April is the lean time of year for gardens and honeybees alike. Hardy spring blossoms are everywhere but the ease of summer is still far away. It’s now that a winter storm can sweep in to decimate delicate buds on trees or to freeze emerging seedlings. A change in weather can be just as deadly to honeybee colonies since they’re running out of winter stores and using what’s left to build up the hive. A lean larder could spell disaster for hives in early spring.
Before my knee operation last week I decided to stop by all three of my hives to make sure they had enough stores and frames to build on. It may be a few weeks at least before I can make it out for another visit and I really don’t want to be worrying about them while I’m trying to heal and take it easy. Swarming season will be on us soon and I’m already stressed about that. Each year I’ve lost bees from hives in May/June and I figure it’s been mainly down to them doing too well and not having enough space to build up and store honey.
On visiting my single hive in Onchan I found that this could have been the case at any time! I left it on a full super of honey for the winter and expected at this time of year for that super to be about half empty. I was surprised to see that most of the comb was full and that they desperately needed more space. I popped another super (box of frames) on top so think that will keep them busy for the time being. First they’ll need to build the beeswax comb, then they’ll need to bring in nectar and pollen, then make the honey, and then cap each cell of honey with more beeswax.
I only realise after looking at this photo that I forgot to take the Mouse Guard off the hive entrance. They’ll be fine until next time but you really need to take off that metal screen during the honey flow because it can knock pollen off the bees’ legs as they bring it into the hive. Honeybees eat both honey and pollen – honey is their source of carbohydrates/sugars and pollen provides protein and vitamins.
A few weeks ago I visited my two hives in Laxey and took them up their second Supers. Like the Onchan hive they’d been on a Super filled with honey through the winter and had plenty of stores when I’d visited them last. I should also mention that my badly behaved White Hive, whose residents are pretty aggressive, is now on Brood-and-a-Half. This means that the Queen bee not only has access to the bottom box filled with large frames to lay her eggs in but also access to the Super box above it. The reason is that I had no other choice at the time. I’d planned on smoking the bees down and putting a Queen Excluder under the Super on the hive but the bees got a bit frisky and so I decided to just place it on top.
I’m curious to see if the hive produces more honey and if the colony grows bigger but I’m also a bit wary. This hive is a real meanie and I should really think about replacing the Queen. It’s all the eggs and sperm she has stored inside of her that produces all the other bees and her progeny seems inclined to sting first and ask questions later.
Because the bees have spent these past few weeks cleaning up the old frames and building beeswax in the top-most Supers, they have very little honey stored up in the frames below. I’m a little concerned about this but we’ve had warmer days and I’ve seen plenty of forage flowers and trees in bloom. Still, the weather forecast has been a bit worrying and it’s apparently snow, wind, and freezing temperatures across northern Britain. It’s hard to believe when I can look outside and see golden sunshine shining through new leaves on the trees along the road. I’ll be keeping my eye on the weather none-the-less.
My hives are all set with empty Supers and are on their way to another glorious year of Manx honey production. I’m just four days in from my knee operation and already getting around on crutches so I hope I’ll be a lot more mobile before the bees need any other urgent care. They should be fine but I’m keeping it at the back of my mind to ask Mr. E to have a look on them if I’m not able to get up to them by mid-May.