|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."
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