Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar
As I write this we are having another little heatwave. The forecast, dare I say it, looks promising for the next few weeks too, so there are things we need to consider to keep our bees as happy as possible.
Firstly, there is still the risk of swarms so keep on with the prevention techniques (plenty of space etc) which I mentioned in recent newsletters. And keep up with the regular inspections and control promptly. Half of mine seemed to have had a binge of swarming attempts in late April and the other half are behaving so far, thank goodness. It would be extremely unfortunate to have a colony try to swarm now, as the main nectar flow will start very shortly; I have already seen the first Bramble flowers open. One way to deal with swarming without depleting the main colony of workers (and reducing your honey crop) would be to either take the old queen into a nuc or apidea as insurance, or carry out a Demaree procedure I have mentioned earlier, rather than do an artificial swarm split. I have just finished merging my artificial swarms – actually this sounds so simple when it was not really. My artificial swarms were textbook – initially - but many of the large parent colonies failed to produce a mated queen, or else one of the two queen cells I left emerged and swarmed , and the remaining one failed to establish. (Next year I shall only leave one queen cell although this carries risks too but an Apidea with a spare cell should cover that). Virgins definitely mate much better from smaller colonies and all the castes I caught and nucs I made have mated very quickly and built up so it is those I am now merging back with the original queenless colonies, a merge of three colonies in one case. But what a lot of messing around with nucs in the wrong place as I did not forecast all this hassle! Try to get your colonies merged by early June if you want any honey. See photo of result of a merge, I need steps!
One adventure I had at the Divisional out apiary yesterday was with a virgin I was waiting to get mated from a huge colony, the brood had nearly all hatched out and I was prepared to give them a frame of open brood to keep them going but yesterday found a huge cluster under the floor. The newly mated queen must have missed the entrance and gone underneath. They had started to build 4 frames of comb with eggs. See photo. It was quite enjoyable getting them back into the colony with the minimum equipment I had with me. Actually it was easy, I just set up the brood box over a new floor and held the comb over just touching and most rushed down into the nice smelling used comb.
the beautiful comb made by the attendants of a newly mated queen, who took a wrong turn
There seems to have been a flow since the last short spell of cold weather, and I am in the process of taking my first spring crop off for several years. Sometimes there is a dearth in late May (it used to be called the June Gap but everything is 3 weeks early these days), as the spring flowers and trees go over and before the blackberry flowers start. Although it may vary depending upon where you are and although less is coming in this week, I think by the time you read this any dearth will be past as the Bramble is now coming into flower. So just be cautious if you take off honey, either make sure they have enough to tide them over or keep a close eye on the flowering around you. How busy they are at the entrance will be a clue. Mine are very busy; unusually the largest colonies were getting traffic jams at my shallow entrances a week ago, so I have had to open them up. I have also removed the insulation, which was useful only a fortnight ago when we had frosts. Check you have not accidentally left an insert in, they need the ventilation when the temperature is as hot as it has been today; 24°C. I put an empty super between the crownboard and roof to allow excess heat to rise up and also act as a buffer if the metal roof is in full sun. In extreme heat put a board raised up to shade the roof, last year there was one week when I had to drape old white sheets over the hives in full sun which helped to cool and shade them. If mine do cluster underneath, or a stray swarm clusters there (eg clipped queen falls out, returning virgin misses the entrance…) then it is helpful to clear them off the mesh into a tray to check for a queen, and put the insert in for just a day or so to dissuade them from returning.
I check my varroa in April, so I don’t have to worry about it while the honey supers are on, there is little you can safely use at this time and it is too difficult with all the supers. So I can concentrate on keeping them comfortable and managing the supers, moving full supers or frames up, and taking them off as soon as fully capped as they are just so heavy to lift each time, especially from the height mine are now. Make sure they have space above the brood so they don’t feel congested. With a nectar flow it is a good time to get foundation drawn beautifully and straight and that could go above the brood area in a large colony. I have become short of frames and foundation while the shops are closed so have been making my own foundation (but it is very time consuming) or cutting sheets in half and letting them draw the rest out. I discovered the hard way that to prevent these slipping down in the warmth of the hive, I had to dribble molten wax along the top bar and foundation to hold it. They have been drawing it out well, providing I give them a full length foundation to climb up in the middle. Some frames have not been built right down to the bottom yet, so I have to handle it carefully and straighten up one or two to avoid wavy comb, and hope I don’t have too many collapses when I come to extract. But that is a problem for the future, for now the bees are happy and busy and have plenty of space, although they are keeping me busy making up the frames and cutting down surplus brood frames to make shallow.
I came across this very interesting video on Rearing and renting Mason bees;