|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.