Amanda's Beekeeping Notes May 2022

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

I think this April has been slightly warmer than April 2021, but there were still only a few days warm enough and with wind low enough to carry out relatively regular inspections. On 21st April I found one colony had a couple of recently sealed queen cells on the bottom bars. It was my largest colony and I guess if the weather had been warmer just before that and the queen had not been clipped then they would have already swarmed. So I carried out an artificial swarm after finding the queen; putting her in a brood super with no queen cells so I can easily merge again when the parent has a new laying queen.  Strictly speaking the modified Pagden method puts the old queen, the flying bees and the frame she is on together. Mine had a box of very young brood and its nurse bees, the queen and the foragers; a more balanced colony but I shall need to inspect in a few days to ensure no more queen cells have been made. In this case I also gave both of them a new super of foundation as well as they were so full of bees.  About 6 or 7 days later I shall go through the parent part and remove all the queen cells as they are from a somewhat swarmy stock and shall give them a frame of eggs and young brood from my best colony. By this time the parent will not have any suitable brood to rear queen cells of their own and will be obliged to use the frame of brood I give them. I shall harvest any surplus queen cells for a spot of queen rearing, using my best colony to create a nucleus or two. I need a stool to reach the top of that colony already so it will be good to reduce the height a bit by splitting a box into a couple of nucs.


The eggs laid at the end of April to early May will become the foragers for the main nectar flow commencing mid June so it is important to control any swarm urges in May. By merging the two halves of my artificial swarm probably early June, as virgins take longer to mate in large colonies, I should be back to a large nectar gathering workforce in time.  Later swarm control I prefer to take off the old queen into an apidea or nucleus in order to keep the large workforce together.


bee gathering pollen and nectar from apple blossom

Even though the weather at times has been too cool to inspect it has been warm enough for them to be busy foraging most days and I noticed yesterday (23rd April) that the Horse Chestnut flowers are just opening. At 70% sugar, Horse Chestnut nectar is a valuable and attractive nectar for them. There has been a lovely nectar smell recently. I wonder whether I shall get a spring crop of honey this year; usually the hungry ‘June’ gap turns up towards the end of May, when all the spring flowers are over, which delays me from harvesting any and it has been eaten by the time the summer nectar flow starts. I can but hope.


Things to consider this month, apart from controlling swarming of course, are that the Oil Seed Rape is in flower as I write and just a few bees are coming home with yellow dots between their eyes. So it looks as though the OSR is sufficiently far enough away from my colonies not to be a problem. If a lot of bees are yellow then the honey needs to be harvested as soon as the flowers fade unless we want to cut out solid honey from the frames. By May it should be warm enough to do shook swarms to remove dark brood comb. I have one colony on Commercial size (two designs are not ideal, historical reasons!) and last year it was very angry and I requeened it using the old queen in an artificial swarm from my best colony – except it was in a National box. The footprint is similar but I have been dying to remove the National box, which I wintered at the bottom hoping it would be easy to remove. Most of the frames were empty and just a few had some nice sealed brood, so I put the mostly empty box with just 4 frames of brood right on the top of the stack over an empty part-drawn honey super and a queen excluder, intending to remove it in about 10 days when the brood had emerged. Less than a week later I thought I would remove it anyway, only to find two pieces of wild comb hanging from the crown board filling with nectar; they had been so busy. The dark propolis-lined area seems to be worker size and the rest drone size. So I have put yet another empty super under it and hope I can remove it next time.


I have noticed this week that quite a few bees are drinking water, it has been quite dry, so do provide them with a safe source of rainwater. They drown easily so mossy stones, water plants, gravel, halved corks etc are a good idea to help them. Fingers crossed for a better season than last year.

a bit of wild comb built in a space in just a few days


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