Amanda's Beekeeping Notes May 2021

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

What a strange April. Nice sunny days, but generally cold with a chill wind and frost nearly every night, so although the bees have been flying, it has only been for a few hours when it warms up. They have been able to collect abundant pollen but as we have had negligible rain the ground is very dry and some plants are looking water stressed. This will have an effect on the nectar supply. Some plants need warmth to produce nectar and most need moist soil to produce abundant nectar. It is for this reason and that it has been mostly too cold to inspect, that the National Bee unit have issued a food warning. Having said that, I am pleased to find today (27th April) that all but my smallest colony have been gathering surplus nectar and many now have a filling super. Small colonies do not have the workforce to keep the brood warm and gather a lot of nectar. So I would say, check first or heft, before feeding syrup. One needs to ask oneself why any colonies are small, as mine are larger than they have ever been at this time of year, several have now 5 shallows of brood, having filled the super I gave them 9 days ago with 50:50 brood and nectar/honey and on today’s inspection, all required another super. This may not be ideal from my point of view as I will end up with some huge colonies again, but by not using a queen excluder, I leave the bees to decide their preferred proportion of brood to nectar storage. At least it reduces brood congestion and the likelihood of swarming.


Full hive, need another box, but no queen cells

I had intended to rescue surplus winter stores from my 10 colonies, with 20 frames earmarked for removal; but in the middle of April when I was able to check, they had used up most of this and I only needed to remove two frames of winter stores. It would seem that the amount they went into winter with (own honey and a bit of syrup) was just right so I shall give them the same this autumn. With our changing climate things seem to be less predictable than they used to be, and we need to adapt and be more aware. There are times in spring to early summer when I feel I only have time to firefight, but if I can, it is useful to look back, and consider how earlier actions (eg feeding the correct amount) influence their present wellbeing as well as trying to plan ahead. I should be thinking about queen rearing from my best colonies, but this cold weather has made that seem less pressing and I keep putting it off. I found that the queenright nuc I had merged on 1st April onto a previously evil queenless colony, within a fortnight had 10 shallow frames of brood in the main hive and were pleasant to work with. I now have the nuc over a queen excluder for removal when the brood has all hatched out, and thought it would be a perfect ready-made nuc for a spot of queen rearing if I had found any queen cells on my inspection. It was not to be though, and next inspection I shall have to shake them all into the colony and remove it.


Stuffed full hive with brace comb, desperately needs a super



Providing bees with water is essential in dry conditions, my moss tray continues to be popular, indicating that there is reduced nectar available or possibly that the nectar is less dilute than usual. I discovered that mine are also gathering water from my neighbour’s swimming pool (or rather green pool full of newts and toads which I rescue and release in my garden).  Apart from using water to produce brood food for the main brood rearing time in the spring, and diluting honey for consumption, they apparently use water to wash through and out waste products from their guts.  This may account for why there is so much bee poo round my water tray and on the cars and greenhouse, which are in the flight path between my neighbour’s swimming pool and the hives!

I don’t know what the weather will be like this May or its effect, but normally May is a month of swarms and some nectar gathering but remember that the ‘June’ Gap is now in late May. But with the cold April and Hawthorn not yet in flower and apparently things a fortnight late, who knows what will happen? Just keep providing them with space if they look crowded and check for swarm preparations regularly. (Photos of full hive, and brace comb from stuffed full hive).

I have a Puzzle today: (27th April) a lovely sunny day 15°C and low wind for a change. I quickly checked all my colonies, just looking for space (all needed a super) and evidence of queen cells on the bottom bars when I lifted the frames, (mostly empty cups).

But one colony, for the last couple of days, has had a number of bees clustering around the entrance and at night a handful clustered below the entrance, (see photo) This one needed closer investigation as I suspected Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV). The situation was classic; cold weather (at night), largest colony, clustering, exchanging virus, except that there were no dead bees in front of the hive. Getting on my hands and knees I first checked under the floor and to my surprise found a large cluster of several thousand bees under there; I even thought I heard a queen piping. A swarm then! There was a bit of a roar, probably from the underfloor bunch, but no fighting and obviously a bit of movement between the cluster and the hive entrance, so I assumed the swarm was the clipped queen from this colony. I put the prepared super, which I had intended for the top of the colony, underneath and almost immediately they started fanning and heading into it. Meanwhile, time to check the main colony and deal with expected queen cells. Bottom shallow box; brood but no eggs or queen cells, next box the same, third up and there were eggs and there was the old marked clipped queen! Very few queen cups, found one with an egg. So who or what is in the cluster? No doubt I shall discover in a day or two when I have moved them from the ground onto a stand. After 18 years they still have the capacity to puzzle, but I am mightily relieved that CBPV is not the culprit.

​Cluster under the mesh floor

Moving down into the box and fanning

Incidentally, there is no treatment for CBPV. Increasingly common these days, especially after a period of poor weather in the spring/early summer, often affecting the largest colonies; it can cause the death of a colony, or if the colony is weak probably best to cull to protect others, but sometimes I have found they outgrow it if the weather suddenly improves. Attention to hygiene is essential, clear away the dead bees outside the entrance, change comb regularly, don’t swap frames or equipment between colonies, and sterilize gloves and hive tool between each colony when inspecting.

CBPV or what?

Research. It has been found that in Europe that Honey Buzzards eats Asian hornets nests and destroy the colonies in order to feed the hornet brood to their young.  All we need to do is encourage the Honey Buzzards if hornets ever get established here, and be especially careful how we kill colonies as the poison may harm the Buzzards if the nest is not completely removed.


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