Amanda's Beekeeping Notes April 2020

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

It is very difficult to know what will happen in April this year, but it seems to be a later start than last year when I had all my colonies inspected by the end of February and a nectar flow at the end of March. This year February was a washout, March has been cold and windy and I have not been able to inspect all my colonies yet. The forecast is for improved weather in April – about time too! So as usual when we do our first few inspections we need to be prepared for almost anything but which is likely to include one or more of: adding supers for a nectar flow, swarm prevention and control, collecting swarms and taking off nucs and queen rearing. I also have some jobs for early April as soon as the weather is warmer, which I would normally do in March such as changing floors and removing any old dark comb. Because of the cold we need also to keep an eye on their stores as there has been no nectar flow yet this year. It is now mild enough to use syrup if required.

Some of my colonies are well established and have I supers of drawn comb to put back on when they need it. It is important to remove frames full of sealed mixed winter stores if sugar syrup was given in the autumn so as to reduce the risk of contaminating this year’s honey. Drawn comb is best used early in the season when it may not be warm enough for enthusiastic comb building and also very important for preventing swarm preparations as they don’t recognize foundation as useable space, but rather as a barrier and can actually lead to congestion in some conditions. Remember to remove the queen excluder if there is a box of foundation above, until they have started working on it, or put one drawn frame in the middle or try spraying the foundation with syrup.  I will try to keep a few frames of drawn comb to replace frames of sealed brood removed when I take off nucs in order to prevent swarm preparations. By running all mine on the same sized shallow frames, I can easily use drawn honey frames to give the brood nest more space. When the brood nest is full of sealed brood and there is little space for queen to lay in, when the sealed brood emerges the nest becomes very crowded and this can trigger production of queen cells for swarming. The Scientific Beekeeping website explains the rationale behind reducing the area of sealed brood in his ‘Understanding colony buildup and decline part 7b’, and I thoroughly recommend you read that. My colonies which were nucs last year of course have no drawn supers of their own yet and will have to make do with foundation, as I generally do not put supers from other colonies on them, although if I have spare ones, such as this year from two colonies which I culled because of drone laying workers, having no disease, a week in a bag with a lid of acetic acid on top should reduce any viruses and after ventilation they can have those.

Solitary bee on dandelion flower

If swarm cells are seen, this year I shall try the Demaree method as suggested on The Apiarist blog He also has a good guide to setting up a bait hive to catch any of yours or your neighouring colony’s swarms which get away however, with all the spare time we may have this summer confined at home those lucky enough to have space in their gardens for their colonies, should have plenty of time to prevent them swarming. It may be more difficult to get to out apiaries if we get travel restrictions but I think in most countries allowances have been made for people tending their livestock.

Honey bee on Anemone Blanda

Viruses are a hot topic at the moment, and it is worth familiarizing yourselves with bee viruses. Some of you may unfortunately have lost colonies this winter. It is worth having a good long look to work out why. Many will have been lost because of the erratic weather conditions last year resulting in unreliable queen mating and drone laying queens or workers by spring, as I have already experienced. At the Divisional apiary one colony I knew had declined in size over the autumn and winter, more than the others. In mid March I noticed dysentery around the entrance although they were still alive then, a week later I went to cull them but found they had already died. While there are several diseases and problems which can cause dysentery,(see the Disease symptoms chart on the B&L website information page) in this case it is likely that virus was involved and there were lots of dead on the floor. A healthy colony should have been able to keep its floor clear so be suspicious if there are any dead there. One of my colonies had about 30 dead on the floor when I checked mid March, but they were bald and shiny, classic Chronic Bee Paralysis symptoms.  To reduce the incidence, be hygienic with equipment and gloves, try to get them onto clean comb as viruses can be passed via body fluids (faeces), avoid overcrowding of colony and apiary, avoid any stresses, which can lower the immune system (prolonged wet weather in Feb?). Also it would not be a good idea to use them for queen rearing, in case they are a susceptible strain.


Is it just me or are there not many dandelions around? I have a few in flower in my garden, but normally the verges round me are yellow with them. Some verges have been mown to within half an inch of their life though, gloom. Dandelion flowers seem to be very popular with the solitary bees in my garden, I saw two unidentified species on the same flower the other day. I saw my first female Hairy Footed Flower Beeon Pulmonaria on 21st March and the next day saw Red Masons, and beautiful Tawny Mining bees looking for nest sites. I grew single, mixed Anemone Blanda in tubs this year for the first time and the flowers seem to be a magnet for honey bees. This time of year is surely the most lovely to spend in the garden in our new found leisure. Keep safe!

Tawny mining bee, resting on magnolia petal

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