In eleven years of beekeeping I have never been able to melt wax in my solar extractor in April! Frames from my shook swarms have yielded a good stash of wax. Hasn’t the weather been amazing? Good news for us and our bees during this otherwise time of bad news.
If you don’t have a solar wax extractor, they are relatively easy to construct. Youtube has endless videos detailing how this can be done, but be cautious, many of these are American. We don’t have the same weather and our access to sunshine is often more limited, so both good insulation and the ability to angle the extractor to get maximum benefit from the sun is critical. Wax is a valuable commodity and if you think how much effort the bees have put in to collect nectar to produce it, we should not carelessly throw it away.
Rendering wax is however a messy business and something most of us put off as long as possible, so lockdown is the ideal time to tackle it.
It is always easier to give advice than to follow it. I know that we should all swap our bees onto clean floors in the spring, but because doing this with a WBC is a little more complicated than with a National, last year I failed to do so on one of my hives.
My excuse was that it was a hive with shallow frames (my other hives are all on 12X14) that I was using as a potential source of bees for beginners, so I would not be keeping it running all year.
As with many plans this did not work out and it overwintered strongly so this year I decided to unite it with another smaller colony. The floor was a mess of wax cappings and greater wax moth pupae (galleria mellonella) as well as a huge leopard slug. The wax moth pupae burrow into the wood in shallow hollows and surround themselves with a sticky white cocoon. A lesson to me to follow my own advice in future.
May is prime time for swarming as queens are in peak lay, and lack of space for her to do so, will be a prime motivator for swarming. This combined with plenty of forage, will prompt most colonies to swarm. This year more than any other, we beekeepers are being advised to try as much as possible to prevent swarming. No matter how experienced you are it is often difficult to identify all queen cells when doing artificial swarms, bees are very good at concealing these cells, so give yourself time when doing the inspection a week after having done the split to inspect all combs thoroughly to prevent a swarm from issuing when more than one queen emerges.
I think it is also useful to set up bait hives as a way of catching stray swarms. If you have a spare nuc box or even a spare hive, put an old brood comb in the box, place it in the vicinity of your hives, if possible a metre or two above the ground and see what happens. Then be prepared to add frames once the swarm has settled.
A beekeeper named Margaret it's said,
Had bees' which were very well bred,
And prompt at half three
There was honey for tea,
Already to spread on the bread.
Siobhan Loydall is Rugby's new chair,
And the branch was so pleased to be fair,
She jumped into the post
For the meetings to host,
And will do the job with panache and flair.
Martin our Sec' from Thurl-aston,
Produced honey it's said by the ton,
He put it in jars
And it sparkled like stars,
So he sold it at market in Clun.* (*Clun is in Shropshire)
A beekeeper named Andrea Clark,
Kept bees' in a hive in the park,
They visited flowers
For hours and hours,
Then she nicked all the honey when dark