Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen

14 celcius today and sunny (if breezy) so I filled 2 contact feeders with sugar syrup, grabbed my kit and headed to the little central London nature reserve where I have my 2 hives. This was to be the spring feeding day, and the first inspection (partial) of the year.

Before going on, I should state my intentions for the year. I'm on British National hives, and plan to do away with the brood-and-a-half I tried last year. Hive Amidala I will move to a deep National and Hive Boudica just does not need that much space so I plan to move her down to a single brood box. Brood-and-a-half is just too fiddly and inspections take too long for my non-interventionist-but-thorough tendencies. I over-wintered both hives with brood-and-a-half with the supers below the brood boxes (is this odd? I think I did this so as not to waste the honey which the bees had stored in the brood-supers).

Lovely day: bees out flying from both hives. I started by whipping off the mouse guards. Next I opened Amidala, quickly swapping the boxes so the larger brood box went below. The bees looked very well. I saw capped and uncapped brood, so did not root around looking for eggs. I was happy to see ample remaining honey and pollen stores, so made the radical decision not to feed the colony after all, even though I had the feed ready and with me. I even said hello to the queen I had green-spotted myself last year. Satisfied with only having looked through half the brood frames, I closed up. I then put the super back on top but this time with a queen excluder below it. This is in preparation for swapping the brood box out for another, deeper one with deep national frames. Oh, and I also swapped out the crown board for a new glass crown board I bought: it's not glass all the way across but has a central wooden bar with a hole to fit a porter bee escape and it will let me open up the hive a little more often to peek at how much room the colony has left in the upper super.

I then moved onto Boudica, and was again pleasantly surprised to see how healthy the bees looked and how they still had something in the way of stores. Again, I saw not only capped and uncapped brood but also the white-spotted queen (I've never seen both queens on the same day before!) and closed up after only inspecting half the frames. Again, I put a queen excluder on top of the single brood box and the super on top of that. I decided not to feed this hive either: partly because the stores were OK, partly because I did not want to feed one hive and not the other (I read it can lead to inter-hive robbing), and partly because I'd rather treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen and keep them working hard - and therefore, hopefully, less likely to swarm in early season.

In a couple of weeks I intend to swap Amidala's single brood box for a deep national brood box. I have a spare single brood box and I intend to buy an extension eke and bolt the two together, and shove some new, deep frames and foundation inside. This will also work as a complete frame exchange (shook swarm) which is healthy for the bees, not to mention (I think and hope) potentially reducing the swarming urge (I think I read this somewhere, though if a queen is old and weak then swarming is likely anyway as the workers give up on the old one). But what will I do with the old frames which will have brood in them? Burn them as in a proper shook swarm? My idea is to give them to Boudica which seems to be a weaker colony in the hope that it will bolster that hive this year. This means shaking off Amidala's bees (and queen) into the new deep brood box (with new foundation) and putting the old brood box with frames and stores on top of the queen excluder of Boudica. This is quite radical and I've not read of this being done, but seems to be in the flavour of the types of things I've read about. A potential downside is that I'll have a lot of old frames in Boudica with no plans of replacing them, but I can then plan to remedy this next spring.

In the case of each hive, the super which had been the lower box during the winter had been totally cleaned of honey and no brood was in these boxes. This is exactly what I had hoped the bees would do during the winter - taking the honey up into the brood boxes.

So I've already got a super on both hives! And I brought the feeding syrup back home and will probably pour it down the sink. What a waste. Anyway, the current, single brood boxes are not full but the populations of both hives are quite strong (particularly Amidala). I saw bees returning with pollen (some yellowy-orange and some greyish-green). All in all it was a very encouraging inspection, and it's so good to have the season swinging again.

I'd better crack on with ordering that extension eke, and some other bits and pieces I've set my heart on. I think I'm going to splash out on that observation nuc which although very expensive will hopefully satisfy my desire to show bees and spread the good word. I may also buy some more apidea queen rearing hives - I've got one and I intend to try out a few queen cells in it this year. For a while I was thinking of trying out proper queen rearing with wax cups and breeding/rearing hives and all that malarkey but I just don't have the experience or the space - I'd rather learn to walk a little more before I try to run.

Anyway, FAR too much writing and no pictures today. I'll justify this by saying this wittering is as much for my benefit as for anyone elses! If you're reading this as a beek, good luck with your earlier spring experiences (if you're in my hemisphere, that is). Signing off now. More pictures next time when warmer weather may justify me having the roofs open for longer!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Season's up!

I was walking briskly along the road not two days ago (a dismal, cold day it was as have been so many recently) when a little honey bee flew past and nearly smacked me in the face, making me start. I smiled as she buzzed off, hopefully to her warm hive. "The season's coming," I thought.

Today, however the sun was out for the first time in as long as I can remember: a beautiful day with temperatures of 10+ celcius. At noon I headed up to my apiary to see how the hives are doing. I'd only been on site once since the start of December, and that just to take some photos of the snow-laden hives. And the results.....?

STUPENDOUS ! "Season's up!"

Both hives, especially Amidala, had a cloud of bees buzzing around. They've done it! They're through the winter and into March! I am, needless to say, delighted. However, I have read many times that March is a very common time for Northern Hemisphere colonies to starve, so I know to be careful still. I opening each hive up and quickly half-prized out one frame. The bees were not impressed and began bombing me immediately - perhaps I should remember my smoker next time even for small inspections? Anyway, from what I could see both hives had some degree of stores still in place, and the frames looked reasonably covered in bees. This is all terrific news. The question in my mind is quite when to give them a spring feed. Time to hit my bookshelves and spam a few local beeks for a check, though I am tempted to feed them this week anyway. Spring comes a little early in the London compared to much of the rest of the UK, and although I know it's important not to pump the colony with feed too early, I feel that in a couple of weeks there will be sufficient forage to sustain the growing mass.

Anyway, now I'm faced with the fact that the planning I meant to do during the winter never did get done sufficiently. Am I still going to run brood-and-a-half this year (it's not good, really), or perhaps I should cut back to single brood on Boudica and get a deep (14x12) on Amidala where the queen seems prolific (bit late now perhaps!), and what strategy am I planning for swarm management when I see those first capped queen cells? Hhmmmm, despite the fact that I find myself quite busy right now, I think it's time to get my bee-thinking cap back on to make this first full season one to remember.