As I reported last month, the weather has not, in the main, been conducive to bees flying. However, we have had one or two warmer days when the bees have been out and about and there are signs of increased laying rates from some of the queens by virtue of the fact that the bees are bringing in pollen – as well as taking the opportunity to make cleansing flights after having been cooped up for such a long time. This is always a satisfying indication that the queen (so far) has survived the winter weather – but it’s not over yet, even though the days are getting longer!
In the meantime, I have been taking the opportunity to cut back the hedges around my hives in the field, as the blackthorn and brambles in the hedges were impeding me when examining the hives at the end of last season. By choosing to do the work on the very cold days, it has meant that the bees did not come out to investigate the noise/vibration/smell of the chain-saw, whereas normally they would object in very definite terms to such stimuli, thinking their homes were under threat! So the major growths have been removed without any interest/response from the bees and it just remains to strim, with a metal blade, the ground-hugging detritus. To prevent this striking the hives, I will place a large board between the hives and the area being worked – again on a cold day – and then, when all the work is finished, not only will I have unrestricted access all around my hives, but the air-flow to the hives will be improved as well. This should reduce the likelihood of dampness in the hives, as circulating winds will draw moisture through the woodwork and out of the hive.
Other “maintenance” work which is usefully done during the winter months, during the dark evenings, is the cleaning of old combs and hive boxes of wax and propolis. I embark upon this by initially scraping the excess deposits off the woodwork, scraping out the grooves where the wax foundation is inserted and then washing everything in a hot caustic soda bath (don’t try this at home!). This removes every vestige of wax and propolis, leaving pristine wood-work with no likelihood of disease bacteria or spores remaining, should there have been any in the first place (and there were certainly no signs of disease in any of my colonies last season but such cleaning prevents the likelihood of any potential build-up).
Good hygienic practice is the secret to successful beekeeping and makes for happier bees. When the bees eventually break away from their winter clusters and start to expand their brood-nest, I will place some of these cleaned boxes and frames on top of their existing boxes for them to expand into. These boxes, when finally laid up with brood and stores, can then be separated. With the bees and queen in one box carrying on as usual, the bees in the other (queen-less) box will start to produce queen cells to replace their “lost” queen. These, on hatching, will either provide me with a replacement queen for the old queen in the first box and a second, queen-right, colony, or the option to re-unite the two boxes, with the new queen replacing the old thereby giving me a strong colony once again but now with a young, vigorous queen.
Lastly, I have been extracting the last of my ivy honey by cutting out the ivy-clogged combs from their frames, cutting them up and melting them in a large honey bucket. On cooling, the wax (having a lower density than honey) comes to the surface and solidifies in a disc, which can be removed. The remaining honey is then filtered and bottled, when after a few days it re-solidifies. Job done!
So those who imagine beekeeping is a summer season job should think again! There’s always plenty to do!
Colin Rees 01872 501313 email@example.com