Well, January has come and gone with, thankfully, very little to report. I’ve continued to visit the meadow as often as the weather has allowed and as expected, there hasn’t been much activity. What I have been pleased to see is that on the warmer days when there were a few flying bees, there appeared to be a similar amount of activity from each hive. To my mind, a colony behaving noticeably differently from it’s neighbours should be ear-marked for further attention at the earliest oportunity, so, pleasing to see all the hives behaving similarly.

My friend Liz has taken a few weeks off to visit family down under and I’ve been keeping an eye on her bees while she’s been away. Following one particularly windy night a couple of the roofs had become dislodged but the inhabitants seemed unaffected so no problem there. A couple of strategically placed bricks should prevent any re-occurance. I’ve given them all their candy which Liz asked me to do and happy to report, all her hives are looking good. I’m always pleased for the chance to give Liz a hand, she does so many favours for me, it’s good to have the oportunity to return the compliment occasionally.

It’s a pleasure working the bees at this time of year, unless you’re clumsy and disturb the cluster, something to be avoided, very few bees will bother to investigate your interferance and those that do, will be very docile. My advise at this time of year, only open a hive if you really need to and if you do, be as quick as you can without disturbing the bees. Prepare your portions of candy or your syringe of acid or whatever else has prompted you to open the hive, well beforehand. That way you can have the lid on and off and be on your way before the bees are even aware that you’ve been there.

I had hoped to have completed the supers for the new apiary by now but the weather of late has been far too cold. Instead, I’ve contented myself with giving all the spare supers a coat of Cuprinol. Most of them are stacked outside at the moment, under roofs I hasten to add, so it’s an easy job to get out of the way and one which thankfully, can be done wearing gloves. The Snowdrops and Crocus which border the brook have started to show themselves, always a welcome sight,

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 003 crocus                           FIRST SNOWDROPS AND CROCUS OF 2015                             

and that, combined with the collared doves offering each other twigs as a sign of their intentions, a sure and welcome sign that Spring is just around the corner. 

Yesterday, Sunday 8th., arrived at the meadow arround mid-day to find it filled with Spring sun-light. Not a cloud to be seen, which was a welcome sight to behold as for the last few weeks the sun has been conspicous by it’s absence, without doubt, the best day of the year so far.The sun felt pleasantly warm on my back as I made my way down across the meadow to my little apiary. From about half way down I was aware of a faint buzzing sound which got gradually louder the closer I got to the hives. Not since well before Christmas had I heard the like and it was a couple of moments before it registered. Now, as I got closer, the cause became apparent, there were bees issuing in numbers from every hive, especially the mating nuc’s.

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                                                QUEEN MATING NUC.2

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                                                            HIVE No.4

These pic’s. don’t fully illustrate the amount of activity but take my word for it, it was certainly the busiest I’ve seen them for a long time and re-assuring to see. So, what’s next on the agenda. Well, the weather forcast is for more of the same for the next few days so probably tomorrow, another visit to Liz’s bees to make sure they’re ok and then back to mine where I shall give them a quick heft to provide me with an idea of how the stores situation is and check the fondant levels. I’ve several spare blocks so it won’t take a moment to top them up if necessary.

I want to make the most of this fine spell of weather to finish my supers for the new site. Thorne’s have advised me to expect the new frames which I ordered from their January sale, some time this week so it’s going to be busy, busy for a few days. Not that I mind that you understand, I like having a little project on the go, especially after the inactivity that Winter brings, and it somehow keeps me in touch with the bees. I find that after assembling a couple of frames I can almost do it with my eyes closed allowing me to dream that the next time that I see them they’ll be brimming with lovely honey, well, maybe! It costs nothin’ to dream does it and Beekeepers are, if nothing else, born optomists.

Another fine day yesterday and mid morning found me, as usual, at the meadow. First task, a quick look under the roofs to ascertain the candy situation. No need for smoke, as I said earlier, the bees are very placid at this time of year just so long as you don’t worry them unduly. Lots of activity, especially around the blocks of candy, although, not much taken down as yet sugesting to me that they all have plenty of stores. As I’ve said previously, the candy is for me, just a “belt and braces” precaution and not included in my end of season syrup allocations so, the fact that they have not felt the need to attack the candy more vigorously re-inforces my thoughts on the matter. Rather than suplementing the syrup already stored away, the value of having a block of candy in each hive comes into it’s own when a mild couple of weeks early on, which gets the bees flying, is followed by a really cold spell which keeps the bees in. Flying bees quite obviously, feed more heavily than clustered bees, and the fact that they are leaving the hive searching for something which isn’t there in any quantity, and I’m refering here to nectar bearing flowers, really can deplete what’s left of the winter stores very quickly. Add to this that the queen will have started laying and you will see why so many colonies are lost in the Spring. Here at Mendip, all the hives receive candy irrespective of their stores situation and I’m sure you do the same. If you don’t, I think you should give the matter your serious consideration, as I’ve said previously, better waste a couple of pounds of candy than lose a single colony for the want of it.

