|Posted on 12 October, 2021 at 20:00|
SBA WAX WORKSHOP
5th March 2016 at Thornes of Newburgh
A one day course on candle making, wax moulding and foundation moulding/wiring will be held at
E.H.Thorne (Beehives) Ltd at Newburgh (KY14 6HA) on Saturday 5th
March 2016 from 10-00 am to 4-00pm.
Course tutors will be: Enid Brown, Ian Craig, David & Bron Wright & Phil & Joyce McAnespie, Cynthia
& Alan Riach.
Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided but bring a packed lunch and mug.
If you wish to attend the workshop the price is £25 for SBA members & £35 for non-members.
Send an application form and the fee (cheque made out to the SBA) to Alan Riach , Woodgate, 7 Newland
Ave. Bathgate, EH48 1EE
|Posted on 15 February, 2017 at 13:15|
In our January, we had mini-workshop from Lindsay Baillie (Ayr Beekeepers) on making soap, balms & other products of the hive. A great evening was had by all.
|Posted on 9 January, 2017 at 6:10|
North Ayrshire Beekeepers Association
Austen’s Monthly Notes – January
Today, Sunday 8th January, has dawned with ridiculously warm temperatures for the month of January, which I fully intend to take advantage of to apply my second fumigated dose of Oxalic Acid to all of my colonies. Hopefully this action will remove virtually all of the phoretic Varroa mites which may remain from their previous treatment in December.
However readers should be aware of the cold northerly winds forecast for later this week. These will probably bring a couple of overnight frosts and then conditions may revert to ‘normal’, however ask yourself what action you might take if any of the Siberian air (intimated at minus 43 Celcius on the BBC forecast) were to come our way? Bee colonies can stand quite intense cold for short periods, provided they are of reasonable size, however prolonged cold may render them unable to move to food stores which are in close proximity and the entire colony may die from ‘isolation starvation’.
One solution is insulation, either in the form of polystyrene hives or similar material or old wooly jumpers etc located above the colony’s crown board or even better directly on top of the frames. Another more drastic solution may be to apply ventilated screens and move the colony into a garage or other outhouse, which even if ‘cold’ to the human senses, will effectively offer double walled protection to the bees, somewhat like the continental bee house.
If you have smaller Nucleus sized stocks from last summer, then placing them into poly nuc boxes may offer them a better chance of survival than being housed in poorly insulated wooden boxes, however if you should chose this action it is essential to minimise exposure to external temperatures for as short a period as possible. I would aim to pick up at least 2 frames at a time and quickly relocate them in their previous order into their new living quarters, ensuring that adequate store frames are included in the move.
With the odd exception we have had a very mild winter so far and therefore more active colonies will have consumed more stores. I even managed to witness a small group of bees at the hive front door on Christmas day. Therefore all colonies should be ‘hefted’ regularly over subsequent months….. That is gently lifted from the rear to assess the weight of the hive. Another sign that colonies may be becoming short of stores is seeing the bees clustered high up on the frames beneath the cover board. However be careful to look down between the unoccupied frames to see how many frames of sealed stores are present. Sometimes the bees just locate to the warmest part of the hive (top) and leave adequate stores in the bottom box, which might require the beekeeper to undertake a rearrangement later in the spring.
You may have some colonies which have a super abundance of stores and it may be an option for the beekeeper to ‘pinch’ a frame from one colony (with minimal disturbance) and add it to a neighbour in need. Some odd adhering bees will not be of consequence at this time of year but just be careful that the queen is not included in the process!
December 21st was the shortest day and now being almost 3 weeks into the Celestial New Year, there is a perceptible small increase in day length, although you could be forgiven for not having noticed this. The Queens in our hives will by now have registered this increase and will soon start to start or increase their egg laying to produce the new workers for the forthcoming season. More baby bees require more food, therefore store will diminish at an increasingly alarming rate over subsequent months, so beware of this and apply supplements if required. Lack of stores will inhibit colony brood rearing (and ultimately cause starvation) but the astute beekeepers who fed their colonies generously in the autumn will be able to sleep comfortably at night and not require to scramble about during the daytime trying to save their bees with applied cakes of candy and fondant. Note that bees will be reluctant to take liquid feed before the month of March partly due to temperature but also, for them, what to do with all the water which is contained therein. If they can’t fly to get rid of it and evaporation is difficult then it may result in scouring on the combs, which spreads disease and is any event undesirable.
