Well, the clocks have moved forwards so I suppose it is now officialy Spring. The bees have been well aware of the fact for the last week or so. As I wrote earlier, there has been a noticable change in their behavour recently and these last two or three days, even more so. The weather has been pretty reasonable for the last three weeks, especially compared with this time last year. The sun has managed to put in an appearance most days and the bees have been quick to take advantage. These last couple of days however, have been exceptional. What early morning mist there was had burned off before 9.30 and from then until late into the afternoon the sun has shone down from a cloudless sky. The bees seem to have picked up on this and are exceptionally well behaved. The Blackthorn and Oil-seed Rape are beginning to blossom, maybe this has been a contributing factor to their good nature, anyway, Monday,31st. was the first of these days, it is now Wednesday the 2nd. incidentally, and I had already decided as I approached the meadow, this was the day to change the floors. Apart from Spring feeding when necessary, changing the floors is the first major task within the apiary and one I like to get done as soon as the weather permits. It is the first oportunity to see exactly how the bees have fared over winter. Happy to report, thus far at least, they have come through very well. No more than a handful of dead bees and very little Varroa. I’ll say no more as to do so might just be to tempt fate and we can all do without that, can’t we !
Changing the floors is a simple matter made all the more so here at Mendip by the fact that each hive stand accommodates three colonies with a sizeable gap between the hives. I slide the first hive to one side and put a spare floor in it’s place. It is then a simple matter to unclip the hive from it’s floor and lift it onto the spare. I then run a paint scraper over the floor to remove any debris before scouring it thoroughly with a gas blow-lamp. This then becomes the floor for the next hive and so on. The whole operation takes less than an hour and the bees are hardly aware that they have been disturbed.
One thing very apparent while changing the floors, was the weight of some of the hives. One or two to the point where I was sure that somehow the boxes were stuck together. I decided the time had come for my first full scale inspection and was I pleased that I had. Tuesday, fortunately was another beautiful day and eleven o’clock saw me smoker in hand, all suited up, walking down across the meadow. I won’t bore you with the details of each hive, suffice to say, when I left, three of the colonies had supers on and another two will have by the weekend. Hives two and three, those were the colony which had swarmed and the swarm which I had collected, were full to the brim with both stores and brood. In fact, with the exception of one and nine, which were both given a little help in the form of frames of brood from eight which incidently, was also full to the gunwhales, all of them were looking good. As good, if not better, than any I’d seen this early in any year previously. There was one thing however, that the inspection revealed which seemed a little odd and something which I can’t remember encountering before. Number four was on brood and a half and along with five and eight, both on double brood, had stood out as being the most active compared with the others. I expected, as was with eight, to find both boxes teaming with bees and to be filled with stores and brood. Imagine then, my suprise to find the bottom boxes of five and four completely empty with all the contents of the hive in the top boxes. In the case of four on brood and a half, all the brood and stores crambed into the super. I mean crambed, there was hardly room for a cigarette paper between them. So why, the comb in the bottom boxes seemed in good order, a couple of the frames were a bit dark but they had been moved to the outer edges earlier, but, more importantly, how best to get the bees in four, into the brood box. Five, being on double brood was no problem as it was just a case of removing the bottom box, I decided that there wasn’t enough bees to warrant keeping them on double brood, but four ?
As usual, when I’m confronted with an event I’ve not encountered before, my first line of attack is a chat with my friend Liz. “I shouldn’t worry too much,” said Liz, “they probably found the bottom box a bit cold and decided to move upstairs, to get them into the brood box, I’d just swap boxes”. This I did the following day. To be on the safe side, I took the oportunity to first scour the brood box with my trusty gas blowlamp. Having half a dozen good clean frames of drawn comb spare, I replaced all the brood frames placing the drawn comb between frames of new foundation. So, there we are, job done. Just a matter of keeping an eye on them. I shall remove the super as soon as the bees have completed their move will not replace it. Brood and a half has proved to be more trouble than it’s worth in almost every instance. My hope, as I said earlier, is to eventually have all my colonies on extended brood, that is to say, 12 x 14″ as I am totally convinced that this is the best brood configuration, removing the super from five will be another step in that direction. It does however still strike me as a little bit strange that of the six colonies on some form of extended brood, two of them should have behaved this way.
