In the Apiary : Late April : The Big Day

In the Apiary : Late April : The Big Day

searching for the queen small

There are some weeks when whole months happen. This week is shaping up to be one of those weeks in the Bermondsey Street Bees’ apiary. Next up: all 3 hives will be opened for their first inspections of the year.

Right now, they’re sitting there like wrapped-up birthday presents: you can see the shape and size, you can even heft the weight, or let your imagination scud back over past packages – but you can’t look inside until The Big Day dawns. And that is only when the conditions are right – 14C and above and, at most, a light breeze.

Ok, let’s play a little bee-game: here are my predictions for what I think will be revealed when each hive is “unwrapped”:

Abbey Hive: this is the big one. Looks populous and healthy, with a young 2012 Queen and docile productive bees. I’m expecting at least 3 full frames of worker Brood in All Stages (BIAS) and that I will be adding supers for the bees to store surplus honey within a week or so.

Shard Hive: a problem hive. More exposed to the elements and its late-mated 2012 Queen may be a drone-layer (ie no worker bee brood) and possibly weakened by a late Spring bout of nosema. I’m expecting just a frame and half of brood here – and keeping my fingers crossed for it to be worker brood.

Thames Hive: the real troublemaker. Another late-mated Queen, but one which has produced a feisty, pinging bunch of bovver-bees, which have gulped down more sugar-syrup feed pro rata that the other hives. I anticipate 2 full frames of BIAS here – but I am already hatching plans to depose her Majesty….bad-tempered bees need requeening to repent!

So what will it be: tears before bedtime, or over-excited whoops of joy? All will be revealed – and pictures, too – in the next episode of this Bermondsey Street “honey opera”……

In The Apiary : Mid-April 2013 : Spring Feeding

In The Apiary: Mid-April 2013 : Spring Feeding


In the first week of April, I took off the hives the pollen substitute paste (fondant with pollen supplement) which had been put on to nourish the bees since late February, despite the fact that on all of the hives, the pollen supplement had been partially eaten. This dusty-yellow slab of sticky pollen substitute had been placed over the feedhole in the crownboard, just above the comb, to provide the raw materials for bee-production: pollen is essential to raise new brood, yet the prolonged winter weather had postponed pollen production by plants and seriously curtailed the bees’ ability to forage for what little there was (bees need 8-10 degrees to leave the hive).

After removing the pollen substitute, I switched to a few litres of syrup feed (1.5 water:1 sugar – NOT the Golden Syrup in my picture – although note the bees around the Lion on the tin! That is my little joke) for two main reasons: firstly, after almost three weeks of a chilling east wind, London was not just cold, but also arid. At this time of year, the main priority for the bees would be to ensure sufficient water to dilute honey stores and to raise brood – and with the temperature stuck around zero, water collection was a big problem for the bees.

My introduction of a liquid syrup feed would solve this problem (as long as I waited until the temperature was above freezing!) and also simulate a nectar flow, which would encourage the Q to start laying freely. Secondly, there was clearly pollen about locally from early April onwards, bursting out on the willow, mahonia and hazel, despite the low temperatures (I don’t think my bees sniffed a single London crocus this year, given the non-flying temperatures while their purple petals were out). But even with a small recent improvement, the rotten weather has been too poor to permit a nectar flow, as well as keeping the foragers mostly hive-bound. I kept the quantities of syrup feed low – 3 litres for a large hive, 2 litres for a smaller hive – so that the storage of this resource inside the wax cells of the hive would not reduce significantly the brood area available for the Queen to lay, but would nevertheless provide sufficient stimulation for wax production by the younger bees.

So that’s this Spring’s feeding regime over….all lot of nips and tucks, but things look to be getting a whole lot better with the weather now, both for nectar and pollen. My hope is that my interventions will have jump-started my Qs’ laying tendencies by a couple of weeks or so…..the only other interventions this month have been to remove the metal mouse-guards from the hive entrances and gently lifting the intact hives, to replace their overwintered open-mesh floors with fresh ones.

I have to wonder, though, whether the temptation to micro-manage my colonies in this frustrating and tedious Spring must have got the better of me ! I am not an habitual Spring feeder, but this Winter was just too long and too harsh to risk not feeding, in my view. Enough nurture for now. Anyhow, given the prospects for a slow build-up, it looks like the penultimate week of April for my first full inspections (six weeks later than 2012’s first inspections!). The bees will be left alone to sort themselves out until then. Relaxed.

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No sign of our London rooftop bees yet, as for weeks now the 10-day weather forecast has shown the prospect of Spring weather forever receding onto  the horizon.

Maybe this will prove to be a pivot-point in this year’s weather, just like drought warnings and expensive media campaigns on that theme early last year (even the sides of London buses trumpeted this message!) heralded the beginning of a 12-month rainy season.

So while we’re waiting for the real thing – here is Apis, taking wing for the first time!