This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby
The English proverb describes typical March weather as “Coming in like a Lion and going out like a Lamb”. This year seems to be living up to the proverb. Towards the end of February, the country was swept by no less than three named storms. The middle one Eunice was the most severe with record breaking winds and heavy rain. Many beekeepers were caught out and there have been reports of several hives being blown over. If action is not taken quickly the colonies affected are unlikely to survive because of the disruption and water penetration. Luckily my hives are located in a sheltered spot shielded from the prevailing westerly winds they all have heavy roof coverings and did not suffer.
Beekeepers tend to be an optimistic group and last month I had thought that we were perhaps going to have another early spring. Plants were on the move, early flowers were breaking out and I had needed to cut my grass lawn in January this year, the earliest cut I have ever made. Things look somewhat different now, cold, wet and windy with no sign of bees leaving the shelter of the hives. The weather has been too severe to carry out any further inspections.
I did take the opportunity earlier on in February on a calm warm day to look into all of the hives. I had been concerned that on the occasional warm sunny day when bees could be seen coming and going from two hives there was no activity from the third hive, not a good sign. Regrettably the bad sign proved to be correct. On opening the hive up, I found all the bees to be dead. The colony was much smaller than I had expected it to be. It is difficult to know why they had not survived, perhaps they were just not of sufficient size or perhaps they just ran out of supplies of food. It was somewhat depressing but as a Farmer once told me, if you keep livestock you have to sometimes expect deadstock.
In last month’s blog I had been discussing my concerns and considerations whether additional feeding was necessary. Given the loss of the one colony I immediately gave the two remaining colonies a pack of fondant each just in case. In hindsight I am very glad I decided to install the fondant on that day. Ever since the weather has taken a turn for the worse and I would have had little opportunity to safely open up the hives.
A beautiful honeybee on an Echinops
One way of producing a new colony is splitting an existing hive. Last year I carried out this process for the first time. Regular readers will recall that I had limited success. The split I made early in the season successfully encouraged the bees to produce a new queen and expanded to form a successful colony. Splits made later in the season did not manage to produce queens. The process has a much better chance of succeeding if the bees have already formed a new queen cell before a split is made. The bees do this a part of the process if they intend to swarm. Last year none of my colonies showed any inclination to swarm, perhaps this year will be different.
Another method of producing a new colony is to collect a swarm. Last year I declined the opportunity twice as I had no need to expand my numbers. Another possible option for expansion this year. Hopefully the two remaining hives will make it through to spring when I will have to take measures to make up for the lost colony. Beekeeping is never dull. Something unexpected always seem to happen to provide a challenge for the upcoming season.