In the past few weeks Ealing beekeepers have been busy improving the association apiary and preparing the bees for spring. Tom has been running easy-going monthly volunteering sessions fuelled by plenty of tea; jobs done so far have included pruning, cleaning, removing rubbish, organising the storeroom, putting in new fencing and planting wildflowers.
Below you can see the muscles getting stuck in to turn over the soil, ready for wildflower planting.
After the heavy work had been done, Elsa and I put down a mix of seeds and sawdust Tom had brought along. Then Kathy raked the top soil over to stop the seeds blowing away. Since the photo was taken Tom has put a lovely log border round the plot so that people don’t keep walking over the soil. It will be exciting when the flowers start coming up!
Last weekend John Chapple and Alan Gibbs demonstrated a shook-swarm on a couple of colonies at the apiary, which a large group of beginner beekeepers came down to watch. Changing brood combs annually by doing a shook-swarm or Bailey comb exchange is a mandatory requirement for colonies kept at the association apiary. It’s a spring-clean for the bees, helping to combat diseases like AFB, EFB and nosema by removing the old brood comb and giving the bees fresh foundation to build from. Doing a shook-swarm also helps with varroa control.
Jonesy’s colony was small, so he shook-swarmed it into a poly nucleus hive to help the bees keep warm. You can see the nuc and new foundation frames on his right.
Once the queen and the rest of the colony have been safely transferred onto the new frames of foundation, the old brood frames and any brood can be burnt, killing off any varroa lurking in the brood in the process. Unless a nectar flow is on, colonies should always be fed with strong 2:1 sugar syrup so that they can draw out new comb. Below you can see Pat’s burner consuming the old brood frames, with Tom’s nice log border in the foreground.
Emma and I inspected last weekend and found that Peppermint and Melissa’s colonies were weaker than usual at this time of year. They had very little brood and we weren’t confident that they would cope well with a shook-swarm, so we have decided to postpone comb changing till after Easter, when we will probably use the gentler (but more time-consuming and non varroa ass-kicking) Bailey comb exchange method. For anyone interested, information on both methods is available from the National Bee Unit’s Beebase fact sheets – see the ones on ‘Shook swarming’, ‘Care of colonies after shook swarms’ and ‘Replacing old brood comb’.
You may have seen Emma’s post last week, ‘The decay of spring‘, where she talked about the sad loss of one of our colonies recently. Pepper’s dead bees were found clinging to frames containing a small amount of very crystallised, hard honey – when a cold snap hit us in February it seems the colony just didn’t have enough energy to keep themselves warm.
In hindsight perhaps we should have given them less space overwinter – this time we left two supers of honey on, whereas usually we’ve left only a single brood box or brood box and one super. The larger the hive space, the more energy it takes the bees to keep warm. It also meant the cluster was further away from the soft fondant block over the crown board, which might have been easier for them to eat in cold weather than the crystallised honey. This is the first time I’ve lost a colony since I started beekeeping in autumn 2008. I have been very lucky not to have lost any bees before – lucky and also I’ve benefited from great advice given by more experienced Ealing beekeepers. It is sad but you learn from it and hopefully avoid making the same mistake next time.
To end on a cheerier note, here are some pics of local bees visiting cherry laurel and crocuses. Cherry laurel pollen is the same creamy colour as its flowers, while crocus pollen is orange.
Tomorrow I will be 38 weeks pregnant, so the baby could arrive very soon! Amazingly both my bee suits still fit 🙂 Afterwards I plan to continue beekeeping, but Emma has kindly said she will do most of the inspecting this year. I hope to join her for inspections once or twice a month and will continue updating this blog. It will remain a blog about beekeeping rather than babykeeping, but occasional baby pictures may be included!