The weather has suddenly begun to warm up and several of us have had a quick look into the brood box to see what the bees are doing. If you put in your inspection boards as I suggested last time you will know, anyway, how many frames of brood you will find in your box. If you are in the lucky position of having a strong colony Helen suggests that you put a queen excluder and a super of drawn comb on top of the excluder so that the bees can begin to fill this up with nectar.
How do you decide if you have a strong colony? Out of my six hives I have two colonies that I would consider to be strong colonies. Remember I have 14 x 12 brood boxes. These two colonies already have five frames of brood and the Queen will soon be laying up more frames. If you are a beginner you will not have drawn super comb. You will need to put a box of foundation on top of your brood box. Remember that the foundation needs to be fresh and if you made the frames up a couple of months ago you will need to refresh the wax lightly with a hairdryer. Personally if I only had foundation I would not put a queen excluder on top of the brood box. I would wait until the bees had started to draw out some of the foundation. At that point I would slip an excluder between the brood box and the super. Drawn super comb is like hen's teeth but once you have got some you will be able to use it for several years.
Now how about colonies that are not strong colonies? Many of us will have colonies with just two frames of brood. Is there anything that we can do to ameliorate the situation? Perhaps you have put on fondant or Neopoll and the bees just do not seem to show much interest. This is not your fault : it just means that the bees are not numerous enough to take advantage of the offerings that you are giving them. Experience teaches one that a hive needs to get to a point where they feel they can
expand. You might be tempted to give them sugar syrup. Keith, however, would tell you that this will only place a small unit under even more stress. If they have got honey stores they will use those when they are ready. And sometimes a small unit,once it reaches the tipping point, can expand extremely quickly. It might seem at the moment like gloom and doom but things can turn around in the space of three weeks. In this scenario you won't get a honey crop from spring flowers.
This month the weather will allow you to look into the brood box. Please check, beginners, that the queen does in fact have enough space to lay. If you overfed your colony in the autumn and there are a lot of frames of honey, you may need to take out a frame of stores and add a frame of foundation. Place this on the edge of the brood nest and the bees will draw it out so that the Queen can lay in it. Remember one of the triggers for swarming is congestion in the brood nest and if your brood box is loaded with old honey stores then the poor Queen has nowhere to lay! Once you have allowed the bees to get congested they will probably go down the path of swarming and there will be very little you can do about it even if at that late stage you give them extra space.
And we are now coming into swarming season. I say this because I opened a colony on Saturday and there was a whole frame of drone brood and several drones were already walking around on the comb. If they have just hatched they will take 12 days to reach sexual maturity. So, theoretically, if a virgin queen flies in the middle of April there will be drones around with which she can mate. I would not be surprised to see swarms in late April this year. Be warned, and make sure you give the Queen space now so as to delay this swarming as long as possible. And make up those brood boxes and frames of foundation if you have not already done so! I am afraid this is a case of do as I say, don't do as I do because I still have got boxes to sterilise and frames of foundation to make. Once you have your hive ready, go and place it in your apiary ready to do the manipulation you have decided upon. You will add the frames of foundation at the last minute. A timely reminder that we have a session on swarm control on Thursday April 14th. This is at the Rose and Crown in Mayfield and will start at 7:30 PM. Keith and I will cover once again the artificial swarm and I will quickly show you another technique which can be used if you have a strong colony and want to do something before you go away on holiday.
3rd April 2016