Another aspect to consider is that a colony with massive stores of syrup will not rear brood if there is no pollen (protein) available to it. I formerly had a ‘made up’ colony in Sweden which was well fed in autumn onto foundation but could not collect any pollen until April when the cold relented, and had absolutely no brood when inspected at the end of March. As soon as the pollen came in the brood rearing started.
In some situations the beekeeper might consider adding pollen patties to help stimulate brood rearing, however I have tried this with questionable results as most of my colonies are able to fly a short distance to gorse bushes, which flower early and produce both nectar and pollen quite early in the season. In any event the bees should have stored considerable quantities of pollen along with their honey/ syrup in the autumn when, as you will recall we had some very mild and good flying weather!
It may seem like a long time till May when the first major nectar sources (Sycamore then Hawthorn) become available to the bees but time passes quickly and all of your equipment which requires replacement foundation or construction from new ought to be attended to now before panic sets in as you scramble about for supers then.
Anyhow, may I wish all of your bee colonies and their owners a prosperous 2017.
|Posted on 28 November, 2016 at 14:10|
Austen’s November Notes
I was tempted to write this month’s notes in very large type; just to fill the page, because as you will probably have realised, there is now a considerable diminution of observable bee activity. The ‘warm’ time interval during the day during which bees can profitably fly has all but shrunk to zero as the daylength has declined. That’s not to say that there will be no flying as on a sunny day in winter the bees will attempt short ‘cleansing flights’ to relieve the build-up of faecal material in their bowels. Those who chose to hang out washing beware!, as it may end up with ‘spots’ on it. We will all be hoping that the ‘spots’ are of semi dry material as wet splatters might indicate a problem of dysentery within the offending colony.
This condition may be the result of the bees consuming fermented stores or more worryingly that the colony has a build- up of Nosema. If it’s Nosema, then there isn’t much which the beekeeper can immediately do, other than hope that the colony makes it into spring when the most seriously affected bees have the opportunity to fly out and possibly never return, taking their infection with them. However inevitably they will have left deposits of infective material behind them splattered across the combs and which subsequent generations will require to clean up; with equally disastrous consequences. In this event, the best option for the beekeeper is to remove these combs in the early summer and sterilise them with full strength Acetic Acid or Formic Acid when warmer days return. There is no longer any medication approved for the treatment of Nosema and the former Fumadil B had questionable efficacy.
As for the uncapped stores, well the beekeeper will require to reflect whether they ought to have been feeding earlier and whether the colonies being taken into the winter were sufficiently strong to deal with a large volume of liquid feeding. - The consequences of earlier summer failures will still be reflected at this time of year and probably into the following year.
I have two colonies which were set up with new virgin queens and which failed to become mated in the poor conditions during July and subsequently became drone layers. They were replaced with mated queens and the offending colonies given some brood frames (pinched from their neighbours) however these colonies are still noticeably smaller than their peers and my consideration is that they might be better off by being transferred into poly nuc boxes once their winter cluster has been formed. I always try to do this task quickly and lift more than one frame at a time to reduce the inevitable chilling effect. Standing in the snow in mid- winter looking for the queen (as some beginners might be tempted to do) is not likely to promote colony survival !! In the unlikely event that there happens not to be a queen then there is nothing which the beekeeper can do about it, so you just require to let fate take its course.!
Whilst we may not be able to observe much hive entrance activity, there is still a great deal going on unseen within the colony. New brood will still be hatching out and the queen will still be laying some eggs, even if in ever decreasing circles (queens usually lay in circles) and of course the bees are now consuming some of their winter stores as they both feed the brood and themselves. This they do frugally and minimise their metabolism until brood rearing begins with a vengeance in January, at which time food consumption rises dramatically and heat from the new brood may be detected at the crown board of the hive. So when you look at a blank hive entrance, you require to build up your own mental picture and imagine what is actually going on inside.
If your bees have been well fed they should have sufficient stores to see them through to the next active season and save the beekeeper the added effort of making up candy cakes or cutting up slabs of fondant to supplement a dwindling food store.