All the queens that I saw looked in remarkable condition, the best without a doubt was in three, well marked, plump little thing, nice legs, all six of ‘em. I tell you, if I’d been a drone, I’d have been dribbling all down my chin. Three was the swarm which I’d collected, if you recall. For that very reason I’d decided to replace her at the first oportunity but I’m thinking now that she might have earned a reprieve. I’ll just keep a close eye on her for a bit, or at least until we are through the swarmy season.
I think the reason that most of them have a surplus of stores at this time is probably down to the mild Winter bearing in mind they all had at least forty pounds of stores at the start. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that I’ve had a look at them and reasonably satisfied with what I’ve seen. The main benefit of an early inspection is that any problems can be ironed out before the main season gets under way but as usual, we operate under the dictates of the weather.
I would urge you to inspect at your first oportunity if you haven’t already done so. Most of the colonies were producing drone cells and I think that had I not relieved the overcrowding they would have shortly been looking to swarm. Yes, I know it’s only the first week in April but you have a look. I’m sure you’ll be pleased that you did. As it is, all mine now have plenty of room to store as much honey as they please without interfering with the queen’s egg laying activities. I certainly can’t recall a spring like this before, from memory, the last couple of years have seen me feeding in April and on occasions, well into May. As I said earlier, with the Rape and Blackthorn just coming into blossom and the Dandilion just about to make an appearance, 2014 already looks full of promise. I wonder, could this be the year we’ve all been waiting for ?
What a mistake, I should have known better, in the past everytime I’ve mentioned how good the weather has been and how my expectations for the coming year have grown, it takes a nose dive. This last week has been no exception, the sun has all but disappeared and has been replaced with the cold winds and rain of the previous Month. The forecast for later this week is not too bad so I shall keep my fingers firmly crossed. What this changeable weather does illustrate however, is the need to get one’s early manipulations out of the way as soon as the chance presents itself. I’m pleased to have got these done when I did here at Mendip and am satisfied that even without fresh nectar coming in, the colonies have sufficient stores to see them through. I shall continue to keep a close eye on them although I’m sure that, barring any real catastrophies, they will be ok. It’s just that I had invisaged, just for once, an April bathed form dawn to dusk in Spring sunshine with happy bees busilly filling supers to overflowing. Ah well, there’s still time isn’t there ! We’ll see.
Now into the second week of April and for the moment at least, the rain has all but disappeared, in fact yesterday was probably the hottest of the year so far. I took the opportunity of a full inspection and was pleased to see everything progressing satisfactorally. Plenty of stores in evidence and brood count on the up in all but nine who I’m sure have lost their Queen. They have received a couple of frames from eight to help them out. I noticed drones present in about half of the other colonies and the presence of play cups suggests that it won’t be long before I have a Queen cell to give to nine. Another two colonies have now received supers and the activity in the supers fitted last week sugests that it won’t be long before the bees are really busy filling them. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things really do seem to be moving in the right direction, and at some pace I might add. I love it when it’s like this in the apiary, there’s so much going on. The bees are far to busy to notice me. The quite often fly into me, not out of aggression, more it seems, to try to push me out of their way. There is a feeling of intense anticipation about the place, it’s great, I can feel it, I can almost reach out and touch it, it reminds me if needs be of the reason I took up this hobby of ours in the first place.
Another week has all but gone and thankfully the weather of last week is still with us. The bees have been on the go from morning to night and alongside the Blackthorn and Rape which is still very much in evidence, the meadow is now a mass of dandilions. Not so welcome if you’re a keen gardener but great if you’re a bee.Now they only have to fly a few yards to be among this valuable source of food and that they are doing with great gusto. Nine out of ten of the flowers I passed walking down across the meadow had one of my honeybees in attendance, at least, I hope they were mine.
