We are continuing to receive calls and emails from beekeepers who are either starting out or re-stocking after a difficult winter for bees. Some earlier queens of mine have mated and are now laying and I have a bunch that just missed the warm weather and are waiting to fly for their nuptuals.
The problem of being near the coast – and I say it (complain of it) every year – is that it is often several degrees warmer inland. I see the weather forecast and it’s 22 degrees 10 miles away and 16 degrees at my coastal apiaries as a result of a cool wind from the sea. I have had to discard queens in the past as they became past their “mate-by” date. If we don’t see some good weather soon I may have to do it again 😦
However I have sealed queencells that are a few days of distributing out to nucs and mini-nucs so more are coming along.
And a reminder of the colour coding for marking queens which runs in a 5 year cycle. This year it’s red as shown by the 2013 queen.
As a beekeeper, can you ever get too much honey? Many would say not, but I have to admit that I have been caught out by the amount of nectar coming into the hives this year. Oil Seed Rape (or Canola in some parts) is flowering in several fields nearby so there are potentially a few hundred acres of it. I have never had it so close. For the honey-gathering colonies I know I am going to have to deal with the OSR honey pronto as the high glucose content granulates very quickly in the frames – it has to be removed very rapidly or it won’t come out by extraction. And I also know that I don’t really have the time as I have a lot of other duties at the moment.
The other part of having OSR is that nucs I have prepared to sell (late this year due to the poor winter/spring weather we had a while back) have filled up far quicker than expected. This has caused congestion although I suppose that I don’t need to feed nucs to help them draw comb which is a bonus. I generally use BS National deep frames 8.5 inches however I will move bees onto 14×12’s, Commercial or Langstroths on occasions. I do this by doing what in essence is a Bailey Comb Exchange. The colony has to be strong enough first; I put the queen upstairs with the new frames on an existing brood frame for a week with queen excluder in place to stop he moving down. After a week or so there is usually drawn comb and eggs in the top box so the old and ‘wrong-sized’ brood frame is taken away. The queen can then continue laying and the bees will draw comb. I usually give a top entrance at this time too. It’s nice to see all that newly-drawn light-coloured comb; and before a colony goes, I like to wait until the first brood has just started to emerge so I know that the colony will expand as soon as it goes into a full-sized hive. Unfortunatley the colonies have filled up the boxes with stores far too early so I have had to resort to removing frames of stores or putting nuc-sized supers on top to draw off the excess honey. I suppose it’s a nice problem to have!
Changes and disaster can come from a most unexpected quarter.
Consider a number of hives at the edge of a field and the bees are doing their stuff, unaware that a farmer is also doing what he does too. Suddenly the hives are catapulted in the air (possibly) and /or knocked over. What seems to have happened is that the plough caught a fence-wire and drove off. The wire must have gotten taught as the tractor moved away and then the posts snapped off which must have hit 5 of the first 6 hives as you can see. Even the end-post with diagonal supports in the ground snapped like a match-stick.
As a result of all this, the end hive super is now upside down in front of where it should be and the brood box is upside down with frames askew and a house-brick on the frames and behind hive 4! Others are up-ended or knocked over. The wire fence is diagonally across the field and the end beehive from the other end of the line of hives can be seen in the background.
And the tractor drive said “I think I knocked over one beehive – I don’t quite know what happened” As a result 4 of the colonies are OK. The end hive – a little miffed whilst I put it back together – is now queenless. I suppose it could have been worse!
For those who study such things, there is a mixture of hives on show. Nationals, a couple of 8 frame boxes, one upside down – and a couple of nucs.
Much has been written about the ‘Beast from the East’ – the weather was poor for a couple of spells and this has had an effect on colonies. I have spoken to a number of beekeepers who have lost colonies so I now have a waiting list for this years nucs. A decent colony should get through winter OK even if the weather has been pretty damn cold although I was a little too complacent last autumn and should have combined a couple of small colonies with others. As it is, a couple of 3 year old queens failed to get their colonies through and a small nucleus colony failed too – it was marked as ‘weak’ in October so there was no surprise and it would have been OK with a mild winter. It should have been combined with a colony headed up by an old queen. One nuc had just one small frame of brood in it when I checked a couple of weeks ago – so hardly enough to get through another cold ‘beast’ but it is viable which is the main thing. One good thing was that my 3 year old breeder queen which has produced some excellent daughter queens is still good.
Two aspects I noticed a couple of weeks ago – when the weather was really too cool to inspect (!) was that a) the colonies were smaller than I would expect for the second half of March and b) there was almost no pollen in the hives. With plants now flowering and some warmer weather for some days, that should be rectified soon enough. Pollen is the protein source for bees and without it, there will be no brooding.
Many thanks for the enquiries we have received concerning nucs for spring delivery. We generally have little winter mortality but you can never be sure so the early enquirers are sure to obtain a colony – the later ones go on a list on a first come first served basis. Any orders that cannot be fulfilled can perhaps be supplied by new 2018 queens later in the year. (We do not import queens!)..
As I write the weather is -3C and it’s windy with snow drifting. We all hope that colonies will be snug in their hives and will survive for the few days until the “Beast from the East” leaves us.
Now is the danger time for colonies because:-
a) It’s cold
b) Colonies are possibly at their smallest now before spring build-up.
c) There’s a risk of starvation towards the end of winter.
Snowdrops and crocus are out but at the moment bees are unable to fly and get the fresh pollen they need for good brood-rearing. Here’s hoping for a swift return to more usual weather!
I usually find that after a cold spell around the middle of February, spring is well on the way. So it has been the case today as bees have been flying in the sun.
All the nucs have had flying bees which is encouraging although it’s too early to open them and see what’s happening inside.
We have already received enquiries and orders for nucs for availability in Spring and it will be waiting-list time soon; on one hand some people who have provisionally put their name down will decide not to go ahead with beekeeping. On the other, some nucs may not be suitable – perhaps there is excessive chalk-brood in the colony for example or a queen has failed over winter. Not that common but it does happen. Here’s the website page… http://www.norfolkbee.co.uk/queen-rearing/nucleus-colonies. We reserve nucs on a first come first served basis so if you are interested, then please contact us!
So the end of September gave our bees a good rush of ivy – both pollen and nectar and colonies that were marked as ‘light’ became full in just a week or so. And in October we had a couple of days of 20 – 22 degrees, so that very late supercedure queen might well have gotten mated. Something to check for next year now as it’s too late to open the hives and mess about with them. I now have too many colonies for winter – with the addition of three I am looking after for someone and a late cut-out from a concrete box over a gas pipe in someone’s garden. That seems to have transferred to a nuc very well and I am hopeful that it survives winter. Until March the bees will be left alone apart from a heft to check stores levels from time to time and a treatment of oxalic acid in a couple of months’ time.