March in the Apiary
Plants are growing and there are spring flowers everywhere.
The bees have anticipated this time of renewal and have encouraged the queen to increase her laying rate so that the colony can build and take advantage of the new forage.
The colony is developing from the remnants of the old winter bees and it is a testing time and should the weather turn inclement the bees will need help to survive.
If you are in an area where early pollen is not available it may be necessary to feed pollen patties.
Beware of a sudden cold snap.
So be aware of the amount of stores and don’t put the queen excluder on too soon.
If there is a fine sunny quiet day when the temperature exceeds 12 degreesC you should take the opportunity to check all is well.
This inspection should be swift taking no more than 5 minutes and as the colony will be getting cold the bees may not be happy.
The objective of the inspection is to ensure that the queen is present and laying well, has room to continue laying and there are enough stores to last a couple of weeks into April.
Do have a smoker as the bees haven’t been disturbed for a few months.
Once you have access to the brood chamber remove a couple of frames to make space, then move frames into the gap and have a look at the faces of the frames to identify larvae. (you don’t need to find the queen as it is just a quick look to see how big the brood nest is)
You don’t even need to take out these frames as you should have enough space to look onto the faces.
Register the number of frames with brood, the number with adult bees on them and the state of stores(pollen and honey) if you think they are short of stores leave the fondant on.
Looking at your findings have a think about what you have found.
● No larvae probably means that there is not a queen in the brood chamber.
She may be dead or laying in the super you left on!
● You will probably have the same number of sides of larvae as sides covered with bees. More bees is good.
● You may have 5 sides (not frames) covered in brood. Any less and the colony is not building up well.
● There should be at least 5KG honey stores. Less and the bees should be fed fondant.
Having finished and decided on the state of the colony leave it for a few weeks.
Make sure you have enough equipment for your beekeeping plans and these need to be flexible as we have little control over the weather.
In the spring when colonies are rapidly building you have the opportunities to solve problems.
In late summer colonies do not have the time to prepare for winter if there is a setback.
April is the time to assess your colony health to make sure it is in good condition to thrive through the summer.
Try to keep in touch with other beekeepers.
April in the Apiary
April is one of the best months of the year if you keep bees. It’s full of optimism. There is usually plenty of forage with good quality pollen. You MAY want to feed 1:1 syrup to stimulate increase in size. If pollen is scarce you MAY want to feed a pollen pattie.
When the weather is warm enough that is when you can inspect the colony in more detail. This is for your enjoyment and part of your annual colony management. The most important lesson for beekeepers is ‘never inspect a colony without a purpose’. Remember when you open a hive the rush of air from the bottom cools down the colony and the balance of hormones is lost. Always put frames back in their original position as the surface is not flat. If not bee space will be reduced in some areas and increased in others, so the bees will make brace comb or fill with propolis so using up unnecessary energy.
Your first major inspection:-
● Ensure the colony is disease free.
● That the bees have enough pollen and honey.
● Keep a look out for varroa mites and deformed wing virus on adult bees.
● Look for eggs which will indicate the presence of a laying queen. There should be about 1:4 ratio of eggs to sealed brood in April.
● Check the frames. Old dark ones and misshapen ones that the bees do not use need to be replaced when there is a nectar flow. They can harbour disease.
● The brood chamber should be full of frames that the queen can lay in and storage space for nectar and pollen
Study the brood pattern. Are there solid patches of eggs, larvae and nicely capped brood, or is the brood pattern patchy or with raised cappings indicating a failing or missing queen, they may need uniting but be aware of disease.
Prepare Asian hornet monitoring traps.
May in the Apiary
May is the time of year when your colonies of bees can get out of control unless you help them to expand the brood nest. This is known as swarm prevention.
The queen is flat out laying eggs which is dependant on the quantity and quality of forage and nurse bees and the space to lay. If space runs out the bees will naturally swarm. There are many methods of reactive swarm control and learning one way is very important if we open our hives and see queen cells in the making. It usually means that your colony is thriving.
Hopefully most of MBKA beekeepers have had a method shown to them about swarm control by the artificial method in the training sessions.
Wally Shaw has produced a booklet called There are queen cells in my colony, what shall I do! If you do not have a hard copy there is PDF on the WBKA website.
Also there are experienced beekeepers in MBKA to help you.
It as always a good idea to have a spare floor, brood box with 11 frames foundation, crown board and lid at the ready.
Be aware that swarming can happen from late April through to the Autumn.
Keep a eye on nectar flow and space in supers, adding more when needed.