Beekeeping notes from Amanda Millar
Early inspections, cleaning, checking for Varroa and keeping an eye open for swarm preparations:
I hope all your colonies came through winter in a healthy condition. A few days ago I put all my inserts in for a week to confirm that I don’t have to do any Varroa treatment before the supers go on, I hope.
All mine over-winter on 2 or 3 boxes, mostly shallow and at my February inspection I found they had all moved up into the cleaner boxes leaving the oldest darkest box at the bottom; empty of bees, stores and brood which I was able to remove with ease. So I am wading through a tall pile of boxes of frames to clean and sterilise them. If you do not have this opportunity, at the first or second inspection while they are smallish, remove any dark empty comb at the edges and replace with drawn comb or foundation without disturbing the brood area. There is plenty of fresh pollen going in now so they will ignore frames of old pollen stored from last year. These pollen-clogged frames can restrict the area the queen needs to lay in so move them to the edges or remove completely. In future inspections, try to work dark old comb to the edges for removal later or this time next year.
We need to keep an eye open for swarm preparations now. My colonies seem to be larger than this time last year, whether due to the good weather last summer and generally benign winter or the efficient removal of varroa by the Oxalic Acid vapourisation; or more likely a combination. When I checked on them in late February none had drone brood (apart from the two drone laying worker ones) but when I briefly checked three on 18th March all three had either flying drones or some sealed drone brood. I was concerned they may think about swarming shortly so I felt I needed to start my weekly inspections, weather permitting. They do not consider swarming until adult drones are hatching because of the longer development and maturing time for drones, but once present, be vigilant! Fortunately, I managed to check all my home colonies on 20th March as it was mild enough and I was relieved to find that although 3 had adult drone there were only 4-5 of them in each colony. A further 2 just had a dozen or so sealed drone brood cells in each and one which had a frame with drone sized cells in full of eggs - will have to watch that one. The other three did not have any drone brood at all. So I have a bit of breathing space to prepare. Also they had not grown much at all, I think the cold wet windy conditions earlier in March put them on hold to some extent, although the flying and pollen gathering this week has been very enthusiastic to put it mildly. I was pleased to find they were all in a very good temper; in February when I looked, although the sun was shining and it was 6 degrees warmer they were all very bad tempered and I received several stings. I think the loud ‘crack’ when I broke the propolis seal upset them.
At this time of year the old winter bees are dying off and the new brood is just beginning to hatch so the population increase could easily appear to have slowed down a bit. Let’s hope we don’t get any more cold spells for a bit which would make keeping the growing brood warm difficult for them. In my inspection yesterday I also identified two colonies which needed another super, two which seem to have shrunk a bit so I can remove their lower dark box, one of which was full of nibbled granulated ivy honey and give them a new super at the same time. One had a slightly damp super with a lot of propolis in so I shall transfer the frames to a clean one when the weather is warm enough, and one had a roof which needs a bit of maintenance. Lots of things to do with them now! All had plenty of food, one even seemed to have collected a bit of nectar. They will try to move the surplus into the supers we will be adding shortly. They are sometimes reluctant to uncap sealed stores so scratching the cappings on some frames near the cluster will make them use it (or move it) enabling the brood area to expand. Before I add supers I remove any full combs of capped winter stores to the deepfreeze, labelled as to the colony, to return to that colony in the autumn, to prevent contamination of the honey with any syrup from winter stores. I try to leave enough stores to keep them going though, taking into consideration the weather forecast and nectar flow of the area. If your supers are of foundation and you do not have a clean drawn comb to put in the middle of them, leave the queen excluder out until they are up there working or they may see it as a barrier. Make sure she is down below before you put it in.
My non-lethal hornet monitoring traps have mostly caught flies so far but I did get one honey bee in last week. I have already seen queen wasps on the wing, flying in my greenhouse, I shall try to thin them too as I had four nests start in my house and garden last year – too many!