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