For those who still have entrances of greater than 5/16th width, a reminder that the mice will move inside you hive for a cosy and destructive winter, especially as these chilly days set in and colony vigour decreases. Beware, as they may already be there!. The noticeable result will be larger crumbs of wax comb debris on the floor and at the entrance and perhaps small black mouse faecal pellets on top of the frames. And for those in doubt, won’t hurt the bees too much to have a good peek inside to ensure that no mice are present. Don’t haul the hive apart frame by frame, but you can peer through between the frames in each box to look for them. Usually mice will scuttle out quickly with the disturbance but if they have decided on your hive as their winter home then they will come back tenaciously and may even try to chew their way back in.
Whilst active beekeeping will require you to wait for lengthening days, there is still much which the beekeeper can be doing in preparation for the forthcoming season. There are frames to make up and fill with foundation, new boxes, floors, roofs etc to construct and other equipment to wash or clean out ready for 2017. That should include the bee suit which if dumped in a corner of the bee shed in soiled condition will inevitably become contaminated with mildew due to damp winter air.
We can all indulge in a bit of education too by attending monthly Association talks, reading The Scottish Beekeeper or other books and literature to widen our knowledge. Even the most experienced beekeepers learn something new each year, and of course the bees never seem to have read the books themselves!
None of us know what the winter weather might bring to us. Recent winters have been relatively mild and with the old adage of “ As the days lengthen, the cauld strengthens!” we can expect the coldest months to be at the start of 2017. Those of you with poly hives need not fear, however the owners of wooden single walled hives might have a little concern IF we a have prolonged period of very cold weather which can lead to isolation starvation amidst plenty as the bees are unable to make the necessary transition to new store combs. By cold, I mean very cold, with significantly sub- zero temperatures. Most strong colonies will be OK but there is always the option to shift weaker colonies into a shed or garage where they will have no wind chill effect and are then effectively in a double walled situation, much like the continental ‘bee house’. Of course to do this you require to install ventilated entrance closures and strap the boxes together. However I am now getting a little ahead of myself and the season so that is just a parting thought which hopefully does not materialise and all of your colonies make it to spring in tip top condition.
|Posted on 18 September, 2016 at 15:25|
Austen’s September Notes
To some beekeepers we are now at the start of the’ bee year’ with today’s hatching brood being the bees which will hopefully take the colony into next spring. Therefore it is important to have colonies which currently have young and vigorous queens and have several frames of brood. Old bees will die off before Christmas and it’s the current batch of young ones which will determine whether the colony survives whatever the winter might throw at us.
The heather blooms are now almost over and our only main sources of nectar and pollen are the Balsam and shortly Ivy. The weather has been kinder this August than in some previous years and those of you in close proximity to a Heather moor may have obtained some surplus honey from this source. Certainly, the colonies have had stimulation to rear brood and perhaps the autumn sugar bill may be less if some heather honey is now in the brood box.
So tasks for this month must be Varroa control, if you have not started already, and adequate provision of winter stores. I will not dwell on the various methods of Varroa controI as there are many articles available via internet etc. However if anyone need some advice then I will be pleased to offer that.
I winter my strong colonies on double brood boxes but will concede to use single boxes for smaller units, BUT if the colony is too small it is unlikely to have sufficient ‘energy’ to survive the winter. Last winter I had some positive results by overwintering small units in Polystyrene Nuc Boxes. These colonies would, in my opinion, not otherwise have survived.
Your other alternative with small colonies is to unite two into one and this is commonly accomplished by using the newspaper method. The objective being that by the time the bees have chewed through and cleared the mess of newspaper pulp, they have become good friends.
I will feed my colonies a minimum of 15kg of sugar as a ‘heavy’ (2 lbs to a pint) syrup via rapid feeders; always dependent on the quantity of stores already ‘in house’. Some try to skimp and economise on sugar at this time of year and then find that they are faced with making up ‘emergency’ candy or fondant cakes later in the winter as their bees start to face starvation. In my opinion this is a whole lot of unnecessary work which is avoided by adequate autumn feeding. You can sleep with confidence at night and be sure that the bees are doing so too.
Now here are two little warnings for the novices and more established beekeepers alike.
WASPS: Now is the time to reduce the hive entrances to a minimum (say 2 inches) to prevent the raiding wasps from gaining entry. They especially target the small colonies, which are unable to defend a wider entrance adequately. It’s not only wasps which rob. Other bees will try to steal stores form the very weak, vulnerable and queenless. I know of several instances already this autumn where Nuc sized units have been cleaned out, mainly by wasps.
