A week into February now and already we’ve had, hopefully, the first of many fine, sunny days. I decided to take full advantage and check how the fondant levels were holding up. So, first to Mendip “C” and before I left the car I could see flying bees around the hive entrances. As I made my way towards the hives it became obvious that the activity was emanating from  two and three, there was little or none from one. I decided to start with two and three, this to give me an idea of what I should be seeing when I opened one. You may recall that I use my inverted Adams feeders as ekes so it is a simple matter to just raise one edge to reveal all. The activity in two and three was just as I had hoped, plenty of bees all busily going about their bee-business. Not a single bee bothered to come and see what had caused the disturbance, which is always pleasing, and plenty of fondant in both. The story in hive one was a bit different, few if any bees to be seen on top of the frames, although something had had a go at the fondant. I peered as best I could, down between the frames and was sure that I did detect some movement. It’s difficult with 14×12″ to see down very far and I didn’t want to spend too long with the hive open, for obvious reasons, so I boxed them up and made my way back to the car. It always worries me when I see one colony behaving differently, especially when, as in this case, the conditions in each are identical, same size boxes, same amounts of stores and in the case of one and three, both queens from cells implanted on the same day and from the same colony at the meadow. I’m hoping that for some reason, the bees in three were clustering low down in the box and were there even though I couldn’t see them. As I write, the sun has made an appearance so I’m going to make the most of it and pay another visit to “C”. I’ll let you know what I find.

Again, made “C” my first port of call, this time there were quite a few bees coming and going from 1, not as many as from the other two hives but, enough to suggest that things were a lot better that I’d imagined at my last visit. A quick look beneath the crown board revealed quite a sizeable cluster with several bees on the fondant. I left feeling a lot happier and have every hope that 1 will now make it through to the Spring. On to the meadow next where from all but two of the hives, 4 and 7,  there were plenty of flying bees in evidence. These two had, by comparison with the others, seemed quiet at my previous visit. A quick look inside had revealed a relatively small cluster in 4, and in 7, lots of dead bees. It was the same story today and I’m pretty sure that 7 has failed and I shouldn’t be surprised if 4 follows suit. Why this should be I have no idea, all my colonies received the same amount of syrup and fondant and all of the hive boxes are in excellent condition. My records show that both 4 and 7 were headed by the last of my bought-in queens which, if I’m right about their chances of making it, will mean that all six have failed !

Since I last wrote the weather has got progressively worse, unless of course, you have a cold, damp weather fetish which thankfully, I don’t. The temperature has hovered around freezing with most parts enjoying the odd flurry of snow. That was, until Wednesday of this week. As soon as I opened my eyes it was obvious that change was afoot, the bedroom, even through drawn curtains, was much brighter than it had been hitherto and when I did pull the curtains back, the sun poured in out of a cloudless sky. We have hat the odd spell of sunshine in the last few weeks but nothing like this, not only was the sunlight filling the room, but the warmth also. As you might imagine, my thoughts turned straight to my bees and so, an hour or so later found me pulling into the parking area of Mendip “C”. As soon as I turned the engine off, I could hear the sound of buzzing, most coming from the direction of the apiary but also from somewhere behind me. Before making my way up to the hives, I turned towards the Cottage which is approached from the parking area, by a few steps and a short pathway. Either side of the pathway are small areas of lawn which hitherto I had barely noticed. Today was different, today there were clumps of snowdrops and crocus in every direction, not only that, but every clump had at least half a dozen bees in attendance.

February bees at Camely 040


February bees at Camely 039


I made my way back through the parking area, and on to the hives. All the while there were bees flying past me in both directions, I couldn’t remember seeing this much activity since last Summer. The closer I got, the louder the buzzing and the more frenetic the activity seemed. The bees took absolutely no notice of me so intent were they on reaping this early harvest, I reckoned that at least a half of them were laden with pollen. I’ve taken a couple of pic’s. to give you an idea of just how busy they were.

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February bees at Camely 046


The hive fronts were covered with bees, most of them carrying pollen as you can just make out from the pic. and of course, the reason they were all queuing to get in and out was that I still had the mouseguards in place. This I quickly remedied and by the time I had left, the bottlenecks had all but disappeared.

I wanted to check the fondant situation in the meadow hives and a brief gap in the weather yesterday gave me the opportunity I was waiting for. The weather was still pretty grim but at least the drizzle had stopped by the time I arrived. I wasted no time in getting down to the hives, only one or two bees flying which didn’t surprise me, I don’t think I’d have ventured out on a day like this if I hadn’t needed to. I made my way along the row of hives, pausing just long enough to satisfy myself that they all had enough fondant and thankfully, they did. Four was looking very much better than at my last visit, they had received a feeder of syrup in addition to fondant and pleased to say, they were attacking both with gusto. A very different story in seven which sad to say, hasn’t made it. I didn’t strip the hive apart but could see from above that there was quite a sizeable cluster between three of the frames, all of them dead. So why, seven has been treated in exactly the same way as all of the others. I know they had sufficient stores, so, were they unable to reach them and even if this was the case, they had the same amount of fondant which was placed directly above the cluster. None of the other colonies had problems accessing their stores, so why should seven be any different.

Looking back through last season’s records, seven began as my strongest colony to the point where I was able to equip two nuc’s. from them. Later I removed two queen cells that they had produced to hives one and three at “C” where they have since performed very well. I see that seven began acting strangely in July when even though they had only produced one queen cell, which I took to be a sign of supersedure, they unexpectantly swarmed. I think that it must of been after that they started to go down hill. I know the cell hatched as there was fresh brood a couple of weeks later. Maybe she was poorly mated, I don’t know. I do know that I must have missed the signs that they were struggling and the opportunity to unite them with one of their stronger neighbours. Too late to worry now, spilt milk comes to mind but I am sad to have lost them. Something I always feel when this happens and as usual, resolve to look less and see more in future.

The day before yesterday we were visited by Storm Doris and I must say, I didn’t venture far. Doris threw the lot at us, storm force winds, rain and even the odd snow flurry. The last time we had winds this severe we lost one of the Willows at the meadow. Fortunately a few yards away from my little apiary but much too close for comfort. Those were the thoughts I went to bed with Thursday night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, unable to shake off visions of fallen trees and broken hives.

The following day, yesterday, was by comparison, probably the best day, weather-wise, this year, and so, to the meadow where thankfully, everything was just as I had left it at my last visit. I think my sigh of relief could have probably been heard streets away. I left for “C”, taking the three trays of fondant I’d made up the day before. Since the beginning of the year, “C” has been streets ahead of the meadow in terms of activity and I guessed that they could probably make use of a little more help in the stores department, and I was right. All three had little or no fondant left. This was remedied before with the trays I had brought with me, if things go according to plan, probably the last they’ll need this Spring.

Camely Feb 24th 005


The activity around the hives was much the same as at my last visit so had a quick look at the flower lawn which had seemed to be occupying all of their attention. If anything, there were even more bees in attendance, good to see and worthy of a couple more pics.

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