We are due some sporty weather over the net few days due to Storm Brendan passing through, and there is no sign yet of any spring forage, although I did notice the hazel catkins in the field opposite me, and the gorse shrubs – even though they are few and far between in my area – are still delivering with their yellow, sun lotion-scented flowers as they always do.
There was quite a lot of activity from my largest hive which has been quiet on my previous visits, so shows the value of visiting colonies at different times of the day. They have a Happy Keeper floor, so I can’t check for varroa or activity. They were really quite grumpy last year but they do produce a lot of honey, and I haven’t insulated them at all.
They have propolised the entrance to seal it up in places, so my efforts to put in some sort of block have been pushed out rather than cemented in. I will be interested to see how they do this year as they are always quite busy but didn’t swarm last year.
I checked the National Trust Oak Tree bees: as before, there is evidence of a rodent eating cherry stones on the floor:
Lots of rubbish on the board, and I saw a bee or two enter and leave the hive. There are a few varroa but not a significant amount.
The next hive I checked is the WBC with last year’s swarm from a friend and fellow treatment-free beekeeper. Not much by way of foragers at the entrance with this colony, but the board shows they are still active:
Again, a few varroa sprinkled around the edges, with general frass as you’d expect. This is about 2 week’s worth of detritus.
Board 3: this is from the small WBC. They kept on building up over the crownboard instead of back through the frames so I turned the brood box around to try and encourage them to build forward. They are still tucked up at the back of the hive! Conventional wisdom states that bees prefer to build down rather than up, and giving them space above the nest (as we do when we super) causes the bees to fill it out of discomfort at that emptiness above them rather than because it’s what they’d naturally do.
I fed them some cappings over the front hole in the crownboard, and this is why there is pale dust to the right of the photo, and the brood is located in the bottom left. There are quite a few mites on the board here.
This desire to build down rather than up is where nadiring with Warré hives is apparently preferable, as you give the bees space underneath their currently-occupied box. I’m not sure about this as having seen quite a few wall/roof colonies, they seem to wheedle there way in to spaces and attach their comb to the top, whatever the space.
Excuse the tiny photo, but this picture is from 2012, and I can’t enlarge it! These combs are a colony from the church roof in my village here in East Sussex, and it was my first proper bee rescue. Post to follow on that little adventure. They had moved around within the roof space, and there was old comb in other areas where they had migrated through to fresh ground. The space is only about 3″ deep. I am not sure how one can tell what bees “prefer” as they are hugely adaptable – and consequently, exploitable – and I have seen many colonies behind wall or roof tiles (see Squash Court Bees). I think the thermal properties of the cavity are more important than the shape.
The last board is from a colony I’ve been housing over the winter before they relocate back to their original home, subject to better behaviour. They were also flying, and have a central, circular broodnest judging by the board. I haven’t checked the board on this one for about a month, hence the whitish deposits where the frass has gone a bit manky. These are really hygienic bees, and ditched all their wing-deformed drone brood and chucked it outside the hive. I collected many many bodies and watched the caretaker bees drag them out. They are quite antisocial bees (they are situated in the Naughty Corner of the apiary) and I often think there is a link between bees which are clearly run a very tight ship and don’t take any mess or interference from beekeepers, and bees who are similarly vigilant about interference from parasites such as varroa.
We should start seeing some foraging soon when the snowdrops, willow,in and crocus finally emerge. Keeping an eye out on what the plants are doing is vital as an observational beekeeper.
I will be running a few spring beekeeping workshops in the next couple of months (see Courses tab above) and remember that if you have attended 4 of my courses, any subsequent bookings are half price.