Topical Tips – “Curiosity could kill the cat (or in this case your bees)” – by Malcolm Wilkie

Tomorrow temperatures may go up as high as 15°. There will be sunshine and no doubt early Crocus will open and display those lovely orange anthers with nutritious pollen for the bees to collect. One might be very tempted to open up a hive of bees and see how they are doing. A word of warning, however.

It is still very early in the season and these temperatures are exceptional at this time of year. The danger could be that if you open your hive and take out frames in order to see if you have a queen then you may inadvertently cause the collapse of your colony. Why is this? Because if you are unlucky and crush your queen at this time of year then your colony will be unable to survive. They may possibly make a new queen but there is very little chance she would be able to get mated because there are no drones about. My advice would be to wait until March before examining the brood nest. Mid March with a sunny still day and temperatures of at least 13 degrees.

However I myself will be lifting off the hive roofs tomorrow.  All my colonies have both fondant and pollen patties on top of the crownboards surrounded by an eke. If the colony is alive there will be hundreds of bees munching on top of the crownboard.  The number above the crownboard will give me an indication of how strong the colony is. That is all I need to know at the moment. If on Saturday there are no bees milling about on top of the crown board and you cannot hear anything when you put your ear to the hive wall, then you could go in and take a look. If there is a gentle hum but no bees flying you could put in your inspection board for a few days and the debris that falls out of the hive will give you an indication of what the bees are doing. In this latter scenario it may be that you might consider rolling out some fondant with a rolling pin and laying that directly on top of the bees so that they can access some food : if the cluster is tiny they won’t go up and fetch the food above the crownboard and it needs to be directly in contact with them. Then gently replace your crownboard above the rolled out fondant, or if you need to create space because the fondant is too thick add an eke and place the crownboard above the eke.

Rolling out fondant is messy so use plenty of fresh icing sugar!

If you do go in because things aren’t looking good, ask yourself whether they have died due to isolation starvation, for example? Sometimes people have left a whole super full of honey for the bees but they have never gone up and fetched it. It is as if they didn’t recognise that that was part of their hive, even though Queen excluders were removed last Autumn.  Or (God forbid) did they die because you never fed them enough last autumn and you didn’t put on fondant early enough. If this is the case then you will find your bees dead with their heads in the comb as if they were trying to suck out the last drop of honey that they had stored. Only you can judge what has happened.

Enjoy the Bees tomorrow but be careful what you do!

Malcolm Wilkie – 19th February 2021

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