YOU CAN’T SEE US BUT WE ARE HERE, HONESTLY
Another flower in evidence this year, for the first time, in any numbers, is the Bluebell. I planted several clumps of these at the foot of the meadow a few years ago much to the liking of our resident Roe-deer herd. There’s only three of them in actual fact, but I don’t know the collective term for three Roe-deer, so herd it is! Anyway, for some reason this year, thankfully, they’ve left them alone. The flowers haven’t quite opened yet and I will be interested to see whether they will be of interest to the bees when they do. It will be interesting to see whether or not, they are able negotiate the trumpet like blooms or as with the runner bean flowers, they bite into the base of the flower and access the nectar that way.
The last couple of days have been really sunny so took the oportunity yesterday to have a good look at the bees. I had given a frame of brood to one and nine a couple of weeks ago and pleased to say, nine was now drawing out a very nice Queen cell. Thankfuly, one was also now looking a lot better. Seven has developed all the signs of queenlessness so has been given a frame of brood from five. I’ll have another quick look at them in a couple of days to see if they too are drawing a queen cell out. Seven was not building up as quickly as I would have expected and also their brood patterns weren’t brilliant so I had earmarked them for a new Queen as soon as one became available. If they succeed in producing one for themselves from the frame of brood they’ve been given then it’ll be problem solved.
I mentioned earlier that the bees in four, on brood and a half, if you remember, were only occupying the super and that the brood box on which the super was standing was completely devoid of bees. My friend Liz sugested that cold was probably the reason and the solution would be to swap the boxes and this I did the following day. Well, that was all of two weeks ago, so imagine my surprise to find upon opening them that almost all the bees were still in the super, this despite the couple of frames of new drawn comb in the brood box and the super still filled to overflowing. I have now taken a couple of frames of brood complete with bees from the super and placed them in the brood box. I have placed these directly above the brood frames in the super which I have closed up together and I’m hopeful that next time I open them I shall find that they have all started to move upstairs. Of course, I now have two shallow frames in the brood box which is a nuisance and does underline the point I made earlier that brood and a half is more trouble than it’s worth. In my opinion, unless you’re absolutely desperate for more brood space, it is not to be recommended. It does however still leave one question unanswered and that is, why were the bees only occupying the super in the first place. Had the reason been that the super was warmer, it being above the brood box, then why didn’t the bees at least begin to move up once they had been placed below it and that my friends is the question !
Today I write with heavy heart you see, yesterday my very good friend Charles was taken from us. It is his meadow which houses my little apiary and it was down to his generous spirit that we came into existence in the first place. “Of course you can” was his reply to my request for a couple of hives at the bottom of his meadow. When the two became three he joked of a dream he’d had that one day he had awoken to a sea of bee-hives stretching across the meadow as far as the eye could see. It was something we joked about often, sitting under the apple trees sharing a cuppa as three became five soon to be followed by six and seven. Those of you who have attended one of the open days here at Mendip Apiary will probably unknowingly have met him. He was the elderly gentleman with the gently smiling face who had baked the cake and was helping with the coffees. And that was Charles, he was just there, there with a smile and a friendly word, a word that could always lift my spirits when things were not going as planned. Today I sat under the apple tree alone, for me the brightest flower in the meadow had gone. Thankyou for coming into my life Charles and for letting me into yours. I miss you old friend.x
Coming to the end of April now and it’s been a fairly busy week so far. Trying to get the last of the seeds into the allotment and minister to the needs of the bees. This Saturday sees another open day here at Mendip with the guest expert once again Mr.David Maslen. The theme will be “early manipulations” so should be of interest to all. If David is on his usual form, it certainly will be. So my week thus far has centred around Saturday. It’s going quite well up ’till now, the meadow has been cut, the signage has been collected and the garden furniture is in place. Just as well really as stupidly, I’ve since managed to run the rotovator over my left foot and have been hobbling about a bit since, anyway, just the lawns at the top of the meadow to mow and organising the food left to do. Oops, nearly forgot, and of course most importantly, keep fingers firmly crossed that the weather obliges with an afternoon of glorious sunshine.