Beekeeping in the greater Dublin area
Beekeeping in the greater Dublin area

Beginners’ Corner February

At least we have the winter season behind us and the days are getting noticeably longer. What impact does this have on the colony? The increased daylight stimulates the queen to increase her egg laying. The colony becomes more active and on the odd warm day, you can see a little pollen being brought in. As I mentioned in the January issue, this is a good sign, that a queen is present and laying. Those colonies from which there is no activity should be investigated when the opportunity arises to check if they are still alive. On a fine day, gently remove the roof and crownboards to see the cluster and close up again quickly. Roof and crownboard should not be removed for too long in order to prevent chilling. Transparent Perspex crownboards are becoming more popular for this purpose of observing the cluster in winter, without exposing them to the cold. If you find that the colony is dead, close up and block the entrance immediately. This is to ensure that bees from another colony can not enter. There will be more about this topic in the next issue.

So the queen has increased her egg laying. this sets in motion a series of actions for the colony. * Cells need to be cleaned out before the queen can lay in them. * The eggs hatch into larvae and need to be fed with brood food. * Pollen has to be collected for the nurses to consume, in order to produce this brood food. * The nest temperature needs to be raised and maintained for the developing brood.

With all this activity going on in early Spring, it is no wonder that some colonies can consume their stores at a very steady pace. There is even the danger in February and March that the colony may run out of stores. However, this situation should not be allowed to happen. The previous Autumn, the beekeeper should have ensured that the colony had at least 15 to 18kg of stores going into Winter. While this in an average, some larger colonies may need more and some colonies consume stores quicker that others. Of course nuclei need less, about 8-9kg.

How do you know if your colony is running out of stores in Spring? The very basic method is to heft the hive. This is simply estimating the weight by lifting the back of the hive off the stand for a couple of seconds. Then repeating this action at the front of the hive. It is important to heft both ends, as one end can be much heavier that the other – all depending on where the stores and brood nest are positioned. If it feels light – it’s a no brainer – you need to emergency feed. If it feels heavy then its fine for the moment.

However, this can be a difficult method for the beginner to master as it is based on judgement and experience. You need to first practice by hefting an empty hive, to know what surplus weight you are looking for.

Weighing scales is another popular method. Weigh front and back of the hive and subtract the weight of the empty hive. If there is 10kg of stores or less, it is time to feed the colony.

Emergency feeding Starvation is one of the things that a beekeeper can prevent very easily. So if you need to emergency feed, do it.

The most popular solid bee feeds are: Baker’s Fondant: These days it has been superseded by the specially designed bee fondants.