April signals the start of the rape seed oil crop – the first major crop of the year. For many beekeepers this is the main source for their honey crop so we should be ready. It is essential to have enough frames ready and with fresh foundation o that as frames of honey are removed they can quickly be replaced. It is important also that new supers are added to the hive as soon as you observe that the super(s) are full of bees – try not to wait until they are full of honey as he bees need available room beyond what they are using at the moment so that they can store the nectar which can be processed later. Rape gets a lot of bad press because it is felt that it is the cause of hay-fever attacks at this time of ear but it does flower at the same time as trees such as plum, cherry, blackthorn and hawthorn which can also cause similar symptoms. It is also unfortunate that the proportions of honey sugars, sucrose and fructose in rape means that the honey granulates very rapidly – warm days in the spring together with a high nectarflow encourages the bees to move up in to the supers but cold nights force them back in to the brood box. The nectar stored can then cool before it is processed and can actually start to granulate before it is ripe. Indeed, it can be quite difficult to decide when rape honey is sufficiently ripe and therefore ready for extraction – combs may be sealed but the honey still liquid whilst exposed honey may even have started to granulate! As a rule of thumb if the honeycomb frames are shaken and nectar/honey flows out do not extract, otherwise it’s probably OK. It is certainly the case that as soon as the supers are removed it should be extracted straight away. A further snippet of information. We were chatting with one of our farming members the other day and he was explaining about the slow growth of his over wintering crops, all due to the cold wet winter and miserable spring. The land is so wet that large areas are under water making it impossible to work the land with machinery, so it is highly likely that the rape seed oil crops will be later this year. A timely reminder erhaps (if you need one) that it is essential you keep checking your bees to see if more food is required even as we go in to April!
We suggested your first job of the Spring should be to change/clean up the floors and if this hasn’t been done yet because of the cold weather we have been experiencing throughout March then that still should be the first priority in April. The second inspection should be an opportunity to assess the state of the colony – have you provided the colony with thin 1:1 sugar syrup to help stimulate the queen to lay and is she performing well? Are the eggs evenly distributed and are the grubs creamy white and not twisted or deformed? It is a good idea to consider renewing old and badly discoloured brood frames this month too – maybe 3 or 4 from the outer edges could be replaced with fresh foundation. Remember also to make a careful note of what you are seeing as it is much easier to assess the progress, expansion or deterioration of the colony if you can refer to your notes. Part of this routine should include a varroa check so that you can decide on a treatment plan. Most of the statutory medicines need a 3 – 4 week treatment schedule so this needs to be done before the nectar flow starts as most treatments do contaminate the honey.
Now for the lighter side of our jobs at the Whiley Hill Apiary around the ‘Riverbank’. One of our main concerns is the ncreasingly difficult time our local wildlife is experiencing and we like to do our bit to help where we can. Hedgehogs, for example, are declining at an alarming rate and need our help. So, in a bid to assist
them as much as we can, we ave built some winter homes for them and placed them in quiet corners of the apiary. These little shelters will also double up as homes for our mice population if not inhabited by the hedgehogs. This will, in turn, give a helping had to ur local owls since they seemed to have developed the habit of using our hives as feeding tables with mice as the prime meal on their menu!
We have also decided to put up some nesting boxes for blue and great tits and also a Bumble bee nesting house. The bumble bees which were seen in large numbers at this time last year haven’t been seen anywhere in our area and it is a fair bet they haven’t emerged anywhere yet because of the sluggish spring and
cold weather. We will be keeping an eye on all these initiatives and provide updates in future editions – if anyone would like further details about the nests and their construction please get in touch.
It won’t be long before the bees start flying around in eater numbers and, certainly once this present cold spell is over, the spring tasks will start in ernest. Remember that the bees will be coming home laden with pollen (see photograph) and it essential all this precious bounty is taken safely in to the hive. In
order to ensure this happens don’t forget to remove the mouse guards as thet do have the effect of scraping off the pollen on their legs as well as creating bottlenecks at the entrance.
One final thought. We gave a talk to one of our local womens groups last month – the Wednesday afternoon meeting, a breakaway branch of the WI we suspect – and it turned out to be a really good afternoon out. The ladies were good fun and most of them were completely spellbound with our tales – so much so that we
noticed, after 10 minutes or so, that two of them had dropped in to a very deep sleep! We carried on regardless but eventually had to stop and wake them up because their snoring was putting us out of our stride !! The afternoon was completed with a piano recital, tea and cakes – I don’t think we’ve ever eaten so many cakes of such varied type in our lives – we must take care not to get overdosed and over-weight!!
Lets hope for a better summer when the only problem we have is what to do with all that honey!!
Roger & Len