In light of the present warm spell and above average seasonal temperature on occasions, the spring flowers are out and a lot more nectar is available to be collected. The Queen will be stimulated by the extra feeding she is receiving and in turn will lay more eggs. Remember that a large healthy colony going into winter will be stronger in the spring and when the nectar flow starts will be in a prime position to expand quickly.
On looking through my hives in the out Apiary (keeping to social distancing guidelines, which is not usually a problem once the roof is off and the bees are out) one colony was further ahead of the rest with 8 frames of nearly full out brood. The remaining frames were full of Pollen and Honey giving the Queen nowhere to lay until more capped brood hatches. I removed a couple of frames of stores and replaced with some drawn-out frames, Giving the queen more space to lay, and the super above will ensure that the bees still have enough stores if the weather changes. The removed frames will go into store ready to put into a Nuc in a few weeks time.
All of my hives now have at least one super on, as the brood boxes frames are all drawn out and I don’t need the bees kept in the brood box to draw out more.
If you are keeping bees away from home you can always put a couple of extra supers on above the crown board (with the porter bee escape holes open). The bees will not use this extra space unless it’s needed and this is just in case you are unable to get to see them. Remember a full size colony can fill a super in a matter of days on a strong nectar flow.
As I look out across the garden, 4 goldfinches are sitting happily on the feeder and a blue tit is inspecting our bird box, reminding me that nature runs on a different clock to our own. Things may have slowed down or stopped for us at the moment, but nature moves on relentlessly with one eye on the weather.
You only have to read some of the old beekeeping books and you will find references to doing tasks ‘when the currant is in flower’ or ‘when the red clover is out’ rather than on a particular date. It’s a good reminder that it’s better to do jobs ‘in time’ rather than ’on time.’
With this in mind, now is a good time to make a plan for this years beekeeping if you have not done so already. Certain events will happen. The bees will expand, the supers will go on and the bee may swarm.
Being ahead of the game in beekeeping is a pleasure: playing catch-up is a task. The bees are expanding now, and soon the Queen will be up to full laying rate. So check you equipment, make sure it is clean ready to use. (Suppliers are still fulfilling orders for home delivery and seem to have plenty of stock.) There is nothing worse than going to get a stored super out and finding it full of wax moth… believe me, I know!
When you purchased your hive it probably came with 2 supers, and in your first year, 2 supers may be enough. But in a good year with good stock you will need more. In the time it takes to remove, extract and return a super, the hive may become congested. The more space you can give your bees in late spring/early summer, the better. More space as the bees expand and undrawn foundation gives the nurse bees something to work on, and can help to delay the swarming tendency. So if you have the equipment, get it made up and ready to use. Some beekeepers like to put the foundation into the frames just before putting onto the hive so that the wax is fresh, but if you have a lot of frames to make up this become impossible. If they have been made up and waiting around for a while, the surface of the wax tends to dry out: running a hairdryer quickly over the surface will bring the oils back to the surface, making it more attractive to the bees. Remember it’s the nurse bees that draw most of the wax, and they need a good supply of feed and warmth. Bees will not draw out foundation if there is not a need for it.
So with your equipment clean, frames made up ready to go have you made a plan?
- What will you do if or when the bees swarm?
- Have you got the necessary gear to catch them with?
- Do you know how to catch them?
- Have you got spare equipment to keep them in?
- Are you going to keep them?
A few minutes of forward planning now may save a great deal of effort (and panic!) later.
This is the first in a regular series of blogs by the Tutor’s on the OBKA Beginners Course.
I have 3 colonies at home tucked into the bottom corner of the garden against a drystone wall on a patio area. Taking advantage of the recent warm days and sheltered area I complete my first inspection of the year – a health check on each hive. It is still early in the year and the brood can die if they get chilled. Be prepared: make very sure you know what you are looking for (see YouTube link below) and ‘bee’ quick! The best time to check is when it’s warm enough to wear a T-shirt (15 degrees plus). The temperature is far more important than the date of this first inspection.
No1 hive. Capped brood on 4/5 frames about half of each frame, building up, plenty of stores.
No2 hive. A little ahead of no1 with more capped brood. But the queen was unmarked, so they must have superseded in the autumn (new queen is a good size and a light golden colour). I had my marking kit out ready to go: it’s much easier to find the Queen and mark her now than later on when there are more bees.
No3 hive. Well there is always one! No BIAS (brood in all stages) No Queen, but one Queen cell capped, 3 drone larvae capped and alive.
What to do? The colony is a good size, but the Queen cell is not, so even if it’s viable and managed to get mated (with not many drones about and changeable weather) it may well be replaced later, leading to a another period of slow build up. With low numbers of bees through the season honey surplus will be low.
On the next warm day I will unite hive no3 with a Queen-right colony, which will then build up quickly and start bringing in a surplus. I can then split it later in the season when queen rearing is more viable. At the moment it’s important to make sure the bees have enough stores.
Useful Videos: Have a look at
First inspection by the Norfolk Honey Company: https://youtu.be/Ryki5pjawHA
Uniting two colonies: https://youtu.be/9c2q9CsarRg
If you have any questions resulting from this blog, or indeed just any beekeeping questions, head over to our Q&A page in the members area.