President’s Ramblings – March 2024

Apparently this February was the warmest on record, and rainfall was also high. Spring flowers are a bit earlier than usual, but I’m not sure whether the bees will have been able to forage. The heathers in my front garden are often a good indicator of the bees foraging activity, but this year there have only been a couple of days when I’ve seen bees on the flowers.

It would be a good idea to check on the levels of stores in the hives. On a dry day just remove the roof and gently lift the crown board. Without disturbing the bees just look down between the frames and you will be able to make a guess about what is going on. Look at the combs either side of the brood area and look if there are any stores. If you can see capped cells then they have some stores still left. If you are in any doubt about whether they have sufficient stores then give them a feed of thin sugar syrup (1:1 ratio sugar and water) using a contact feeder- this is better that giving them fondant at this time of year.

The WBKA Spring convention in Builth Wells is on 23rd March and the BBKA Spring convention at Harper Adams is mid April. Both are excellent opportunities to listen to some good speakers and you also have a chance to pick up equipment at special prices, or to trade in your beeswax for new foundation.

Now is a time for making preparations, assuming that you haven’t already done so. All those jobs such as cleaning up hives ready for the season should be done now whilst there is still time before the season kicks off. Remember the old saying “fail to prepare and you will prepare to fail”.

Some of your colonies will not have made it through the winter, generally through no fault of your own. What to do with those colonies that have died? There will be a mouldy clump of bees in the middle of the brood box so you need to have an idea what to do. I would take the whole hive away from the apiary and deal with it in your shed. It’s not worth keeping the combs for two reasons. Firstly, unless the frames are almost new, it will be time to replace them anyway. Secondly there may be pathogens on them, which possibly may be connected with the colony collapsing. You could try to rescue some wax from combs that don’t have dead bees, by using steam extraction. Doubtful whether solar extraction would be any good at this time of year anyway. So the best course of action might be to burn them if you have sufficient apace to have a bonfire.

Frames that are in good condition can be cleaned up by boiling them in a suitable boiler, if you are lucky enough to own one. As for the rest of the hive, unless it is a plastic hive then sterilization using a blow lamp is the preferred way. Scrape off all the propolis and scorch the timber, ensuring that any remaining propolis is well melted. Never had to deal with sterilizing plastic hives, but I’m sure there is a prescribed way. Queen excluders should be scraped clean and sterilized either with a blowlamp, if they are metal, or by soaking in a strong solution of washing soda. A word of warning here, if you soak wooden framed wire excluders in washing soda you will unglue the frame and it will fall apart! Solid floors should be scraped clean and treated with a blow lamp. Open mesh floors are a bit more difficult but I always found the blowlamp treatment worked quite well. Plastic frame runners can’t be cleaned with a blowlamp so I swapped all mine to metal runners, which are better anyway. Once you’ve cleaned it all up then you can think about repainting the hive and making up new frames to go in – all ready for you first swarm in May! There is a useful factsheet on cleaning and sterilisation on the National Bee Unit website.

Don’t overlook the hive stands! If necessary make new ones now as it is so much easier to change them now before the hives have 3 supers on them and the hive stand is collapsing under the weight.

Delay your first proper inspection of the colony until the weather is warmer; up until that time just give them a super if they need a bit more space. If you only have supers with foundation don’t put on a queen excluder. The bees often won’t bother going through the queen x into a super of foundation. I’ve even witnessed colonies that have swarmed due to lack of space when they have an untouched super of foundation. The answer is not to use a queen x until the bees start drawing out the frames. At that stage the queen excluder can be put on between the brood box and the super, once you have checked that the queen is not in the super!!

Most of my early colony expansion came once the trees came into flower – sycamore and horse chestnut, and of course dandelion which comes into flower at the same time. If you have Oil Seed Rape to deal with then the season kicks off early and spring expansion is extremely rapid. I’m not a fan of OSR and was always grateful that there was never any within flying distance of any of my hives. If you have OSR then you need to be ahead of the game and get a super on early. I know that many beekeepers extract their OSR by melting the combs on a heated uncapping tray, in which case you don’t want to be using old combs.

That’s it for now, more ramblings next month.