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Back to blog Bee Blog - February 2022

Bee Blog - February 2022

This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby

It is still winter but we have now long passed the shortest day and already the days are becoming to be noticeably longer and I am beginning to look forward to spring and the start of bees becoming more active.  It is still cold and we have had some sharp frosts which I think the bee colonies need to remind them not to break their clusters too soon.   

The sharp frosts that we have had, and on some nights it has been -6 deg C, have been followed by clear days with blue skies and full sun. When the sun hits the hives is is beginning now to have sufficient power to cause a noticeable warming and produce some flying bee activity. It is interesting to note that on those days, as soon as the sun moves away from the hives all activity ceases. It is as if a switch has been thrown to turn off bee movements.

As usual for this time of year I have the knotty question of additional feeding of the bees to consider. Each year, before winter, I resolve to let nature to take its course. I have tried, at the back end of the year, to ensure that the hives have had sufficient time to build up enough stocks of honey to last them through the winter without and need for additional feeding from me. And my resolution at that time is to leave the bees to their own devices to survive until the spring. Now that winter is here my resolve fades and I start worrying if they have sufficient stores to last them through.  

Its way too cold to open the hive and have a look. This is the worst thing I could do. The queen might not survive a blast of cold air. The way beekeepers assess if the bees have sufficient stores is to “heft” the hives. This is a process of estimating the weight of the hive which reduces as the honey stores are consumed by the bees. Its an easy thing to say but quite a difficult thing to do. A British Standard hive is generally kept on a stand which has four legs. Some beekeepers will lift the hives slightly onto two legs and intuitively judge the weight from time to time, not a very accurate method. Others will do the same process but attach a spring balance for a more accurate assessment but this is still a difficult thing to do. I have tried both methods in the past with limited success.

As my resolve about additional feeding fades especially on frosty days, I reason that it is probable better to over feed than under feed and loose a colony. Given that this year I left all three colonies a long time after collecting the final honey harvest to build up stocks I think I will probably see how the weather in February turns out and perhaps add some fondant feed if we have a cold snap or if spring is late cold and damp this year.

I was talking to a friend recently who makes cakes. She has kindly offered to let me have some offcuts of her bakers fondant that are left over from her cake decorations.  Most of her cakes however are covered in coloured icing; green, red and yellow. If I did feed it to my bees I wonder if the colouring would in any way affect the colour of the bees that eat it. 2022 could be the year for rainbow bees.

Bad news on the neonicotinoid front. Defra has approved the use of a neonicotinoid pesticide treatment for the 2022 sugar beet crop in England this year due to the risk to the crop from “yellows viruses”. There seems to be agreement that this pesticide causes severe harm to honey bees and was the reason that it was banned in Europe some time ago. One step forward and then one step back.