The weather has been, and still is, miserable! And bad for bees. With so much rain there has been little chance for them to get out and forage. The NBU sent out an advisory note this week warning that there is a risk of starvation of colonies. With such mild (and in some cases record breaking) warm temperatures in March, colonies have built up, and now there are lots of hungry mouths to feed – and without the chance now to get out and forage, the bees are in a vulnerable situation.
We fed our bees with syrup when we transferred them into their hive to make sure that they could get off to a good start and they had taken all of that feed this week, so we topped it up to make sure they can get through the next couple of weeks, which looks set to remain cold and rainy.
Once again, it is far from ideal conditions to be opening up a hive, but we needed to sort out the spacers on the frames, as the nucleus came with different types of spacers to the new frames we built, and these don’t match up. The concept of ‘bee space’ was developed by Langstroth in the mid 1800s and is a fundamental part of the way the modern hive is made up. The idea is that there is an ideal space between and around the frames that the bees will live within. Too small and the bees will fill it up with propolis, too big and they will build wild comb (which we then have to break apart when we open up the hive). Just right and they’ll leave it alone. The spacers keep the frames the ‘just right’ distance apart. We managed to get the right spacers onto the new frames, and remove some of the wild comb that they had already started to build up, which should help make things easier for future inspections.
This week the bees seemed slightly more settled (or maybe we were just more brave!), and so we had a quick look through all of the frames, which we didn’t do last week. Keeping the smoker lit helped – the egg cartons seemed to work well as a fuel supply. But again we were conscious of the weather, and so didn’t want to keep the hive open for too long, and so didn’t spot the queen. But there were eggs, so we know she is there.
We also spotted a bee with deformed wing virus, which is a sign of varroa mites (which are vectors for viruses and other diseases), so we’ll need to keep an eye on that. These days all colonies will have some level of varroa mite population, but the beekeeper’s role is to keep the number of mites at a tolerable level with a variety of control measures.
Let’s hope that the weather picks up and our bees can get back to pollinating the orchard and other trees and flowers, or this year could be a tough one for crops and for bees.