There is no need to state the fact that we have been through a mild but very wet winter and there is little sign of spring around. The mild winter will probably mean that brood rearing never stopped completely which will have suited the varroa mite and may see an early build up of mites. The vernal equinox on the 19thMarch (when the sun is directly over the equator giving equal day and equal nights) marks the real beginning of spring at least in theory. The reality could be different, is different! However, to be a beekeeper we have to be optimistic and this is the time of year when my beekeeping optimism knows no bounds.
Beekeepers tend to be a bit like fishermen – prone to exaggeration. One beekeeper after his first inspection, described his queen as not requiring marking because she was “as big as a mouse”! Another novice beekeeper claimed she had kept horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, hens and dogs but none of them were half as complicated as bees!
All my colonies have survived though I suspect some are quite weak and candidates for uniting. I am feeding one with some fondant as it feels a bit light.
On any half decent day the bees are flying. I have seen pollen coming in which is essential to feed the increasing number of larvae as the queen lays more and more eggs each day.
If the bees are flying strongly, this is a good indication that it is safe to open the hive for a quick inspection to make sure all is well and that the colony is all set to bring in the bumper honey crop this year!
Though it is important not to allow any of the brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) to become chilled – bearing in mind that the brood nest is maintained at 34-36 degrees C – so the rule of thumb is that it should be warm tee-shirt weather. These kinds of days are not that common at this time of the year and so we must take our chances. So, providing the bees show by their behaviour that they can tolerate the outside temperature it is worth making a quick inspection to see what is going on and whether all appears well.
Move quickly, though carefully, so that frames and the hive are not jarred and that bees are not crushed, it should be possible to examine each frame and check on the amount of brood and remaining stores – and to locate the queen – in under two or three minutes. It is still too cold for a more thorough examination to check for disease and so this should be postponed until the genuine tee- shirt weather arrives.
FINDING A QUEEN
Some beekeepers, even experienced beekeepers, experience a knot of apprehension if they are required to find the queen. A marked queen is easier to see. If you are following the colour coding convention, you will know how old she is.
Spotting the queen is not easy, but it is much easier earlier in the year when there are relatively few bees on the combs and there are no drones about. If you see the queen static alongside her daughters the differences are quite marked, but within a mass of bees where there is constant motion, those differences are not so apparent.
Finding a queen takes practice and experience but there are also techniques to be learned.
1. I have learnt that if glasses are needed for reading, then they are also needed for looking at bees!
2. Make sure there is good light, don’t leave the examination too late in the day and try to examine each comb with the sun behind you so that the face of the comb is in full sun.
3. After loosening the frame from its neighbour, look over the top of it and as you raise it out of the hive, look at the face of the frame remaining. Queens tend to be shy of the light and so generally move where it is going to be darkest – between the frames. If she has not been sighted on the frame in the hive, look at the frame you are holding.
4. Don’t focus too intently on one spot but relax your gaze and scan whole chunks of the frame as you would when reading a book taking in one or more whole sentences at a time. What you are looking for is difference, and it is often an ‘out of the eye corner’ moment when your brain reacts to something that is out of the ordinary. The queen is larger than the workers in the hive and often her abdomen is a different colour, she stands higher on her longer legs and seems to move more purposively across the comb.
5. Start on the sides and bottom of the frame because if the queen is intent on escaping from the light, you may just see her as she moves to the shady side of the frame. If she is not seen at the edges, then move to the main part of the frame. You could try a circular movement ending up in the middle, or you could use left to right, or up and down movements. Whatever you do, try to be systematic; what you don’t want to do is allow your gaze to dart here and there over the frame without any pattern to it.
6. You have to be reasonably quick, a young nervous queen on the move could be over the side of the frame in seconds.
7. Once you have scanned one side of the frame, turn it over and repeat the procedure on the second face. It will do no harm to go over the first side again.
8. There is little likelihood of her being on end frames, or frames with stores, though this is by no means a rule. You are most likely to find her on brood frames where eggs are present and where she has been actively laying.
9. If you really need to find the queen, make this the sole purpose of your inspection so not to be distracted by other tasks.
10. Use as little smoke as you can in order not to alarm the bees and spread panic in the hive.
LAND USE AFFECTS BEES
It is widely accepted that the decline in bees species in UK is due to changes in land use. Agricultural intensification especially growing only one type of crop, reduces the number of insect pollinators. By contrast, where urban expansion has occurred there are fewer losses. Urban areas with their numerous parks, gardens and church yards can supply bees and wasps with a diverse range of food and habitats. This research should help planners design land management policies which will provide a diversity of habitats vital for insect pollinators.
EVERYONE A BEEKEEPER
CURE FOR A COLD!
Take one tablespoon lukewarm honey with 1/4 spoon cinnamon powder daily for three days. This process will cure most chronic cough, cold, and, clear the sinuses, and it’s delicious too!