After my lack of posts and updates towards the end of last year I have resolved to keep my blog/diary more upto date, so here goes.
The 13 hives that I took into winter seem to have survived ok. There is one that is very weak but more on that later.
At the end of January, when some beekeepers treat their colonies with Oxalic acid (a treatment against the Varroa mite) I chose to treat my hives using Hive Clean. It is a thymol based liquid product that is supposedly more gentle on the bees and can (according to the makers) be used all year round with no side effects!
It was also at this time that I could do a very fast visual check to see if any of the colonies were running short of stores. I then decided on the safest action, as per the previous year, was to feed them a 1kg block of Neopol (A fondant mixed with pollen). Again this is my chosen product for late winter / early spring feeding. Although it is more expensive than normal bakers fondant I believe that providing the bees with an early source of pollen will help in the early spring buildup!
Having added the Neopol on top of the feeding hole in the crownboard the only inspection required over the following weeks was a quick check that the hive is upright and together and that the Neopol has not all been eaten (easily achieved by removing just the roof of the hive and not disturbing the bees).
As the weeks progressed and the weather started to warm up on some days Bees start to fly out of the hive on cleansing flights and inside the hive, if all is well, the Queen will start laying eggs. It is at this point that the remaining stores / food is very important to the colony as once brood rearing starts any shortage in food can be a serious problem for the bees.
I have also found that the different colonies consume the Neopol at different rates, probably partly dependent on how much winter stores they had remaining and also how early the Queen started to lay eggs! The aim is that the bees have enough stores / pollen to survive until the first Spring flowers (Pollen / Nectar sources) are out in enough numbers that the bees can provide for themselves.
It is always a balancing act as the weather plays a big part in both how fast the winter stores are eaten and when the first flowers will be out!
2012 has yet again provided a strange start, Weather wise, to the beekeeping season!
Not only did we not have a very cold / harsh winter but we have had a very warm (10 degs celcius higher than average) March!
The crocuses were up and flowering in the second week of March and bees were starting to become increasingly more active but it was still far too early to disturb the bees with any kind of inspection!
Visual checks of what is happening at the hive entrance and ‘hefting’ the hive (estimating it’s weight by gently lifting one side of the hive just off the ground) are all that are required to have an idea of what is going on inside.
At this point I will mention advantages / dis-advantages of the Poly hives that I bought last year.
The advantage is that you can gently remove the roof and look through the plastic cover to see what is happening inside the hive.
This is a big bonus at times, the downside is that to feed them the Neopol I had to disturb them very briefly by swapping the plastic cover for a wooden crownboard that had a feeding hole in it!
Having managed to resist the temptation to carry out a proper inspection during the early part of March and being very happy with seeing bees flying from and returning to each hive entrance I was planning on waiting till Easter before opening the hives for the first full inspection.
I said planning as again the exceptionally warm weather has had some other effects!
Whilst walking the dog through the fields 3 weeks ago I noticed that some of the fields had some yellow flowers appearing. I hadn’t realised that these fields were Oil Seed Rape (OSR) crops!
To be honest I didn’t know what young OSR plants looked like until I saw a piece on Country File.
Although the plants flowering were still just a very small percentage it reminded me again what power the weather has to change the order of things!
So after being away on business for a week and seeing that the temperature had shot through the roof (during the daytime) for most of that week I decided that I would have to inspect the hives last week.
The 2 colonies in my Polyhives were both really strong with 7-8 frames of brood in all stages already! They were also storing fresh nectar in frames which was starting to reduce the amount of space available for the queen to lay eggs so I had no choice but to add a queen excluder and super on both hives!
As for my wooden National hives, they too have a strong buildup. Not as far advanced as the colonies in the Polyhives but they ranged from 4-7 frames of brood and more importantly a lot of new fresh nectar stores.
So much so that they had glued the crownboard down to the top of the brood frames by building a filling comb with honey!
Removing the comb from both the crownboard and the tops of the brood chamber frames was a very sticky / messy job and I needed to change my disposable gloves after each hive!
I felt a little guilty considering the amount of effort the bees will have put into making both the wax comb and the honey but it was yet another sign that the colonies needed more space.
So with a forecast for a return to ‘Normal’ temperatures this week I had to decide to either add supers for space, with the chance that I was providing too much space for the bees to keep warm, or wait till the weather turns warmer again and risk the colony running out of space for the Queen to lay eggs!
I chose to add supers as the other deciding factor for me was that with each day more and more of the OSR fields (and there are a lot around my apiaries this year!) are starting to turn from green to yellow!
Only time will tell if I made the correct decision or not!
So back to my ‘weak’ 13th colony. It was the colony that I had to re-queen last year due to their aggression. It seemed to take forever before the new queen mated and started to lay eggs by which time the colony had become quite small and I really was not expecting them to make it through the winter.
However they did and have started to buildup but far behind the other colonies. I decided (probably should have already done it late last year!) to move them from a full hive into a Poly Nucleus hive to help them keep warm and hopefully build up faster.
That brings me up to date with my beekeeping. My next inspection is planned for Easter weekend (Weather dependent) when I hope to see how the colonies are managing with filling their supers!