Robbing may be started by the careless beekeeper spilling small quantities of syrup in the apiary, so be careful when feeding. If unusually high levels of activity are observed at a colony entrance, the question must be asked, Why? Young bees learning to fly will buzz around calmly in ever increasing circles going out from the entrance. Contrast that to the flight of the robber which darts about back and forth making quick stabbing flights towards the entrance. You may also observe defending bees fighting with the robbers at the front door. There are two options open to the beekeeper in these instances.
1. Reduce the colony entrance to one bee space only if the robbing has not reached epidemic proportions.
2. Simply close the entrance completely with robbers and natives alike inside and remove the hive to a new location beyond reasonable flying distance of the old site. The robbers then become part of the colony and you should leave well alone for a few days before inspecting to ensure that the colony is queen right and thereafter applying feeding to boost them for the winter.
The second warning concerns unmated queens. The July weather was so changeable that there were few if any suitable days for queens to fly and become mated. I have experienced three drone layers resulting from supercedure queens which failed to get mated and I know that others have had similar experience. Even recently some colonies will have reared new queens. I saw one recently vacated queen cell today and was fortunate to be able to spot the ‘culprit’. Unless we have at least one warm clear still day then any current virgin queens will fail to become mated and turn into drone layers.
Therefore, whilst the weekly inspection routine is over for this season, it is still important to have a one last quick look. If a colony has no eggs or very young brood then questions require to be asked. Why? A good hint for the beekeeper that all is not well is the observation that the winter feed is not being taken down rapidly when compared to contemporary colonies. Queenless or drone laying colonies are always sluggish in their approach and lack the vigour of a queenright neighbour.
Any colony without a laying queen now would be best united with a smaller queen- right neighbour but it is wise to inspect carefully before doing so as there may be a virgin present. Often the behaviour of the bees will tell you much about the colony’s status. Bees which are thinly spread across the combs and buzz across the frames in an agitated manner are likely to have no queen, however if they are calm and look to have an ‘organised’ demeanour then suspect that some sort of queen is present.
As stated in last month’s article, the earlier the bees are fed, the better they come through the winter, in my experience. And certainly after the end of October they will often refuse to take down further liquid feed so it is imperative not to delay further.
With some luck and some wise work, your bees will hopefully all survive into 2017.
|Posted on 20 July, 2016 at 4:55|
I’m sorry we are now well into July and I have not produced these earlier. The observant amongst you will realise that despite the long evenings that we are now heading back to winter and have had our annual ration of 2 weeks of warmer sunny weather. Doom and Gloom? Maybe we should be looking forward to the second half of summer being blessed by large crops of honey, but so far the weather pattern has been very similar to that of 2015, with the exception that our winds have often been more northerly this year, rather than the north westerlies of early summer last year. And oddly enough this results in drier clearer conditions in our part of the country as the moisture is deposited ‘up country’.
There also have been a fair number of swarms reported with telephone calls to both our secretary and self about ‘swarms’, many of which turn out to be solitary ‘miner’ or ‘masonary’ bees or wasps or bumbles upon further interrogation of the caller. At least our children seem to be receiving a better education about bees in primary school which will hopefully leave them better informed in future than the previous generation.
By and large swarming should now be over however recent reports from Glasgow B K A indicate many ‘call outs’ in the last week or so. Maybe the bees have been inhibited from swarming due to inclement conditions and have taken the opportunity of the first blink of sunshine to make their move. However the need for weekly inspections should be just about past. Should you find queen cells from now on, then unless they are in large numbers, you should suspect that it’s supercedure which you are observing. This is the bees attempt to replace an aging or infirm queen with a new and vigorous one for next year. The success of this replacement policy will be very much down to our forthcoming weather (there I go again, back to weather). Surprisingly often, the virgin queens are unable to fly sufficiently often to become properly mated (if at all) and the result may be drone brood next spring as the queen runs out of sperm and is only able to lay unfertilised eggs. The colony is then doomed.
