April arrives and the first apiary check of 2013

Strong colony

Strong colonies emerge after a very long winter

After a very long drawn out winter with bitter easterly winds and one of the coldest March’s since records began we have returned to an Atlantic airflow and finally begun to see  the thermometers rising with the milder weather bringing in some sunshine along with the normal April showers but this has at least also bought on the start of spring.  With flowers appearing and trees in blossom the bees have started flying again and so at last we can go into the apiary and have a quick look inside the hives.

I was particularly keen to see how the bees were doing as I had lost one colony to starvation back in February, despite there being home-made fondant on all the hives. I had been feeding the bees since late December and had also started feeding a light syrup (1kg sugar per liter water) during the last week of March.

Healthy bees

Healthy bees fill the hives

The National Bee Unit (NBU – part of FERA/DEFRA) are still recommending the use of fondant at the beginning of April but it has been slightly warmer in Kent than elsewhere in the UK and my bees had already broken from their winter cluster, during the day at least, and syrup given in a contact feeder is much easier for the bees to use. Fondant stores well, does not freeze or ferment, so can sit on the hive until the bees need it but it requires chewing and diluting with water before the bees can use it so a thin syrup is preferable in my opinion once the bees are active.

I had not opened any of the hives, other than removing the roof to give fondant or syrup, since the last week in December when the oxalic acid was applied to try and reduce the numbers of the parasitic mite, varroa destructor, and even then the crown board is only raised for a few moments and no frames are lifted so it is always with great excitement that you carry out the first inspection of the season.

On a warm and sunny but breezy afternoon (15-16 degrees) I attended the apiary unsure of whether I would actually get the chance to look into the hives, but I wanted to remove the contact feeders, mouse guards and wood pecker protection anyway so it wouldn’t be a wasted visit. You can also tell a lot about the health of a colony just by observing the bees at the hive entrance and intrusive measures are not always required (click on the link to access a pdf copy of H. Storch’s book of the same title). I wanted to see if the bees were flying and if they were returning loaded with pollen as they had been on previous days.

At the hive entrance

At the hive entrance with an entrance reducer in place to prevent early robbing

A break in the wind and we were in, I used a little smoke as the bees had been quite ‘friendly’ when I had put feeders on a few days earlier so I decided to let them know I was here this time. I prised the crown boards away from the top brood boxes where the bees had firmly fixed them with ample amounts of propolis over the winter months and was greeted with hives full of bees, really good size healthy looking colonies. The crown boards were checked to make sure the queen wasn’t on them as there are currently no queen excluders used in the hives and then, as I didn’t want to chill the brood or disturb the bees to much, I only removed a few frames from the top brood box for inspection and again was very happy to see that there were sealed brood, larva, eggs and freshly stored yellow pollen (looks like willow) in the classic brood pattern spread over several frames.

I didn’t need to see the queen to know that she had been there recently, that could wait for a warmer day, but the bees were active, looking healthy and building up numbers well with plenty of stored food so it was time to carefully close up the hives until my next visit when hopefully better conditions will allow for me to dig deeper into the hives.

Paul inspecting his hives

Paul inspecting his national hives with a big smile on his face

My bee buddy Paul was also on hand checking his hives and was pleased to report no winter losses, including his two Warre hives which have not had any intervention or feeding over the winter months, the bees are flying but we do not know how large or strong those colonies are yet. The smaller colony that had over-wintered in a poly-nuc is  doing well and I may well invest in some of these one day.

Once the hives were closed up it was time to turn thoughts towards the rapid approach of spring and inevitable swarming that will start as hives fill up and become congested. We sorted through our equipment and took stock of how many ‘spare’ hives were already set and ready to go when needed and which needed repair or new wax installed. Hopefully the warmer weather will stay long enough for the colonies to build strength in time for the main spring flowers as they arrive.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.

Pollen under hive

Pollen dropped through the mesh floor building up under the hives

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