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.
1ST FRAME FULL OF STORES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.