Loss of a queen can occur at any time of year but before any attempts are made to unite this dwindling band of ancient bees with another colony, it’s important to ascertain that it’s a failed queen which you are witnessing, rather than laying workers. Uniting laying workers with a good colony will almost certainly result in that colony becoming similarly ‘doomed’ as for idiotic reasons the bees will often then reject their own good queen in favour of the laying worker. It is often better with laying workers to let nature take its course and just throw the few old bees away at some considerable distance from their home site. That way the fliers can go back and join with a neighbouring colony but the layers (presumably non fliers) are left behind to perish.
In the early part of summer we witnessed many nectar sources flowering almost in unison and so the pattern seems to be repeating post mid-summer with Clover, Bramble, Willow Herb, Bell Heather and presumably Lime all out at the same time. Do the plants know something which we do not and does this perhaps prelude an early onset of winter? There is an old saying “Many Haws, Many Snaws”, however ‘snaw’ (snow) has been much lacking in recent years. I will however draw your attention to recent solar activity with zero sun spots and for the more inquisitive will let you do your own research into comment about this. Mini Ice age??
Those of you who anticipate a crop of Heather or Balsam Honey should now be reducing colonies from double brood boxes to singles to coincide with the queen’s reduction in egg production, otherwise the bees will just fill the brood boxes with winter stores and the beekeeper gets little. So cram the remainingbrood box with frames of brood and remove the combs of honey into safestorage. This can be an ideal opportunity to boost your Nucleus stocks with anysurplus brood frames. As these smaller units are not going to produce anyhoney this year, you can now start setting them up for winter with doublebrood boxes and by keeping the stimulative feeding going.
Please bear in mind the recent warnings about colony starvation, especially ifthe recent dull and wet weather continues, although I must admit to being pleasantly surprised at the vigorous flying on Saturday past when we had some very warm balmy conditions.
It’s never too early to think about winter feeding. Sugar is currently a very cheap commodity, especially from the ‘Discounters’ so it may be worthwhile to start stockpiling this in your bee shed now. I have long since been of the opinion that the earlier I fed my bees, the better they came through the winter. Last spring I think I may have discovered the reason why, having seen nucs which had taken down lots of stores BUT had obviously not had the time or energy to cap them over. The knowledgeable amongst you will realise that uncapped stores draw moisture from the atmosphere and eventually ferment.
Bees feeding on fermented stores are then often subject to dysentery. It’s not long until our monthly meetings recommence and the Executive committee are working hard to ensure that we have an interesting programme of events for the forthcoming winter.
|Posted on 8 June, 2016 at 4:30|
Austen’s June Notes
The end of May and first few day’s in June have certainly seen a change in the conditions from relatively cool weather to a bit of a heatwave (at least by Scottish standards). Nectar has been pouring in to hives from the Sycamore and Chestnut trees and next in line is the Hawthorn if it decides to be ‘co-operative’ this year. Notably the first clover flowers are now out in bloom. Clover will yield lots of delicious nectar, but only if the temperature exceeds about 20 degrees C and we have some moisture to refresh it’s roots.
It is noticeable that our cooler spring has brought many of these plants into flower at almost the same time, whereas we might have expected a bit of a stagger in their timings.
In last month’s notes I mentioned that swarming was more often associated with the ‘June gap’ – when early nectar sources had ceased and the later flowers were still to come out with declining day length. As usual the bees do not read the books and I have been informed that several of you have already experienced swarming in your colonies. It is worth remembering the factors which affect swarming in a colony. Firstly it is the bees’ only method of reproducing and forming a new unit. Swarming will be determined by the genetics of the bee strain which you keep. Some will swarm every year and others may seldom swarm. Swarmier types may produce several cast swarms: That’s with one of the hatching virgin queens.
Conditions within the colony are important too. Congestion (either insufficient space for the queen to lay in or for the bees to store incoming nectar) may promote the urge to find a new home. They say that “idle hands make mischief” and so it is with the bees, hence the propensity for June gap swarms in our area. The ratio of field bees and young bees in the colony is often associated with the swarming urge. This aspect can be exploited by the beekeeper in making an ‘artificial swarm’ (more below).
I don’t intend to re write the text books on the subject however if on your weekly colony inspections you see queen cups with larvae in them then you have the possibility that swarm preparations are underway. Later in the season (July/ August) it will almost certainly be supercedure of the old queen but a significant number of cells (say 6+) at this time almost certainly indicates the bees intention to swarm. So beginners will need to keep their eyes well ‘peeled’ during inspections. That doesn’t mean spending an eternity examining every corner of every last comb but if you see queen cell cups (which are common) have a look inside some of them. Eggs may be the prelude to cell development but they are often discarded, however taken to the larval stage then the bees will be unlikely to stop. Action will then be required by the beekeeper.
