March 2011

The temperatures over the past month have become a little warmer than earlier and the bees have been taking full advantage of this. They are flying out on the less windy days and are bringing in pollen and water to enable them to feed their young brood.

The queen has started to lay in earnest after her long winter in tick-over mode, so, with the brood-nest expanding, the bees have got their work cut out trying to keep pace. It is not made any easier by the fact that the older bees are dying off at a faster rate than they are being replaced by the hatching of new brood, so it is a very stressful time for them with the few(er) older ones having to work so much harder than when there is a full complement of foragers available. If the warm weather (not considering wind-chill) continues, the brood nest will be growing in size at a faster and faster rate, so that come the end of March/beginning of April, matters will have rectified themselves and the majority of bees in the hive will be newly hatched, young ones, capable of sustaining the colony and the stress point will have passed. It is a worrying time for us beekeepers as there is nothing we can do to help other than ensure that, if the hive is low on naturally gathered honey, a feed of fondant or candy is placed within reach of the bees as an emergency feed. Having done this last month, I have checked a couple of times since and will be renewing the feed very shortly as the bees have virtually finished what I have given them.

However, if the warm(er) weather continues, I might move them on to a liquid feed of sugar and water. If this is made dilute enough, it can fox the bees into thinking that there is a nectar flow taking place, which will induce the queen to lay more eggs. This results in a much stronger colony in the short term than if they had been left to themselves, which in turn will allow the bees to take advantage of a “Spring flow”, which we used to get about once every four or five years. In each of the past four years, though, we have had a measurable Spring flow which almost compensated for the lack of “main flow” in July, when the rain started round about the second week of that month. However, if a liquid feed is given too early, whilst the bees are in cluster because of cold weather, it can cause some of them to break away from the cluster to get to the feed, and there is a real danger of them becoming chilled and dying through loss of their body heat. Quite a conundrum for us, so playing safe with fondant or candy is sometimes the best bet.

Apart from cleaning and sterilising equipment ready for use in the coming season, another activity which occupies me and other beekeepers is the Annual Honey Show. We Roseland Beekeepers had our show last week ahead of the AGM and this year was extremely well supported. The original idea behind Honey Shows was from the Victorian era, when beekeepers had the opportunity of parading their wares and having them judged by independent, qualified honey judges. It is no different today. Honey falls into one of four categories – light, medium, dark (in terms of colour) and set (or granulated). Our group also has a “flavour only” category and it was here that most entries were to be found this year.

Honey judging not only assesses the honey but also the jar and lid in which it is presented. If you don’t come up to scratch with either of these, then your entry is rejected – even before the honey has been tasted! That is why those who were exhibiting for the first time played safe until they had a feel for what was expected. Unfortunately, the novices were up against an old lag (yes, me!) and my entry won the 1st Prize for Flavour – again! Whilst obviously feeling proud of this accolade, I have to admit it had absolutely nothing to do with me! It was the bees who made the honey and my bees presumably have access to more varied or tastier forage than the others entered for the Show.

If you want to confirm the judge’s decision, you can buy my honey at Veryan Country Market on Friday mornings from 10.30- 11.30. I also won 1st Prize for my Light Honey, 1st Prize for my Set Honey but, owing to an error on the judge’s part (I can’t think of any other explanation!!) only 2nd Prize for my Medium Honey! Ho! Hum! Must try harder next year!

Colin Rees – 01872 501313 – colinbeeman@aol.com

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