May Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
April is my favourite month; full of promise, new green leaves and flowers. In spite of a slow start the very warm spell in the second half of April (sadly just ending as I write this) has seen a rapid succession of plants coming into flower but each seeming to last a shorter time than usual in the heat. As I write this on St Georges day, already my plum, Amelanchier and fritillaries are over and the apple and pear and quince are in bloom. It has also meant I have noticed a lot of lovely solitary bees, bee flies and the honeybees have been very active. I expect another June (or late May) Gap this year, so will need to keep an eye on stores in May especially if we are lucky enough to take any surplus honey. My largest colony (my letterbox swarm from last year) has already filled a super I gave them on 14th April, with brood and nectar/honey and I have given them another. My others which are smaller than usual should have benefited from the heat, definitely no feeding required now. Before any supers are added to these small ones I shall remove frames of surplus winter honey/syrup stores so it is not moved up to contaminate the incoming nectar. The larger colonies have conveniently eaten most of their stores and are now storing nectar. If it is warmer in a week or two it will be the right time to carry out a shook swarm if the brood frames are old, but many of mine have moved up naturally and I now have a stack of dark empty brood boxes to recycle and sterilize.
Honey Bee on cherry blossom
Monitoring varroa and swarm preparations:
With brood increasing it is important to keep monitoring varroa, with nectar going in the only possible treatment as far as I am concerned is icing sugar dusting although MAQS is theoretically possible if you can live with the risk of queen loss. We also need to ensure they have plenty of room for brood and for nectar processing in order to reduce the risk of swarm preparations. My largest colony did have a queen cup with an egg a week ago but the space I gave them seems to have changed their minds. Oil Seed Rape is in full flower and if there is any within 3 miles of bees we will need to take any nectar/honey off as soon as the flowers go over. I noticed a lot along the A27 and the Downs yesterday. So it is mainly monitoring for queen cells and space, and don’t forget to do a spring health check. If your mites have got out of hand you might expect to see things like Deformed wing virus and patchy brood.
The way to have healthier bees is to select for hygienic behaviour. Sussex University uses liquid nitrogen to freeze-kill small sections of brood. If 90% of the dead sealed brood is removed in 24 hours the colony is deemed hygienic. Liquid nitrogen is not very practical for hobby beekeepers but small sections (4cm x 4cm) of sealed brood can be cut out, put in the freezer until dead and then reinserted. Still a bit of a performance! I was interested to find a scientific paper which compared another even simpler Pin method, (marking one sealed cell with queen marking ink and then pricking and wiggling with a pin a group of seven cells immediately under it to kill them), with the speed of removal of (weighed) fibrous card suspended between two brood frames – surely the most non-invasive and easy method yet. They found a strong correlation between the card removal and pin pricked brood removal in hygienic colonies. Unfortunately, they did not give many details and I will need to calibrate the card removal to the pin test. So having ordered a quantity of beer mats on Ebay, I shall try it out when it warms up. Watch this space!
Sightings of solitary bees:
I saw a pair of great tits chasing after my honey bees which had come down to a water source. Fortunately, I did not see any of the bees actually being caught. Today I saw a solitary bee, with legs covered in pollen disappear down a tunnel she had excavated in the soil in the bare ground behind a hive. I waited to photograph her when she emerged in order to identify her, but she could clearly see me and kept popping back down when I brought the camera near. Eventually, I left her alone after getting a picture of her peering over the edge of the tunnel at me.
Mining Bee peeping at me and disappearing down her tunnel when I moved
an as yet unidentified solitary bee on a Primrose
Required reading: The Slippery Life of the Small Hive Beetle, on the Honeybeesuite website https://honeybeesuite.com/tag/small-hive-beetles/