April brings you the start of the active Beekeeping season and it is always a pleasure on a warm afternoon to open the hive find the calm and happy colony that is breeding well. They should be really busy on those warm days once the early morning frost have passed. They will be collecting pollen from the multitude of flowering plants and trees which are bursting into bloom. We have a couple of large Cherry trees near to the hives and when they are in full bloom and it is warm enough for the bees to fly the sight, sound and smell is a wonder to behold.
Those of you who try to plant your garden with flowers for the bees and other insects it is a good time to prepare ‘Wild Meadow plots’ or Patio pots. Many of us will have collected packets of “Free” seeds as we visit shows or scan the Internet. It is good to see all garden centres these days have a good selection of plants especially flowering herbs which the Bees will love later in the season.
There is a lot of Oil seed Rape in flower at the present time but although the bees will work it for the pollen don’t expect a Flow of Nectar from this early flowering variety to fill your supers, the bees are not strong enough colony strength wise and the seed will have set before it becomes warm enough for a good Nectar Flow to become established. If we do get decent weather and the Nectar flows beware that you give them plenty of space or you will encourage them to send out early swarms!
That’s the easy bit over now we need to look at what the Bees are doing in your hive at present and more importantly what they are planning to do. I can assure you they will have very different plans to yours. As the colony comes out of the winter into Spring the Queen will start to increase her laying capacity and will only be limited by the size of the colony at this time and the available food. It is always a good sign when you see pollen pouring in that front entrance.
The decisions you make this month will decide whether you or the “Association swarm recovery service” will be chasing swarms and casts all over South Warwickshire and beyond. If you leave a strong colony in a single brood chamber I can pretty much guarantee they will swarm in early May losing your honey crop and causing a little local disruption with the Neighbours as they leave. Advice on what to do to prevent this is to prepare and have that spare equipment ready next month. I will discuss what you do if you find Queen cells but whatever method you use you can be assured you will need more kit made and ready to go.
When you do your first Spring inspections have a plan in mind and start to keep a record card or book (stored in a plastic bag on top of the crown board) of what you find and what appears to be happening in the hive. I always start with my wheelbarrow full of a spare sterilised equipment which I have sorted out over the winter( ideal I know but I nearly always run out eventually) a blow torch and an empty cardboard box scrounged from the local Supermarket big enough to tip rubbish into from floor slides or solid floors if you still use these.
At the first hive they get a clean floor and crown board and the roof especially the air vents gets a once over with the blow torch. A quick inspection to see that you have a good laying Queen with plenty of brood. As the numbers of workers in the hive will still be low, it is a good time to catch and mark the Queen if not already completed last season. If any ropey (technical term for black horrible combs) brood frames were moved to the outside of the brood chamber last season now is the time to remove them and replace them with new drawn frames of Foundation. Never put the foundation between the brood (it still gets cold at night) or as an outside frame as they have difficulty producing enough heat there to produce wax and draw out the Foundation. It can be a good idea to have a little insulation above the crown board at this time of the year.Carpet cut to fit works well. I was always taught to plan ahead and use a brood chamber, in the spring, full of Foundation as a super on the strongest hive in the Apiary then once spring Honey extracted I have plenty of new brood combs to use elsewhere in the season ahead.
Before you check the second hive in the Apiary, record what you have done and blow torch the first hives removed items to sterilise them ready for replacing on the second. Those of us who feed Fondant in the Autumn will have left Queen Excluders on all winter and I try not to swop those between hives to prevent the spread of diseases but scrape them clean (rubbish into my cardboard box) and replace them back onto the original hives with a super or two on top depending on the strength of the colony. If you have a weak hive there is no point in putting a super on top just more cold air they have to keep warm regular inspections will tell you when one is needed. If you find a weak colony with a failing Queen or brown defecation inside or outside the hive you may have to make the difficult decision to kill the Queen and destroy or sterilise the brood comb and hive.
The bees can get a disease, which some are more susceptibility to than others, which causes them to get their version of ‘diarrhoea’ soiling the inside and outside of the hives. This is called Nosema and although the scientist are researching, there is currently no known cure and more aggressive strains as still being discovered. They only way the bees have of clearing up the mess is by licking infected combs which of course spreads the disease and the cycle continues. You should blow torch any affected hive parts and sterilise combs with Acetic Acid or if a bad infection just burn the combs and frames. If you have a strong colony with this disease a complete comb change is the best way forward and I find the “Bailey Comb change method” which Kevin will be demonstrating at the Association Apiary this spring is the best way forward.
I leave Woodpecker protection in place until the end of the month when I will remove and try to roll up the Rabbit wire into one big role and store ready for the winter. I’m often asked what I do with those old dry lumps of Fondant the bees have not eaten over the winter, well it all goes in an old honey bucket so vermin do not get to it and then I add water and it soon returns to a sugar syrup which gets fed back to the bees as the season goes on.
The Varroa mite numbers will of course increase as the colony expands so you may want to put a super frame into the brood chamber next to the expanding brood cluster next to that one full of stored spring Pollen .
The bees will draw it out and build drone comb in the gap under the super frame the Varroa mite prefers to lay in Drone cells just before they are sealed to pupate. Once the cells are sealed you can cut off the drone comb and burn it or freeze it (Plastic bag recommended or there will be domestic consequences). After a couple of days I feed mine to the chickens they love the treat. I do this once early in the season as after that I need good strong drones for mating with the Queens I have selected to breed but that tale will wait until next moth.
Enjoy these first few weeks of Beekeeping before it goes into overdrive.
— Updated on 10th April 2017
Just to prove me wrong, Bees found to be working the nearby fields of Oilseed Rape and building wild comb in their Eke. Ensure you get a quick inspection of your hives whilst the weather is warm and put supers on where needed. Get your spare kit sorted ready for some early swarms if season continues as it is at present.