Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
It was so mild in mid Feb, that I started to check my colonies, starting with the ones which I had concerns with. All had been flying and all bringing in pollen – a good sign that they have brood, although one was a little less enthusiastic than the others and I spotted two DWV drone pupae being thrown out. Sure enough, I found they had become drone laying workers, so I shall drown them. I have a couple of strong Apidea to bring on so am not going to be short of bees.
I was able to change a few floors; one had some dead on it but was also clogged with damp icing sugar - the main drawback of dusting in winter. Now I can use oxalic acid vapourisation this stickiness should be a thing of the past, and they are all now showing very few mites. I move them all on to clean sterilised floors in early March (or February!) even if it is too cold to open them. It takes seconds. I know some are clear of dead bees, which means they are either very healthy or very hygienic but will change them anyway as that is easier than disturbing them by tilting up the boxes and checking and/or scraping and risking the multiple boxes slipping.
It is even more important to heft for stores this month, open them if you are worried, as their brood rearing accelerates and more probably die of starvation in March than any other month. It will be mild enough (in Sussex) to use a little syrup now, but a 'light' one I opened in mid Feb turned out to have half a super full! Hefting is not very reliable.
I came across some research suggesting that careful hygienic testing on colonies and selecting the best for queen rearing can show significant improvements in just three years. This hygienic behaviour is useful to reduce Chalkbrood and sacbrood and other things. To get improvement it is essential to keep adequate records of other important characteristics such as temper, swarminess, whether they supersede, honey crop etc. To test for hygienic behaviour use either pin test or card removal, or section freezing (see Beekeeping notes in May 2018) as liquid nitrogen is not safe or practical for hobby Beekeepers. Now (March) is the time to see which have survived in good state and make plans for testing in early April in time for queen rearing, why not try this hygienic testing and queen rearing from your best this year?
Another very important thing to do, ideally in late Feb, is to get the hornet monitoring traps up. I am using the non lethal ones this spring (See Feb BBKA news design) which trap but do not kill and I shall check and release any non-hornet/wasp queens daily. I am going to test different baits, starting with apple juice then proprietary baits and will let you know the results.
Mites and more mites: Bees are bothered by different classes of mites in the photo above a queen bumblebee in mid February will lots of mites around her neck. These are true phoretic mites (not feeding or harming, although probably an inconvenience to the queen) just hitching a ride until she establishes a nest and they will then hop off and feed on the debris in the nest.
I spotten this on a dead bee in February, the photo above is of a worker bee with a varroa mite fixed between the abdominal plates on the left hand side, where recent research indicates they are commonly found.
Often incorrectly called phoretic, this mite is anything but harmless as it is feeding on the fat body located in that area of the abdomen. As this is the common feeding position they are not often seen, only when they are numerous are they are seen on the backs of the bees, by which time the colony has a serious infestation.