April News from the Abbey Beekeeper

“The bee is more honoured than other animals not because she labours but because she labours for others”.  St John Chrysostom

A great feeling of anticipation fills me as the bees become more active and I prepare for the new season. I am sorting out my supers into those with comb and those needing new foundation and also getting some brood chambers ready with frames to match.

If we get some mild weather I plan to do the first inspection around St Patrick’s day. Last year I left it too late and found it very difficult to find the queen as the population had already built up.

That was all written before this glorious spell of warm, sunny weather. I did a full inspection yesterday, the 26th March and found three frames of brood in each hive and they have adequate stores and seem healthy!  I clipped and marked the one queen that needed it.

The stores will need to be watched carefully. With this weather there will be a rapid build up of the bee population and we could easily get another cold snap during which they would consume a lot of stores.


“A maxim for manipulation – provide the bees with maximum assistance with minimum interference”.

Food Stocks – there is an ongoing danger of starvation at this time of the year as food stocks may be running low. It is best to avoid feeding syrup as the bees have to expend a lot of energy reducing the moisture content. This is hard work and many bees may die in the process of trying to make honey out of syrup. It is best to use fondant. Give them a frame of granulated honey you have stored or take a frame from a strong colony! If you feed fondant you need to replace it once the bees have eaten it as it is not stored.


  1. Make sure you know what you want to achieve or why you are opening the hive. It maybe to find the queen, check for disease, etc.
  2. Check you have the equipment you need. Before heading to the hives check that you have everything you need for the manipulation.  Spare combs, a few brood frames with foundation in them.
  3. Ensure you are adequately protected. It is worth checking that you have closed all zips especially if the veil is zipped down.
  4. Light smoker – get it going well. I use wood shavings. Last year I discovered that spraying water is almost as good especially in the Spring when there may be no unsealed stores in the brood nest.  Smoke in this situation causes them to rush about the combs agitated and ready to sting instead of having their heads in cells imbibing honey. You could dribble a small cupful of sugar through the feedhole a few minutes before smoking the colony!
  5. Use cross-fire method of smoking – Smoke left and right so that smoke going in the entrance along the floor goes to the side walls and clears the bees towards the centre and away from the outside combs which will be the first you handle. The queen will also usually move to the central combs away from the smoke. If you blast the smoke straight in the entrance it will make the bees and queen move to the right of left flanks leaving the young brood temporarily uncovered and make the outside making the combs more difficult to handle.

While manipulating try to cultivate a calm, deliberate gentleness avoiding all jarring and crushing of bees – crushing a bee will set off the alarm signals  from the scent of the sting venom.

Try to establish a routine for opening a colony e.g. put each hive part in a set place etc.

RECIPE Using honey to treat Insomnia.

Honey can be used as a sedative. If falling asleep is difficult take a teaspoon of honey at your evening meal. Should sleeping problems continue try one of the following.

1. 2 teaspoons apple vinegar

2 teaspoons of honey

1 glass of water

Combine the ingredients and take 3 tablespoons at bedtime.

2. 3 teaspoons cider vinegar

12 oz honey

1 and half pints water

Combine the ingredients in a bottle and mix well. Take two teaspoons at bedtime. Repeat after one hour, if necessary.