January Notes from the Abbey Beekeeper

Humans share 60% of their DNA with honey bees, 99% with apes and 25% with bananas!

I began writing this when the weather was benign. Since then is has been blowing a gale but still mild and the bees are out on regular cleansing flights.

Last year will be remembered for its extreme weather conditions. We are getting extremes again this year but the extremes are different!

It is lovely to see the snow drops out and crocuses will appear soon.

I have noticed that the birds, especially the robins, are making their presence felt with their strident note as they lay claim to territory and warn others to keep their distance. I have a pair of robins who are regularly around the bee house looking for scraps.

For the most part the hives are silent. This said the colonies are not asleep. They come close to being dormant but never quite hibernate.

At this time the cluster is hanging motionless over five or six frames. The cluster is tightest at the outside and this helps to retain the heat generated by their less densely packed sisters within. Food and energy consumption is at its lowest and consequently little oxygen is needed.

Depending on the weather, the cluster begins to stir in late January or early February. Some workers will eat honey and pollen producing a creamy food from glands in their heads. The queen will have her rations increased until she has enough surplus nutrients to produce a few eggs which she lays in the centre of the cluster.

The workers have to increase the temperature of the brood area to 96F and do so by consuming more and more honey. The broodless cluster temperature is normally about 57F.

February is a good time to check your equipment and make up frames but do not refit foundation yet as it will become stale and brittle.

It is also a good moment time to prepare a new hive record book. There are different ways of doing this – some people keep them in a small loose-leaf folder which can be carried in a pocket of my bee suit.

A page is allotted to each colony, in which is recorded: year, colony number, year in which the queen was born, strain, if the queen is marked and clipped, record of manipulations, disease record (e.g. chalk brood), feeding record.

Other people keep their notes pinned underneath the roof of their hives. If you have a lot of hives, in different apiaries, it is useful to refer to the record book at home before visiting the apiaries to plan what is to be done and what equipment maybe needed.

It is a useful tip to leave queen excluders out overnight in the frost and bang them together – this helps to remove brace comb

Another useful tip is to remove the roof before you heft it checking for food supplies. If it feels light you will need to give them fondant placing it in its plastic over the feed hole.