Dull roots with spring rain

An apiary on a soggy day is a place of frustration for a beekeeper. You can stand surrounded by hives and not see a single bee. The bees remain in retreat, and there is no beekeeping to be done.

We watch and wait still, continuing our weekly fondant check. Below you can see our three hives, in a row from the left. The tall, enormous hive is full of bees and honey stores …equipment.

Our hives

I touched the plastic wrapper of one of the fondant packets the bees are nibbling away inside and it was lovely and warm. They manage to keep it almost the temperature of a sauna inside there. I’d want to stay inside too.

The varroa monitoring boards have hardly any mites when I check. Perhaps this is the result of the winter oxalic acid treatment, or perhaps ants are eating them! Wax fragments and dropped pollen on the board confirm that comb building is going on, stores are being uncapped and pollen is being used to feed the brood. Things are going as well as can be hoped in this weather.

Other colonies have not been so lucky. This is one we found today. Only a tiny cluster remained.

Dead colony

It was sad to see the queen on top of the frames, surrounded by a few attendants. They would have protected her until the end.

Dead honeybee queen

Thomas took a few away to test for nosema, which he suspects may have been implicated in the death of another colony in the apiary.

Under one of our apiary tables I discovered this little nest. Had it contained chicks? Or, as Emma has suggested, is it an old nest blown down from the trees, or perhaps a new nest just started? It contained no mossy lining. I hope it was empty. Perhaps the resourceful apiary robins will be able to make use of it.

Bird's nest

By the way I discovered these pretty embroidered bumble bee brooches today, made by a Scottish lady named Lisa Toppin.

Amazing attention to detail. Looks like a buff-tailed bumblebee? You can see a blog post on how she makes them here: More bumble bees and her Etsy shop, which she sells them from, is called Agnes and Cora.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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34 Responses to Dull roots with spring rain

  1. Love the bee badges – and the sad tale of the dead queen…
    Keep up the good work 🙂


  2. Very sad – your bees work so hard just to survive. Weather and mites conspire against them, at least they have you on their side.


  3. It is heart-breaking to see such a tiny, cold cluster like some heroic but doomed last stand against winter.


  4. Emily, so sad, that little band clustered around their dead queen. Makes me want to check all my hives but the warm weather is a day or two away… Thanks for the AgnesandCora link. Her work is really lovely. Off to shop there now!


  5. I did some digging today and it was very satisfying. I think growing veg may generally be better for my mental health … but I love the highs and lows of beekeeping!


  6. agnesandcora says:

    Fascinating! Can`t wait to hear more! Thanks so much for linking to my brooches and Etsy shop. Yes, they are buff-tailed bumble bees! I love making them and they`ve had an amazing response.
    Looking forward to your next exciting hive story….


  7. Glad your bees are doing well, the warm weather is coming.


  8. Thomas says:

    Hi Emily I tested the bees and they had Nosema. If this was the reason for the hives failure or a symptom we don’t know but it would not help. We should now test all remaining hives in the Apiary as a precaution to be on the safe side.


  9. Simon says:

    Hi Emily,

    Very sorry to hear about your queen and the nosema problem. I hope your colonies and you will recover and have a great year ahead of you!
    Are English springs unpredictably rainy? I know of the cliches of British weather, but maybe you’ll get lucky with good weather soon!

    Take care,


    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Simon, you too 🙂 I’d say English springs are predictably rainy, rather than unpredictably rainy! But not usually as cold and snowy as this one’s been. But yesterday was warm enough for me to go for a walk outside without my coat on for the first time this year, so perhaps things are getting better.


      • Simon says:

        I’m originally from a city just outside Duesseldorf. My folks are still over there. In the nearly 16 years that I’ve lived in the US now, I don’t quite recalling hearing about regular springs in Germany anymore. Humidity has sharply increased in Germany as well they said. Who knows where all this is going to go.


  10. It is sad to see the attendants around their dead queen. I cannot imagine seeing a hive like that, it would be heartbreaking for me. I get sad seeing one dead bee in the garden. The brooches are really nice and they must take some time to do that detailed of work.


  11. I have just clicked ‘Like’ – but really didn’t like to see the poor dead queen, or the lack of activity in the apiary (I did like the brooches). Hopefully a few warm, sunny days will have your bees out and about, doing their thing.


  12. It’s always sad when bees go like that, especially when you think it might be disease. On the nest, I’m with Emma: it looks like something old blown down. What, no cake? I mean, badges are ok, but no cake?!!


    • Emily Heath says:

      Oh, glad that you agree it looks like an old nest. I was getting quite sad thinking about baby birds having been blown down. No cake as most of the other beekeepers were meeting in a separate location last week – but expect there will be cake next time!


  13. Alex Jones says:

    I hope UK bees can enjoy a warm rain-free period since they have had a hard winter season. Looks like spring will be starting late this year in the Summer period. Perhaps the seasons are moving.


  14. I’m glad you placed the bumblebee brooches at the end of the post; they cheered me immensely after the sad image of the dead queen and her faithful attendants. May the seasons turn smoothly and soon to more bee-friendly weather!


  15. agnesandcora says:

    Hi Emily! Thanks for leaving such lovely feedback. Glad you liked your brooch. Still quite chilly here, hope you`re enjoying better weather. Lisa.


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