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by Roger Chappel & Len Mutton
March is a crucial month as the colonies start to emerge from their winter slumbers. Food stocks will be very low at this time and it’s vital that beekeepers maintain a constant vigil to make sure there is always food available. Dependent on the temperature and weather conditions we think it’s a good idea to start feeding with a thin sugar solution (1:1) as this tends to stimulate the Queen to increase her egg laying frequency. It is also the time when all the old winter bees will start to die off so there may be evidence at the front of the hive of a lot of dead bees. This shouldn’t be a concern but don’t be tempted to go in to the hive yet, at least not until the temperatures increase to around 15 degrees Celsius over a consistent period. Last year we were taken by surprise because of an unusually early spring when the colonies expanded almost exponentially in a very short space of time only to be stopped in their tracks by late April/May when the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly leaving unusually large colonies (for that time of year) struggling to feed itself. In all our years of beekeeping we have never known a season when we had to feed the bees so much in summer – let’s hope we don’t get a repeat of this in 2013. Any new beekeeper would surely have been tested to the limit last year and, hopefully, it won’t have put too many of them off. If they got through that year without too many losses then they should be able to cope with most problems in future – the good news!!
During March the bees will be able to start collecting nectar and pollen from the early flowers such as daffodil, crocus, snowdrop and celandines as well as some blossom. Normally we wouldn’t recommend a full inspection but that depends on the conditions but make sure you have your equipment ready (essentially clean floors, which is the first job) in case the situation warrants it. The normal time is mid April for the first full inspection but the floors can be replaced any time from the middle of March. To summarise the jobs:
1. Keep a weekly check on the food supply
2. Feed when and where appropriate dependent on temperature.
3. Provide thin syrup where appropriate, stick to fondant or candy where the temperatures are below 10 degrees Celsius.
4. Replace floors when the daytime temperatures increase to over 12 degrees consistently.
5. Check for signs of Varroa within the colony.
6. Treat when and where applicable as soon as the required temperature rises.
7. Check all hives are weather proof and in good shape for the coming season.
8. Paint and number any hives not already done.
9. Prepare supers and extra frames for the coming season.
10. Make new hive stands positioned at knee height to eliminate back ache whilst on your inspections.
As for the other tasks we outlined last month, I think we are just about on top of these with a few things still to do and a coat of varnish required here and there. We are turning our attention to other matters now such as “Have we enough shed and storage space available”? and “What new equipment do we need before the season starts – make a list”. Another little job we’ve been putting off all winter is the OBSERVATION HIVE we put up on the Village Hall during the summer. This always is a big attraction and very much a focal point and place of curiosity for the local villagers as well as a wider audience from folk who come over to the village from Darlington just to look. We also get a lot of walkers passing through and the village Hall committee is very keen on promoting good husbandry and is anxious to be seen to be making a contribution to the well-being of our ecology and is constantly pushing green initiatives. So, in this sense we are very lucky to live in such a supportive environment and it has certainly done wonders to dispel all the ‘nasty’ rumours which often fill the air in some communities which seem to be plagued by residents – a vociferous minority always – who have this ridiculously negative view of bees and all the attendant dangers of stings, aggressive swarms and anaphylactic shock scares. If you are experiencing these kind of negative vibes in your community think seriously about installing an observation hive in a central position – it does wonders for PR. We had a lot of difficulty in the beginning finding a suitable bit of kit – they are not that easy to find and there always seems to be a snag i.e. they are either too small, too big, not user-friendly, too expensive, too cheap etc….This being the case we decided to design our own, custom built to fit the situation we had. Our first attempt, which we used last year, was OK but we did encounter a number of problems with it. It was prone to over-heat for example and required almost constant monitoring. The entrance (which was at the top of the hive) and connected to a clear plastic drain pipe to allow the bees to enter the hive at a safe distance away was unsuitable because (a) the bees had to carry their dead up to the top of the hive and this proved too much of a struggle for them (b) It tended to overheat and (c) It regularly became blocked with detritus and other material such as dead bees etc..So, we have completed a small modification and re-sighted the entrance/exit slot at te bottom of the hive – hopefully this will help the bees sort themselves out. The hive itself is situated on a west facing wall and, in the heat of the summer, does get quite a lot of sun. We feel it needs more shade and have considered re-sighting it but have decided to give it one more year in this position as it does have better exposure for the public facing the main village green. We hope to design a suitable sun-shade (that is work in progress). Inside the hive, we felt it wasn’t quite big enough and gave little scope for the colony to manouvre and expand. It does incorporate a feeder (top left corner) which is accessed through a large hole drilled in the top, covered by a sliding door. We have added a couple of ‘custom-made’ frames (top right) and, in total we now have 4 full deep frames and the 2 small ones. We have also increased the number of ventilation windows and inserted a wire mesh floor so that the bees are not walking around in detritus and varroa. This can easily be cleaned out from time to time via access points in the base of the hive. So, we have just about arrived at the design we are happy with (below) and this will be erected on our specially designed metal runners already in place on the wall of the hall. Should be interesting! If anyone is interested we can supply full specification and measurements – just send us an e-mail. If you wish we are more than happy to visit your location to advise on sighting and design etc..