Return of the piper

What a beautiful day it was yesterday. Today is predicted to be even better, a very un-March like 15°C/59ºF in London!

As Jonesie said, there was a “buzz in the air” at the apiary. The bees were zipping in and out with purpose, returning with bulging yellow pollen baskets. Shopping time!

Us humans needed to stock up too. Before any beekeeping could be done, tea and cake were required. This cake is a true work of art. The lady who made it used a template she found online and drew round it on her computer screen – ingenious.

Bee sponge cake

Nothing like a cake bulging with jam and cream.

Cutting the sponge cake

Tea inside us, it was time to see our bees. We had a young visitor named Benjamin. He lives nearby and is still at school. It was a good day for him to visit, as it was the first day of the year we’ve been able to take the crown boards off and quickly peek inside.

What we saw made us happy. Jonesie’s two hives and mine and Emma’s three are all alive and thriving, on between six-eight frames. As so much pollen was coming in I removed our mouse guards – they can cause pollen to be lost as the bees push through.

It will also be easier for them to bring out the dead now. The winter bees are dying off; until May developing brood will outnumber adult bees in the hive. It is a difficult time for the few adults as they try to feed all their young charges. Benjamin noticed a “bee graveyard” in front of one of the hives, a macabre pile of dead bodies on the floor.

Yellow pollen

Yellow pollen

Tom has been mentoring me and Jonesie and was pleased with the results. We have been using insulated roofs which Tom made, plus additional polystyrene insulation inside the roof cavity above the fondant feed. “Place your hand on the fondant” he said, “feel how warm it is”. He believes the insulation helps keep that heat in the fondant, assisting the bees. They need to maintain the brood nest at a toasty 34-35°C so that the growing larvae develop properly.

So far we have only had one hive die overwinter in the apiary. We started with eleven colonies, which has gone down to ten after one nucleus died. I think a combination of regular comb changing, using Apiguard and oxalic acid anti-varroa treatments, making sure the bees have enough food (Emma and I only took a couple of frames from one hive last year), good insulation and loving care is the secret. We have been lucky with the mild winter too.

As we walked around watching our bees, the sounds of the local bagpiper floated insistently through the air. He often practices on sunny Saturday afternoons; I think it was the first time I’ve heard him this year. There are rumours that he stands in the middle of a field wearing his kilt as he blasts out his notes. It felt like he was triumphantly announcing the coming of spring for us.

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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27 Responses to Return of the piper

  1. What a lovely idea, announcing spring with bagpipes. I just wondered what the bees reaction to the sound would be. probably just as well he wasn’t too close. I was at the bucks county Beekeepers seminar day and the talks were absolutely first class. But my eyes kept straying to teh sunshine outside and my heart was in my apiary.


    • Emily Heath says:

      I doubt the bees would approve of bagpipes! It often seems that these seminars are on beautiful sunny days, it was the same for me at the Middlesex Day, I went for a walk at lunchtime just to take in the sunshine. It’s hard being away from the bees on a sunny day.


  2. Eddy Winko says:

    I do like the look of that cake! And good news about the bees 🙂


  3. Oh Emily! Warm bee weather AND cream cake!! How delightful, as are your overwintering statistics. We are still waiting for that magical 15 degrees C. likely in a couple of weeks. Then we too can open up the hives and assess post winter states. Of my 19 I have only one deadout and one struggling with what I think is Nosema. The rest look good, but I am itching to get in there and see what’s what. I think the use of quilt boxes keeps the bees dry, meaning they can keep themselves warm, and with lots of their own honey, they seem to do well.


  4. disperser says:

    Very pleasant reading . . . makes me want to hear the piper. The cake is not without its own draw.


  5. What a wonderful image you conjur of the piper standing in the middle of the field! I hope the bees don’t investigate his kilt.


  6. Wendy says:

    It has been wonderful weather recently (and especially today) for the bees to be out flying and bringing back pollen. I hope there are no long spells of cold or wet weather to come. I’m glad your colony losses have been so few over the winter and the bee cake is terrific!


    • Emily Heath says:

      I am worried about the weather turning, as over the past few years we have often had sunny Marches followed by dismal Aprils. Some Ealing beekeepers are leaving their mouse guards on just in case cold weather returns.


  7. There’s a guy near my work who does the same bagpipe thing but sometimes he comes out on Sundays too! Good to see the bees are happy. Cake and warm weather can’t fail to cheer every one up.


  8. daveloveless says:

    I readily admit that the food you show is half the reason I read your posts! 🙂 Most of the things you have on here leave me drooling, and that cake was no exception. It looked wonderful.


  9. That cake looked good and must have tasted even better eating it in the sunshine. I have noticed the honey bee visitors to the garden very busy and laden with pollen. Amelia


  10. hencorner says:

    Sounds like the perfect afternoon, Emily!
    Sara x


  11. Must find a way to combine cake with beekeeping….


  12. Just caught up with this – love the bee cake, Emily! I’ve got some wild bees to post in due course… not suitable for dusting with icing sugar! RH


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