I might at this stage recall a personal experience many years ago with my bees. I went into the first colony and split the top and lower boxes to look for cells (note beginners, a good minimally disturbing technique for rapid ‘diagnosis’ Horror of horrors to see a dozen cells hanging down BUT they had all been torn open by the bees. The automatic conclusion was that the queens had long since hatched and that the bees had swarmed days ago. However further inspection showed that there were lots of bees present and that the old queen was indeed still there. That was lucky I thought. I went into the next colony and was met with the same sight and so it continued with every colony in that apiary. All had been stimulated to build cells and all had been stimulated to rip them down again and abandon the swarming urge. Why?, I still have no idea! But it is worth noting that poor weather will delay swarming or the bees may abandon the idea altogether but given a blink of midday sunshine and they will be off. Beware!
OK so back to your colony with the cells. Remember the important little rhyme, “Three, Five, Eight, and a queen can mate”. If you see all open developing queen cells then there is no need for panic as the bees seldom swarm until they are sealed and you can temporally close up the hive if you don’t have the necessary equipment to hand. Bees normally swarm when the new queens are within a couple of days of hatching if the weather conditions are right.
So after the foregoing ramble, what are you going to do to prevent the swarm escaping? Firstly, don’t panic and think with a clear head.
Form a plan of action from the desired outcome (eg do you want more colonies).The simplest technique is to make an artificial swarm. Now, to hark back to the springtime (when of course you remembered to mark your queens??), you now need to find her.
Place the frame with the queen into a fresh box on the old site. Fill up that box with frames of stores (no bees) and/or empty combs. Take all of the brood frames with queen cells and place on a new site (or sites if you want to expend numbers). Shake all of the bees from the supers into these new colonie(s) and close the box up. Return the unsealed super boxes to the original site above your excluder.
So the first thing which the foraging (flying) bees will do is to return to their former home so you have a colony of flying bees and their queen and few if any young bees . ….. so the bees now ‘feel’ that they have swarmed and will work hard to boost their ‘new’ home.
Now note that to save on equipment, you can fly your new colony out of the rear of the existing site and from above a cover board with a swivelling entrance. Once the new queen has been mated, you can either remove the old queen and unite with the top queen via the newspaper method, or take the new colony to a distant site for a week before bringing it back to the home apiary.
Now you are all bored with reading this, you can look forward to the Lime, Bramble, Raspberry, Willowherb and Heather flows later in the summer!
Austen Brown - Chair
|Posted on 17 April, 2016 at 16:00|
North Ayrshire Beekeepers Association
Austen’s April Notes
“April showers and sunny hours”, so goes the saying. Well March didn’t exactly go out like a lamb and it looks like the first days of April will be subject to considerable rainfall. The recent change to a more southerly airstream has removed the chilly edge from the air, albeit that there were some dry sunny days in March, so this month might be the time for first inspections, but only on a warm day.
Your first view should be at the hive entrance. Look for signs of activity on better days and especially the gathering of significant quantities of pollen. Don’t mistake ‘activity’ for a healthy colony. They might be ‘robber bees’ cleaning out from a deceased colony.
Keep your inspections short and take the opportunity to mark your last year’s queens (if not done already). Sometimes marks come off, so don’t automatically assume that unmarked queens are the result of supercedure. Clean dead bees and debris from the floor!
Check for adequate quantities of stores. The bees have a long time yet before meaningful foraging (honey flow) commences. If the colony does not have several frames of store combs close to the cluster (move if necessary) then you must fed a 1:1 syrup by contact feeder (as noted in last month’s notes). Stimulative feeding may help the colony to build up to foraging strength more quickly but its remarkable how the bees will take slabs of stores and turn them into brood quite rapidly. Have you spare frames of stores to offer?
