Amanda holds regular Beekeeping Training Courses at Mantel Farm and contributes regularly to our newsletters. Amanda is a professional ecologist who has been keeping up to 25 colonies of bees for about fifteen years. She has attained BBKA theory modules 1-7 with credits & distinctions and has also won prizes at the National Honey Show for honey & other products.
When putting sterilised frames in an outside apiary shed one cold day in Feb, I saw a Shrew running around the plastic tray in which a brood box with drawn comb was sitting. The board covering the top had moved leaving a small gap. Lifting the brood box, a large pile of leaves fell out. I carefully replaced the box, and the gap, with the shrew back between two frames, as they eat small pests. Yes, I know I shall have to recycle the frames in the spring but I am rather fond of shrews.
If you need to stock up on any beekeeping equipment for the year ahead, Mantel Farm have new products and a wide selection of essentials.
With a bit of luck we may be able to make a quick inspection later in March if it reaches about 12 °C and light wind. Clean Cover cloths will help keep the warmth in. I have already seen them all taking in crocus and snowdrop pollen so am sure they all have brood but in this brief first inspection I shall concentrate on seeing if this is worker brood (hopefully no drone, indicating either queen loss or drone laying queen) and that they have space for the queen to lay in. From my last inspections in the autumn I already know which ones will need a shook swarm to replace all the dark frames in April, or just a few old frames which can be changed over the next few weeks before the brood area expands back into them making it more complicated.
If there are dark frames with no brood and virtually no stores at this first inspection, I shall move them to the edges of the box, moving in any clean drawn comb which has or did have stores, adjacent to the cluster. This first inspection will confirm how many new boxes and frames I need to prepare with foundation or drawn comb. At the following inspection I shall remove these dark frames and replace with either sterilised drawn comb if I have enough or foundation to fill the space. Several of mine which are on more than one box, I expect some will have moved up leaving a box with empty dark frames which I can remove entirely. This is how most of my colonies end up on all shallow framed boxes; it does simplify things greatly. Inserts which I put in for a week in early February gave an indication which colonies needed varroa treatment and I have already dusted the few with a higher count than I would like. Most had less than two a day drop but one dropped 7 a day and needed urgent treatment and I was fortunate to have suitable weather to dust them twice in late Feb, when they dropped 43 each time. It will help, but unfortunately we are to have a spell of very cold weather so will have to wait before further treatment.
Mine already have insulation in the crown board but this forecast of an arctic blast with wind chill of minus 10°C will be hard on the bees as the winter bees will be dying off in March and yet they have increasing areas of brood to keep warm. All I can do is put the inserts in to reduce the freezing wind and may even block the back of the insert with a cloth to reduce the draught further. Continue to heft the hives and hope they have enough stores.
I must put up a hornet/wasp trap very soon as the queens will be desperate for something sweet when they come out of hibernation in early March and it may be a chance to prevent them founding a new colony.
There were several papers published in February concerning the adverse effects of honey bees on wild pollinators. Although strategies such as reduction of pesticides, and increased flowering plants, will help honey bees and all other pollinators, the fact remains that honey bees massively out-compete other pollinators especially when crops have finished and they move out into surrounding natural habitats and have been found to reduce the densities of wild pollinators around apiaries. Wild pollinators can account for 50% of pollination services, yet half of all European bees are threatened with extinction. It is time research focused on the declines of native pollinators and the potentially negative role of managed honey bees, matching pollinator supply with demand and achieving safe and sustainable densities of managed honey bees and a conservation strategy which focuses on the main drivers of the current declines in wild native pollinators and not on agricultural yield. Cambridge University scientists believe we should be thinking of honey bees as livestock not wildlife: having more honeybees does not save native pollinators, quite the opposite. Elsewhere I found that research suggests that a maximum of 5 colonies per km² will maintain a balance of pollinators. Several years ago this figure was exceeded in Brighton and there are twice as many as that in London. Fewer, healthier colonies should be the aim.