After a cold spring the sunshine came and on Easter Monday it was warm enough to open the hive. The 'Old Ways' of beekeeping have much to teach us although we need to keep up with modern scientific research if our colonies are to thrive. Thus the flowering currant in full bloom was the old indicator I used to tell me that it was warm enough to open up the hive and complete a full inspection. Another 'old way' is to observe the hive from the outside and so even when it was too cold to open the hive I watched the bees taking in pollen, collecting water from the birdbath, I looked at the number of dead bees on the ground and for signs of faecal staining indicating Nosema, bee dysentery.
With the help of my husband as 'scribe' I inspected each frame in the brood box checking for honey and pollen stores, brood from eggs to capped larvae. All was well. The brood was building up and there were no signs of disease so my previous concerns about nosema were allayed.
I was delighted to find my elusive queen. I was already prepared with the 'crown of thorns' queen catcher and green marking pen in my pocket, so marking was quick and easy although the marking was rather blobby as she moved about. I did not want to risk squashing her down too much and injuring her.
I removed one of the old frames which had quite a few drone cells as well as worker cells. I then moved the last of the old frames to the outside of the brood box with new empty frames between. I am not sure that this was a good idea but we will see. My idea was to allow the capped brood to emerge but to dissuade the queen from laying more eggs in the empty cells. It may just be that these larvae are chilled and die but as the alternative was to remove the frame and thereby kill these bees anyway it seemed worth trying.
I took the old frame that I had removed into the house and gave it a full examination using a magnifier. I removed 50 drone larvae from their cells to check for health. The larvae were white and healthy but four had one varroa mite each. Not a disaster, but treatment is necessary. Changing the old wax is part of my integrated pest management plan, the next step will be to apply MAQS formic acid strips. I have put the varroa board under the hive floor and will see what the drop of mites is over the next week and then if the colony looks strong at the next inspection I will commence the treatment and keep a record of mite deaths.
Out and about in the garden I have seen plenty of bumble and solitary bees. The hairy-footed flower bees are fond of the japonica and pulmonaria flowers and the bee flies are busy on the forget-me-nots but seem thwarted by the muscari despite their impressively long proboscis. There have also been some very large queen bumble bees about. My honeybees have now ceased crowding around the birdbath to collect water. I wonder if this is because they no longer need to dilute the sugar stores and have fresh nectar coming in?
I am keeping up with refreshing my website and have added a folklore section. I added some more photographs. I am reading Larkrise to Candleford which has several references to beekeeping in Oxfordshire in the 1880s which is fascinating. This includes the importance of 'Telling the Bees' about important family events. My youngest son was seriously ill earlier this month and eccentric as it will sound, I did go and tell the bees. I doubt that it had any impact on them but it made me feel better at a very stressful time. I did of course also tell them when he recovered!