Amanda's Beekeeping Notes March 2022

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

I hope all your colonies survived the recent storms and that no branches fell on them. Also I hope none blew over, but as we all strap up our colonies when warned of high winds it should be a simple matter of putting them back on the stands. Unlike a beekeeper in London moaning that 40 of his hives blew over and fell apart exposing the inmates to wind and rain – not a single strap in sight! And he was a master beekeeper too - apparently! My bees mostly stayed indoors that week (as did I with no electricity for nearly a week after) but during Storm Franklin when we had over 40mph gusts the sun brought them and queen bumblebees out to forage in the sun on the crocuses. I did notice they kept fairly close to the ground though. I hope none were blown away but fear some I saw chilled on plants later in the day would not have made it home.

I am looking forward to checking my bees. March is when inspections can start here, providing the wind is calm, the sun is out and it is over 12 C°. From the forecast mid March onwards might have some suitable days with a calm high pressure indicated. My first inspection will be very quick, and will not involve looking at every frame by any means; there will be no expectation of queen cells this early or after the recent weather and health checks can wait until it is much warmer. However it would be worth putting the insert in for 5-7 days to check the varroa levels in case any treatment is required before supers go on.  I try to inspect at the first suitable opportunity in case we suddenly have lovely weather and they expand rapidly and run out of space. It is all about getting enough information so I am prepared for the next inspection. I shall be checking on the number of seams full of bees, which will forewarn of strong colonies needing supers for the next visit, although I have a relative idea from the seams of debris on the insert when I last put it in. Also I want to be sure that they have worker brood rather than no brood or drone brood, either of which probably would indicate a colony in terminal decline. So far I have seen lots of pollen going in to them all and no flying drone so don’t expect any problems on that score.

As I lift the boxes off I get a feel for the stores they have left in case they need more but I am pretty sure my nuc, which I have been providing with fondant and pollen substitute, will be the only one needing any. At this time of year if they are light we can give them syrup. Only a little so as not to contaminate any early nectar collected, and I would use 50:50 strength, as I would want them to use it rather than store it. You could move a frame of stores nearer the cluster if they look small and isolated from it and scratching the cappings will encourage them to eat it. If there is a dubious looking frame, which I intend to remove, I would scrape cappings on any capped stores on it so it is not wasted, and mark with a drawing pin on the top bar to remember to take it out before they start filling it with brood or nectar.  Good notes are essential as each colony will need different actions at the next inspection and usually requiring some preparation, from finding their drawn supers to use first (which are bound to be at the bottom of the stack!), to requiring clean floors etc.  They have been collecting pollen from all my snowdrops and crocuses so they should have a supply of fresh pollen by now.  In early February my bees were so impatient for fresh pollen they were trying to force the crocus flowers open before the sun had had time to trigger opening. They were queuing up too. Now, towards the end of Feb, my cherry Plum is covered in white flowers and the bees and bumblebees are making it hum.

One thing I like to do early in the season before they expand or get any heavier, is to lift the box(es) and either change the floor or check that it is clean, so these first inspections I take with me a clean floor and crownboard in case the present one is a bit stuck up. I prefer to give them a clean sterilized one rather than leave them open any longer than absolutely necessary at this time of year to scrape them clean.  I don’t want scrapings left on the ground either to get on my boots or spread disease. I will also give each colony their own two clean cover cloths, vital to help keep in their warmth during inspections.  These I store under their roof, so there is no risk of cross contamination of any disease.

My bees overwinter on several shallow boxes and as they consume their food they move up and I invariably have one or two empty dark-framed boxes to remove from each established colony, for recycling.  Any individual dark empty frames removed at the first or second inspection I try to replace with drawn comb, before they become much bigger and spread back onto the dark comb. It is time to put wax foundation in clean frames, there never seems to be enough time when they are suddenly needed.

By the end of the month, when it is warmer I hope, we can check the brood box for frames blocked with last year’s pollen which they will not use now fresh pollen is coming in.  Frames of granulated stores should also be noted, especially if there was a lot of ivy around last autumn. These frames will prevent brood expansion so will need to be removed if the weather is good and they can forage, or at least move them to the outside of the brood box for removal at a later inspection. At this time of year it is best to replace any removed frames with clean drawn comb as it probably will not be warm enough for wax making. As some of my hives feel very heavy still, I think my problem will be that they have too much stores and I will need to check their notes whether I fed them any syrup last autumn, which will need to be removed, or whether they had only their own honey which could be left, or removed for extraction if granulated, always making sure they have enough to last until the next inspection



Bees on crocus


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