March Notes from the Abbey Bee Keeper

I feel a great sense of anticipation as the bees become more and more active. They are out flying at any chance they get and I see flecks of pollen on some of their legs. What is interesting, is that the bees in the three polystyrene hives I got last autumn are out flying earlier than those living in wooden hives! I don’t know if this is to do with the quality of the hives or the quality of the bees! But the difference in activity levels is pronounced.

In the last two days I broke one of my cardinal rules not to open hives until April at the earliest.  I asked myself why not? Two years ago I met a beekeeper who does his first inspection on or near St Patrick’s day. I must seek further advice. I was looking at treating for varroa with oxalic acid and this requires that one open hives in December or January when there is no brood.

I found it useful just to check inside the crown board to see the bees were active and had plenty stores. I was partly prompted to do this by watching a u tube clip on a beekeeper examining his hives at 40 degrees in the US – too cold I thought but his bees seemed none the worse for it. The big plus was that he moved food close to where the bees were clustered. There is always a danger of bees dying because they are clustered at the other side of the brood box – this is known, not surprisingly as isolation starvation. It is more common if you organize your frames the ‘warm way’. .

Brood rearing should be in full swing, and the bees now need access to fresh or stored pollen and honey stores. Pollenwill be coming in from the early sources such as crocus, willow, hazel and gorse. The importance of pollen issometimes not recognized. Bees cannot rear brood without pollen. If the weather is cold and foraging restricted, colonydevelopment will be curtailed, no matter how plentiful their stores of honey.

If you wintered your bees on a single brood chamber there is a possibility that their food stocks may be getting low. If food stocks are low you can feed them fondant. If feeding syrup (not advised) use a contact feeder. Miller or Ashforth feeders are unsuitable for early feeding because as the bees will not go up over the cold ‘weir’ to reach the syrup.

Feeding at this time can be used for ‘spring stimulation’. This is an attempt to get colonies to build up quickly to take advantage of the early flow. I don’t do it and instead try to leave colonies with ample stores for the winter. Weak colonies with adequate stores should not be fed. All that will happen in this case is the queen will be encouraged to lay in the periphery of the cluster and if a period of cold weather follows, the cluster will contract, leaving these eggs to become chilled and ‘bee energy’ will have been expended in vain. Feeding liquid syrup also causes bees to fly during inclement weather, leading to a further loss of field bees.

Bee life is extremely precious at this time of year as we try to build up our colonies to be ready for the early honey flow. Weak colonies can be united but not until you have established why they are weak, as there is a danger of spreading disease. If the queen is thought to be at fault she is certainly not worth saving.

Any hive where the bees have died should be removed. Thankfully mine all seem to have survived the winter. Theinside of the hive and the top and bottom bars of the frames should be scraped clean of brace comb and any inferior combs cut out of their frames and stored in a sealed container, to avoid the attention of wax moths, until they can be rendered into blocks of wax. Actually I dispose of my inferior brood combs by burning. Thus getting rid of diseases.Very little wax is obtained from old brood combs in any case.   Happy Bee Keeping!