I am sure you have all noticed that we have had a very mild and wet winter so far. Not really good news for our bees as it means that they have been more active than expected and as a result consuming more of their winter stores.
So ...make sure you are hefting your hives - don’t be tempted as I was told by one beekeeper recently to ‘have a quick look because it was warm’ as this means the bees have to work hard to get the internal temperature up again, and as a result consume more stores for energy! If you are at all concerned about your bees running out of stores put on some fondant and if they don’t need it they will leave it alone. However ...if you start to feed your bees now you will need to continue until Spring when there is again forage outside the hive - maybe March/April, depending on how the weather develops.
Hopefully queens will have started to lay again (if indeed they stopped because the weather has been so warm!) and this means the bees need pollen to feed the development bees. I have noticed that some of my snowdrops are flowering and these together with crocuses in the next few weeks will provide the fresh pollen needed. When you assessed in the Autumn that your bees had enough stores for the winter, hopefully you noticed that they had pollen as well as honey, but bees prefer fresh pollen if it is available. A bit like us - fresh fish rather than dried or salted. If you can get hold of snowdrops ‘in the green’ this is the best time to plant snowdrops near your hives as they will more readily establish planted this way.
At our last monthly meeting in January, Paul Hand gave an entertaining and eccentric talk about bumblebees - along with his pet mouse! He encouraged us all to leave our gardens a bit wild and to dig a few holes around the garden filled with bedding material (old mouse bedding if possible!) and covered with a slate, to encourage some of the ground nesting bumble bees.
He also talked about the Tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum) and I think all beekeepers should acquaint themselves with the habits of this relative newcomer to the UK because if you get called out to a swarm in a bird box or a shed or under the fascia board of a house, it is likely to be a nest of these bees. It is useful to be able to advise people on the habits of this bee to prevent them feeling they need to destroy the bees. I tell people that if they can tolerate the bees they will be gone by the end of July/August, but if you can relocate them there is useful advice on this website about how to go about this.
It is good to know, as Paul pointed out, that this bumble bee, unlike most others, is likely to be defensive and will sting, especially if alerted by vibration.
Please do think about coming to the AGM on the third Wednesday in February. While this may not be the most stimulating evening, you will get to know something more about what your association is doing and also you have the privilege of electing a new chair as I shall definitely be standing down this year! Please also send Martin any proposals you would like to make - at least two weeks before the meeting. Are you happy with the venue, range and quality of talks, would you like us to be doing anything differently - this is your opportunity to have your voice heard.
We will also be offering a door prize for those attending the AGM so if you are feeling lucky, come along!