least, not for me. I convinced myself that last year’s weather was the main factor in contributing to the strange behavour of the bees but in truth, my own ineptitude was probably largely responsible. Lots of Queen cells were started but subsequently broken down. Poor mating the previous year, again due in part, to the bad weather, persuaded several colonies to concentrate on supersedure rather than producing Queen cells in numbers. Anyway, whatever the reason, I only managed to raise only two Nuc’s and one of them has struggled.

But, all that was last year and is behind us. This year looks promising so far, and the colonies appear to be building up well. As I said earlier, we’ve planted lots more flowers in the meadow.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                   A COUPLE OF CLUMPS OF HEATHER

even some clumps of heather. The thinking behind this being, as I’ve no means of taking the bees to the heather, I’d do it the other way around. Also this last week, using the roofs of the mating nuc’s as spares, all the hive roofs have been re-Cuprinol’d. These were taken in pairs to the garage where they each received a couple of coats and any other minor repairs before being left overnight to dry out. Just so long as “The society for the prevention of cruelty to earwigs” doesn’t find out, as I must have made about two dozen of them homeless, I think I’ll get away with it !

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ALL RE-CUPRINOL’D. THE GREEN IS A LINING OF POLESTYRENE WHICH THEY ALL HAVE.

The wax extractor and the bait hive have also been given a face lift so the whole apiary now looks ready for the coming season.

Now, I don’t know if it’s me, but there seems to be a real buzz of expectation about the apiary. The bees are making the most of any break in the clouds and appear to have a real sense of purpose about their movements. Maybe it is the sense of shared optimism which pulls us all together, I don’t know but whatever it is, it’s certainly contageous. Sitting here at my desk, I momentarily close my eyes, I can see in the distance, hives stacked high with brimming supers, nuc’s filled with brood, all headed by plump fertile Queens. I can see an ageing beekeeper sitting with friends at the top of the meadow happy that at last he’s come close to “getting it right”. Another glass someone asks. I ask you, “does it really get any better”. Cheers !