First inspections of the spring

In sunny Cornwall I’ve just done my first inspections for 2021 inside the hives. It’s been warm enough for some people to walk about in just t-shirts and for me to wear a t-shirt and cardigan, so it was time.

Good news: both colonies are alive and queen-right. Bad news: one (Kensa) is showing signs of chalkbrood disease.

Bee hives and smoker

My inspecting of Demelza went comically wrong. I began by trying to get all my equipment ready so that I could do some queen marking. I opened a brand new queen marking pen bought last summer and tried to use it on some hard surfaces as a test – no ink whatsoever came out. So much for practising on drones first. I have now ordered a little pot of queen marking paint instead in the hope that there might be something in there.

Demelza is doing well, with the bees filling up most of the frames in the brood box, so I added a super. Now I don’t know how, but I put the super on upside down and then wondered why the frames were sticking up slightly and the crown board wouldn’t lie flat. I will blame it on after running around after two small kids all morning.

Kensa also has a laying queen and plenty of brood, but the chalkbrood made me decide to do a Bailey comb change, which I had been considering already. Demelza’s combs were new last year so I can let them crack on with filling a super, but I think it’s important to get Kensa’s bees on fresh new comb. You can find the instructions for a Bailey comb change in the National Bee Unit’s Replacing Old Brood Comb guidance.

I have begun by putting a brood box full of foundation over the existing brood box, and feeding sugar syrup. By next week hopefully they will have made a start on drawing out the comb and then I have to do the hard part – finding the queen. I will place her in the upper brood box with a queen excluder underneath. Once the brood below has hatched out, the old comb can be removed. It can drag on for a while compared to a shook-swarm, but these are not the gentlest of bees and to be honest I don’t fancy shook swarming them.

Frames labelled with date
Brood frames labelled with date – this is so I can easily see what year the frames were put in. It also makes it obvious which way round the frames were in the hive when I put a frame back in.

I listened in to my local Cornwall Beekeeping Association’s last zoom catch up for beginners, it was nice to hear bee chat. It was reported that blackthorn is in flower now in Cornwall, which is a good source of nectar. No physical meeting dates have been set yet, but it’s hoped there will be some bee safaris this summer, so that we can visit each other’s apiaries.

Bees drinking water
The bees drinking at a water station my father-in-law has set up for them
Daffodil meadow
Daffodil meadow in some local National Trust gardens – not bee related!

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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10 Responses to First inspections of the spring

  1. The Apiarist says:

    Hi Emily
    It’s not unusual to have a bit of chalkbrood at this time of the season. I tend to see it more often in darker ‘native’ bees and tend not to worry unless it’s excessive. Once the weather properly warms up it usually tends to disappear. However, they’ll benefit from changing the comb anyway. As you comment, the problem with a Bailey is the time it takes. In contrast, a shook swarm – at the right time of year – almost overnight changes the colony. They build up again very fast and, with feeding and warmth, draw lovely new comb. But … if they’re stroppy it makes for an uncomfortable 15 minutes or so 😉
    By choice these days I’m more likely to do a shook swarm, though probably a bit later in the season … at least up here in the far North.
    Have a good season,


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks David, I do have the darker bees (though not pure black bees). I have heard that chalkbrood can be common in Cornwall as we have a ‘moist’ climate.

      I have done shook swarms a few times before but I used to have bees so gentle I could inspect bare handed. Even so I found them a bit stressful, though agree the colonies bounced back very quickly in just a couple of weeks. I’m not in a hurry or looking to get lots of honey though, so will see how it goes with the Bailey. I used to know a very successful beekeeper in London who would regularly do shook swarms in late February to early March and get large honey crops. Hope you have a good season too.


  2. disperser says:

    The technical stuff went over my head and swarmed away, but it was still interesting to read, reaffirming my reluctance to get into beekeeping despite my attraction to it.


    • Emily Scott says:

      He he perhaps a compromise would be to get a local beekeeper to do the work for you in your garden, sometimes people do that and in return pay the beekeeper or let them keep most of the honey 🙂


    • disperser says:

      I don’t have a “garden” per se as I did in Colorado or Michigan. We have a few flowers, but there’s not enough nearby to support a bee population (hence why in late Summer and Fall my hummingbird feeders get bee traffic.)

      It’s OK . . . it’ll just be something I think about doing and don’t follow through on . . . like visiting Egypt or traveling across the Galaxy in an alien’s spaceship.


  3. I do not keep bees but we plant for them and are working on a hectare of natural land for them and the butterflies. Maybe once our vegtable garden up and running hives may go in. Its seems quite complex but at least your bee gangs know the ropes. Love your technical. Will be very helpful.


  4. We have blackthorn over here and it is reputedly very good for the bees. At the moment there is so much flowering and we are having a week of summer weather and the bees are swarming. Amelia


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