The Sun has got some warmth in it at last and the bees are coming out and looking for fresh pollen and nectar. I have seen them working camellias, hellebores and snowdrops. It is only flowers planted in some sunshine that are being worked.
If you have not already been busy preparing for the coming season, now would be a good time to start.
1) On a sunny morning check whether the bees are flying or if that is not possible then stick your ear to the side of the hive and listen for the gentle hum of the cluster. If you cannot hear anything, then gently tap the side of the hive and they will respond.
2) Make a plan for what you are going to do with your bees this coming season. If you are a beginner and have only one hive, then you will be going for increase. Make sure you have ordered a second hive and that you have sufficient frames and foundation to be able to do a split. Better to order all this now than to be caught out at the end of April. I will run a session on swarm control in early April. April 3rd at 7:30pm at the Cross in Hand pub.
(I am spelling out what I mean by the above so there can be no room for misunderstanding.
If you are doing an artificial swarm then you will need 11 frames and eleven pieces of foundation. When you do an artificial swarm the Old Queen is placed on a brood frame on the original site in a new box (new floor, new crown board and new roof). Have you purchased and built a new hive for this purpose? This new hive is filled with frames of foundation around the one brood frame where your old Queen is laying eggs.
You will also need a large rapid feeder. If you have not yet purchased one this will be necessary if you are going to make increase. You will have to feed them at least 8kg of sugar to get them to draw out your foundation. And this is best fed to them all in one go in the large rapid feeder. Just be prepared to avoid rushing out and buying everything at the last moment. When you leave everything to the last moment mistakes are made. And as the experienced know among you if a hive swarms and then casts, you can be left with so few bees that it may take you two years to get the colony back to being prosperous again! Any delay at swarming time can lead to disaster.)
On April 3rd I will also show you what to do if your bees want to swarm and you cannot find the Queen. It’s not as good as the Pagden method above but it should work.
3) If you have been keeping bees for several years you should have cleaned up all your spare brood boxes, floors, crown boards and roofs by now. You will have used a blowtorch to clean up any wooden equipment so as to ensure that no disease is spread to a new colony. If you use poly hives any spare equipment will have been cleaned with soda crystals and then a strong solution of bleach.
4) If you are Helen you will already have built frames for any increase that you are going to make but you will not have added the foundation as you will be waiting for early April. This is so that the wax does not turn brittle.
5) Now is the time where you could add some Neopoll above the crown board. If the weather keeps clement, the gathering of pollen will not be an issue. However if we have a long spell of wet weather, Neopoll can be a lifeline for your bees. It will certainly help them build up if they are a medium sized or strong colony. This will give you the best chance of gathering a spring honey crop.
6) There is now time to put order into your bee shed and check that wax moth has not done too much damage. Do it now because once the season starts you will just run out of time.
7) If you have a very small colony and are wringing your hands in despair, don’t. Bees are amazingly resilient and you will be surprised just how quickly they come back after a long winter. However some Neopoll might well help. But not too much! You don’t want it oozing all over the crown board and running down into the brood nest through the hole in the crown board.
If you haven’t treated against varroa in the autumn and were not brave enough to sublimate in the winter, then you need to think carefully what you are going to do. It may not be a huge problem but you will probably need to use something like varroa Med or hive alive every time you inspect in spring. If things are really desperate then in mid to late April you could use something like Apiguard. Difficult of course with a small unit because Apiguard will put the Queen off lay for about a month. Only you can make the judgement. And only you can put the inspection board in to see what the natural dead mite drop is.
Have a plan and if you haven’t a plan, make one. Order those bits of equipment now!
Malcolm Wilkie February 11th 2019
PS Hope you enjoy these videos taken today in St Leonards.