May has been a very busy month as the bees are building up very quickly – up to 3 times increase in population in 3 weeks! This means the colonies need careful management to ensure they don’t swarm. It’s also a busy and ideal time to rear new queen Bees to replace the colonies lost over the winter and to populate our new Apiaries.
We are giving the colonies plenty of space by taking frames of brood and bees from the brood area to give the Queen space to lay and adding supers so they have room to process nectar and store honey. This reduces the urge to swarm which is important as we don’t want to lose some of our bees or distract them from collecting pollen and nectar.
We are also checking hives for signs that they are trying to swarm. If they are we remove the Queen with some bees and set up a new hive. This makes the bees think they have swarmed and they raise a new queen and stops them swarming.
Finally the frames of bees are used to make up new hives for raising queens. Every week we take larvae that are one day old and destined to be worker Bees and transfer them into artificial Queen cells. These are introduced into the colonies we have made up without a Queen and the bees convert these into new queens. When ready the Queen cells are given a frame of bees (10% of a full hive) and left to emerge from their sealed cell and go out to mate. This is a process which has around a 20% failure rate at every stage so if we start with 20 transfers, the Bees will reject 4. Of the remaining 16 – 3 will not emerge leaving 13. Of these 3 won’t mate successfully leaving 50% success – hopefully!
We are spending most Saturdays breeding more queens to support a project to reintroduce the native British Honey Bee into the area, working with 10 volunteer Beekeepers. We are currently waiting for 20 new queens to mate. Also we are waiting to hear about how well our bid for funds through a Tesco Groundworks bid for the project £1K, £2K, or £4K. This will enable us to increase the number of new colonies created.
Every other Sunday is spent teaching beginners at the West Suffolk Beekeepers Association Apiary – getting the next generation of Beekeepers off to a good start.
In amongst this we need to extract the spring honey as this needs to be taken before it crystallises in the comb. This produces the fine granulation we have in our soft set honey and is caused by a higher glucose content in the honey. Our summer honey which has a lot of Blackberry in it is much more runny and we hope the weather continues to help the Bees produce lots of honey.
March Beekeeping like other forms of agriculture is weather dependent. The weather affects what plants are available to feed on and whether the bees are able to fly to take advantage. It’s been an interesting month with two lots of snow to contend with. Other than that the temperatures and rain have been average for the year and the bees are starting to build up.
The first generation of spring Bees will emerge at the end of March and it seems like spring has been delayed with early blossom just coming out – ornamental cherry and some crab apples.
The bees are still bringing in Crocus pollen and on the days when they can fly bringing lots in to feed the new brood in increasing amounts.
Once the first generation have emerged the bees are able to increase the brood area rapidly and the population will grow exponentially in the next few months.
The bees born in the autumn will have put all their energy into keeping the nest warm in the winter and to raising the new Bees for the spring. They will be starting to die, their job done and be replaced by young bees.
This is the most dangerous period for the bees as the old Bees could die off before the young bees emerge.
It’s still too cold for the beekeeper to do too much in the hive at the moment so we are still preparing equipment and putting wax foundation into frames as more hives and Honey supers will be needed faster than we can make very soon.
We have been able to check on most of the hives and of the 57 that went into winter it looks like 51 are OK, four have died and two have Bees but no queen. One didn’t mate in the autumn and one seems to have died. Overall, while it is sad to lose any colony, that’s an acceptable loss rate.
It looks like April will have moderate temperatures so the bees should continue to build to the point where they should be ready to store Honey in May. Fingers crossed.