Well, here we are at the beginning of the Beekeeping season and hasn’t the weather given us a surprise early Spring in February! However, as you know, our British weather is remarkably changeable and Climate Change has exacerbated this, so now is the time to be especially vigilant in caring for your bees.
Don’t be too eager to open your hives to check how they are doing. Remember it takes a day for the bees to re-establish temperatures in the hive if you open them up. You can ‘read’ a lot about what is taking place by observing the bees from the outside. If they are bringing in pollen there is a good chance that you have a laying queen; if the hive is light you need to feed - you can continue with fondant but make sure there is water nearby or you can feed strong 1:1 syrup as long as you continue this until there is nectar flow - when blossom appears; from the inspection board you should also be able to see if brood is emerging or stores have been depleted.
A positive of the very cold snap we had in January/February is that it delayed the emergence of the aphids which attack the sugar beet crop which are the reason farmers were given authorisation to use neonicotinoids. Although I have not seen any news reports, I did hear on ‘Farming Today’ that the cold weather has meant farmers do not need to use the neonics this year.
One of the bee diseases to look out for when you start your weekly inspections towards the end of March, is Chronic Bee Paralysis which has become more widespread in the UK and becomes symptomatic in the Spring and Summer when colonies expand. It is a bit like Covid in that it is spread by close contact. The symptoms are black shiny hairless bees, unable to fly and with trembling dislocated wings. These bees are sometimes evident on top of the frames or at the entrance being expelled by other bees. In the worst case you may see a pile of dead bees at the entrance or on the floor of the hive.
There is no current treatment for the disease, although requeening is advised and remove as many of the infected bees as you can. Tom Seeley has demonstrated that the spread of CBP is greatly increased by our practice of placing multiple hives close together, but few of us can put our hives 30 metres apart. Ensuring bees are well fed and providing a healthy environment by good hygiene, like changing brood frames regularly and putting hives on clean, flamed, floors early in the season is good practice against all disease.
This practice will also be an effective way of dealing with Nosema, another bee disease that spreads rapidly when bees have been confined as it infects the gut, producing diarrhea in and outside the hive and is evident in Spring.
Our AGM on Zoom this year was well attended. We had some resignations from the committee - Rowan Moore, who unfortunately has moved away from Rugby but has kindly agreed to continue to run our RBKA website, and Fran Payne who has ably run the Honey Show for several years. So, if anyone out there would like to volunteer to take over organizing the Honey Show please let the committee know as it would be a shame to lose our local show.
Our current very good Chair, Siobhan Loydal will continue for the next year, but as our constitution requires a revolving Chair every two years, we were fortunate that Cathy Moore has stepped up to be Chair elect for 2022; she will now join the committee. We will continue to meet over Zoom until it is safe to have face to face meetings.
As the provision of early, and varied pollen, is so important for our bees to have access to, I thought it may be useful to list a few plants that you can consider planting near your hives to give your bees a ready-made pantry to forage on next year.
Snowdrops are one of the first Spring flowers to emerge and are just going over now, so this is the best time to plant them when the flowers have died off and they are still “in the green”.
Other good flower sources of early pollen are Hellebores, crocuses, scylla, aconites and pulmonaria - all easy to grow.
Shrubs like Mahonia, Viburnum bodnantense, witch hazel, Sarcococca confusa, pussy willow and hazel catkins also provide good sources of pollen early in the Spring.
Ash trees also flower in March and provide a source of pollen.
If you note the colours of the pollen your bees are bringing in, it is possible to identify some of the flower sources they have been foraging on!
Regards, and stay safe and well,