Once you start to lift out the frames holding the bee cluster, take note of the quantity and quality of the brood. Is the queen laying eggs in quantity around the fringes of sealed brood? Is the brood all worker? Or are there many domed topped cells (drone) amongst the worker cells which might represent the sign of a failing queen? (colonies with unfertilised queens will by now have died out altogether)
How many frames of brood do you have? Very small colonies may not yet have managed to undertake brood rearing and will perish without urgent action. There are 2 possibilities:
1. Unite with another small colony. At this time of year bees can be readily united without fighting, albeit that they will only accept one
2. Take a frame with a small patch of capped brood from a stronger colony along with the bees which are on it (check for the queen), and after a light shake to remove flying bees, place into the weak hive one frame space away from the existing cluster (or next to it if there is existing brood). By the time that the new bees feel queenless, the existing bees will have moved to join with them in the warmer spot and the existing queen will be readily accepted.
Be cautious of trying to offer liquid feed to very small colonies as it is liable to ferment before they are able to use it.
Good sources of pollen and some nectar during this month will be Gorse (Whin), Dandelion and Willow. Some heaths are still in flower. None of these will offer a ‘honey flow’, however by the end of April or early May, we should be looking forward to the Sycamore buds breaking and the first potential crop of the year for the strong colonies. Smaller colonies will use the early flow to boost brood rearing and continue build up. Keeping very small colonies on double brood boxes may be pointless as it will be time to reduce to a single in July by the time they have attained significant strength.
|Posted on 14 March, 2016 at 15:50|
From our Association Chair, Austen Brown..
"We have recently had some sunny days, and whilst it has felt very pleasant in
the sunshine, the air temperature has not been so warm. So the first tip is not
to take out frames and go into the bee ‘cluster’ unless you absolutely have to.
Doing so may well result in the queen being rejected by the bees and the
colony being seriously set back if not dying completely.
It’s better to wait until late March or April for a couple of really warm days
before attempting any detailed inspection. At this stage it’s a good idea to
mark the queen (if required) and assess her brood. More on that next month
However that said, there is every good reason why you should be lifting up the
cover board and having a good peek down between the fames. So what are
you going to look for?:
1. Is the colony alive and how many frames of bees are there.
2. Can you see reasonable quantities of sealed stores on the frames.
If you fed heavily in the autumn, the bees may still be well down between the
fames. Having them at the top does not necessarily indicate a lack of stores,
but it might do, so check carefully. Heft the hive from the back to feel how
heavy it is. Light hives will require feeding because its another couple of
months until significant nectar is available and colonies without adequate
stores will be inhibited from rearing copious brood.
Feeding should now be with a light syrup (1lb to 1pt) and must be done by
contact (bucket type) feeder, and preferably placed directly on top of the
frames. Bees will not move over significant gaps to feed at this time of the
Add insulation around and over the feeder. Old jumpers, sacking and even
polythene big bale silage wrap make good thermal insulators.
You may safely briefly lift the brood box aside and inspect the floor for detritus
and dead bees. Failure of the colony to remove the dead may not indicate best
colony health or perhaps that the entrance had become blocked with dead
It’s also worth checking how much heat you can feel when placing the back of
your hand against the cover board, before removing it. Warmth from the
brood is a sign that the colony is trying to build up numbers again for the
With very small colonies there may be little or no noticeable heat and quite
often these very small units do not have the ‘physical strength’ to get brood
rearing started. They may well be doomed as the older bees die and no new
replacements are forthcoming. At present there is not much which you can do
to save them, however I have noticed that some small Nucs which I took into
the autumn without great expectations of survival, have so far been looking
well in the polystyrene Nuc boxes into which I moved them earlier in the
winter. Big colonies will get through fine in ‘cold’ wooden hives but small
colonies struggle to keep up a ‘core ‘ temperature and the bees eventually
metabolically ’burn themselves out’.
Dampness and lack of food are the bees worst enemies in winter, so try to
ensure that yours are will sited with preferably a southerly outlook to enable
them to get out for cleansing flights.
Make sure that you take note of any excremental splattering across the frame
tops. This is a sign of dysentery which may be caused by Nosema disease or by
the bees consuming uncapped ferment stores.
Final thought: I have always noticed that the earlier I fed my bees in the
autumn, the better they came through the winter. I could never offer a logical
explanation for this, however in shifting the Nucs into poly boxes in the winter
I observed that much of the lower part of the frames were full of unsealed
stores. Bees are reluctant to seal over stores which they feel that they may use
imminently and this will be especially so for smaller colonies."