Half way through the month now and at last have finished the supers that I’ve been making. I have to say that the novelty had started to wear off towards the end so I was pleased to see the last nail being knocked in and the last brushful of Cuprinol being applied. No longer having access to the garage because of the alterations going on in the house has meant that the bulk of the work has had to be done outside and therefore the weather has somewhat dictated my progress. There can be little more frustrating than having decided to spend a day working on a project, having assembled all the component parts, tools etc.,to then feel those first spots of rain on one’s back and to have to rush it all back under cover. Anyway, happy to report, they’re all finished. Just the hive stand to build and install at the new site and a hundred Manley frames to put together and we’re up and running. I’ve been scratching my head as to how best to populate the new apiary and have more or less decided to use my queen rearing nuc.’s. Three out of the four have come through the winter in fine form so they would seem to be ideal candidates. It’s not what I originally had in mind for them. They were to be the hub of my queen rearing programme but with the new site coming “out of the blue” as it were, I’ve decided to change my plans. Also, as with the new site being somewhat remote it makes sense to give the new hives the best start possible. With a bit of luck, we’ll have a good Spring and early Summer and I can get my queen rearing back on track. I have noticed quite a lot of pollen being taken in this week so hopefully, a good omen. We’ll see!

Third week in the month and glad to say, still plenty of activity in the apiary. I decided to make the most of the fine weather and check on the candy situation and it was a good job that I did. All the colonies had been feeding furiously on the candy, three of the trays were completely empty and most of the others were heading in that direction.

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                                BEES HARD AT WORK ON THE CANDY

Considering that these trays each contain about two pounds of candy and that the home made is much more dense than the bought, I was more than a little surprised at what I’d found. I had made a little more than I had originally required so had three spare trays to replace the empties. I’m pretty sure that all the hives will need at least one more helping before the Winter’s out so spent a couple of hours yesterday making a second batch. I must be getting better as this time, I didn’t have to spend an hour removing burnt on sugar syrup from the cooker hob after I’d finished.

Into the last week of the month now and everything seems to be ticking over as hoped. The evenings are starting to draw out and that combined with increasing activity in the meadow confirms that Spring is just around the corner. As soon as I’m happy that the bees are fully active I will get the floors cleaned and scoured. This is always my first task of the year, apart from feeding and I usually remove the mouse guards at the same time. After the floors are cleaned, the slides are replaced. All my colonies over-winter on open mesh floors but I do like to have the slides back in to co-incide with the queen beginning to lay in some earnest. I think this probably assists the colony’s Spring build up by raising the hive temperature a degree or two but that’s only my thoughts. The floor slides will be removed after about six weeks and will only go back in for twenty-four hours or so to enable me to monitor the Varroa drop when giving the hives their icing sugar treatment. Replacing the floors is greatly assisted here at Mendip by the fact that my hive stands, each accommodating three hives, are long enough to enable me to slide any hive to the side without interfering with it’s neighbour.

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Beginning with hive number one then, I slide this into the vacant space next to it complete with floor. All my floors are held in place with hive fasteners so it’s a simple matter to move them and nothing gets dislodged in the process.

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 A new floor is then placed in the position previously occupied by the hive which is then lifted onto the floor. The old floor is then examined before being scraped clean and scoured with a gas blow-lamp. This then becomes the new floor for hive two and so on until they’ve all been changed. Any floor requiring minor repairs is removed to my workshop where the repair is carried out prior to it receiving a coat of Cuprinol before going into store. Changing the floors in this way is both quick and simple and only involves the need for a couple of spare floors. It enables me to quickly compare the way each hive has over-wintered by assessing the number of dead bees that have dropped and any other detritis present. Any excessive drop can be sent for analysis and I now know that all the colonies are going into the new year on clean, secure floors.

Had a quick look at the bees yesterday, just lifting the roofs and checking the candy situation, nothing more. Number seven needed a top-up and the bees were on it before I got the roof back on. Illustrating my earlier point I think, the need to suplement the stores at this time of year, and equally importantly, to keep them topped up.

Nothing much else to do at the apiary so made a start on the frames for the new supers.

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                                                 WELL,IT’S A START INNIT.                                 

Managed to complete twenty before boredom took over, only another seventy to go!, can’t help wishing that ”Bob a job” week was coming up. I filled two of the supers with the new frames and was pleased to see they fitted exactly.

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