Here we go yet again with an extraordinary mix of weather for January, which should be very cold and still. But what do we get, the most torrential rain which led to extensive flooding hence the ‘header picture’ of one of the membership who then had to move their hives to higher ground. All survived.
Then we had winds recorded as Gales or near Tornadoes blowing many trees over and large boughs off trees, causing total havoc in some Apiaries even if the hives were well strapped down.
Then at the end of the month it all dries out, winds drop and we get temperatures of 15 degrees plus which means colonies are breeding and getting out to collect water and pollen!
The Snowdrops and Crocus are up already with bees forcing their way into flowers (very early) to collect pollen ready to feed the developing bees and the colony as a whole.
This means we need to ensure the bees have plenty of stores as the breeding cycle starts to pick up early, as the older winter bees start to die off and the dwindling numbers in the cluster struggle to survive.
I start to check my Varroa slides to see what evidence I can see of activity in the hive. If I can see dark coloured crumbs then the Queen is breeding well and this debris is the capping from hatching new 2024 worker bees.
As you can see each collection of floor debris is different and sometimes you need a hand held magnifying glass to see what is actually on the board, wood lice included.
Time to take off the Chicken Wire for a moment, take off the roof and then pick up the back floor of the hive to see if they have sufficient weight (Hefting) to survive the next difficult weeks as breeding really kicks in, burning away the food supplies, and there are few worker bees left to forage .
If in any doubt, veil on, smoker lit, take off the crown board, find the cluster and put a lump of Fondant on top of the centre of the cluster.
The reason that we do this is that if it really turns cold bees will not be able to leave the cluster, in which the centre contains brood, to move around the hive to find any surplus stores.
Do not put it on top of the crown board and hope the bees can get to it unless you can see the cluster directly under one of the holes in the crown board.
Isolation starvation can easily be avoided.
Some experts will say to feed Pollen Patties next month to give the bees a boost, but I would normally only do this if the weather is really (unusually ) cold preventing them from foraging locally.
If we give them too much food too soon this encourages Queens to increase their laying with consequences of early swarms and excess store consumption.
This keeping bees is not an exact science and is so weather dependant.
It has been so warm hedgehogs and butterflies are out early and I suspect will have to return to hibernation.
Next Month: Weather dependent preparations for the spring; Check out the Sales.