If you are at all passionate about your bees you will have noticed that they now think that spring is here. Temperatures are now regularly above 8°C and the bees are flying out and collecting pollen. These pollen loads are in big round balls and in quantity which indicates that they are now raising brood. If you lift the roof off your hive the bees will come and take a look at you; they are active.

Unlike me, of course, you have cleaned up all your equipment, ordered frames for the new season and have put in place a plan for each hive according to the records that you have been keeping last year. It isn't a bad idea to put your inspection board in for a week now just to check that the varroa drop is non existent. If you have a count as low as five in one week at this time of year, you are going to have a problem this season.! Don't think that this is a low count for the month of February!!!!! Remember the brood rearing season has only just started so the count should be really really low or non-existent at this stage.

You need to assess what type of colony you have. Have you got a small colony that is struggling, or a medium-size colony or a humongous colony? Strategies for the next season will depend on your answer to the above question. What can you do now? February and March is the key cross over period for honeybees. Beekeepers who have been too greedy in taking honey from their charges may have caused a problem now. This is because the bees can run out of honey at this time of year. They are raising the temperature in the brood nest to 37°C and in order to do this they are consuming huge quantities of their stores. Did you leave your bees enough honey so that they could kickstart the colony back into life at this time of year?

Those who are organised among us will have regularly hefted their hives over the winter. They will be able to calculate what the state of play is and whether their bees have sufficient stores until a true nectar flow begins with the warmer weather. Those of you who are less organised can still lift your hive to ascertain how light it is. If it is light, feed fondant above the crown board. I personally have also given every hive a Neopoll pollen pattie. I rolled this out like the pastry and placed it underneath the crown board on top of the frames. On certain hives once this has been consumed I will have to put more candy (yes I was one of the more disorganised among you).

How does one decide on the strategy for the coming season? A humongous colony will need to be carefully managed and on this sort of colony a shook swarm would be entirely appropriate. You will be able to clean them up by doing a shook swarm and at the same time cut down on any varroa problem. This sort of colony will give you a honey crop later in the season and,of course, by doing a shook swarm you will prevent this sort of colony from swarming. On Thursday, 9 March Keith and I will show you how to do this. A small colony on dirty comb cannot be treated in the same way. Admit it, lots of you have a colony of this sort. Even if they are a medium-size colony you probably have not been changing the combs and they are filthy. There will be a build up of minor brood diseases and you are not letting the colony function at an optimum level because of the way you are handling them. A Bailey comb change is the answer. One places a fresh brood box above the old brood box. One places a queen excluder between the two boxes. One raises the Queen on a frame into the top box above the excluder and one places foundation next to that frame. Insolation dummy boards need to be used. And one feeds. Come and see how it is done on Thursday, 9 March. In this scenario you may get a small honey crop later in the season but you will have a fantastic colony in 2018. There will be fresh frames in your box and the bees will thank you.

A strategy must include some sort of swarm management. On 6 April Keith and I will talk you through once again how to manage the swarming season. This is a must if you are a new beekeeper or if you want to remind yourself of everything that you have to bear in mind when dividing a box of bees. I will also try and show you how to bank an old Queen as an insurance policy by using an Apidea.

I look forward to seeing everyone on 9 March and 6 April. Remember you have to let Rosemarie know. She may change the venue if lots if you say you are coming.

Malcolm Wilkie 22nd February 2017

Below is the article I sent out last year to the Improver's Group. Hope it helps everyone. Malcolm 20th August 2016
Monitoring for varroa is something we all need to do now if we have not done so already
Below an inspection board showing a bad mite drop


If you have not done so already, you do need to monitor levels of varroa in your hives. This means that you need to add your inspection board and leave it in for about a week. You will thereby be monitoring the dead mite drop. In other words it is just an indication of the level of the Varroa that your bees are infested with.
If the dead mite drop is four or more a day, you then ought to do something to fight against the varroa. It probably won't be sufficient to use icing sugar, or a product like hive clean. You now need to use a soft chemical and I would recommend either Apiguard or ApiLifeVar. If you decide to use Apiguard, then you need any eke.. However ApiLifeVar, which consists of biscuits impregnated with thymol, does not need an eke. The treatment should go on as soon as possible because the temperatures are still high enough for the treatment to be effective. Be warned once temperatures drop regularly below 15° these treatments will be much less effective. Furthermore the inspection board should be left in the colony so that the vapours stay within the colony thereby encouraging the bees to remove the thymol from the tray. By doing so this will encourage cleaning and no doubt damages the tender mouthparts of the varroa mite, which is what you want to do.
With both Apiguard and ApiLifeVar treatment is started now and then a further dose of treatment is given in two weeks time. This is so as to cover a whole brood cycle. If you don't do this then you won't catch the emerging varroa from all the brood and you will still have a bad infestation as you go into winter.
The most important thing to do is to remove any honey supers as you do not wish them to become contaminated by the thymol. This does not matter in the brood box as you will not be extracting honey from the brood frames. A honey super can always be removed for a month and then put back on once the treatment has been done.
If your bees are carrying a heavy load of varroa you may see hundreds dropping onto the board if you go and look at the inspection board. This is no longer just the natural dead mite drop but all those extra mites that you are killing by using thymol. If you do see such a drop, be encouraged as you will be doing your bees a real service and enabling them to go into winter fighting fit.
After treatment I give my own bees half a pollen pattie (neopoll) the reasoning being that I want them to go into the winter as fat and well fed as possible. This is because a winter bee lives for up to five months and contains fat stores in her body. She is actually different from a summer bee; she lives so much longer and will have to cope in the new year with raising brood once again. She needs to be in tip top condition in Setember and October if you are to have a good working colony next year. Making the right decisions now will ensure colony survival and will make the likelihood of a good honey harvest next year so much more likely.
There are other treatments that can be applied now but I would not classify them as soft chemicals. MAQS is one. A word of warning, beekeepers in our association who have used it say that it kills all the brood. Only risk this if you have a very large colony ( at least seven frames of brood on 14*12 brood frames) and the colony is riddled with varroa. Probably not the case for most beginners.
I have spare Apiguard if anyone needs to purchase any.

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