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Around the Apiary in April

Welcome back and thank’s for joining me here in Norfolk in the UK where we find ourselves just easing out of a prolonged cold, late Winter and chilly early Spring. The weather has really played it’s part this year with our beekeeping routine having been delayed somewhat by the colder weather.

This week's blog post is from my podcast Beekeeping Short and Sweet. My podcast is released on a weekly basis firstly to our Patreon page where you can catch up with all of our content, if you’re not familiar with it, my beekeeping channel on Youtube and now more generally on Patreon is funded in part by my supporters on Patreon for which I am very grateful and if you’d like to have access to all of my beekeeping videos and podcasts as soon as they are released please do take a look at my patron page www.patreon/norfolkhoney.

It’s April and I’m still waiting to be able to open up the hives and start seeing how the colonies faired over Winter. Today I’m looking at where we need to be heading this month with things that need to be done and so much of that still depends on the weather but we are moving into a warmer Spring like period and it’s noticeable that the bees are definitely becoming more active. It’s time to make sure everything is ready for the early season plans that we have in place and a good time for you to revisit your plans and think about what needs to be done this month in the apiary.

It’s very much sunshine and showers at the moment, the sun warms everything up and then the cool Spring April showers turn up and cool everything back down again so it’s a tricky time for all of us, both beekeepers and honeybees. Of course, you could well be seeing lovely warm sunshine and temperatures well into the high teens and we all need to take account of the local conditions, just because I am able to inspect doesn’t mean that my beekeeping friends in Scotland can open up their hives.

Beehives in the Apiary with Daffodils
Looking lovely in the Spring Sunshine but still Chilly

When I do finally manage to get into my bees I'm looking out for some very specific things.

As I open the colony, how are the bees? Are there plenty of them, how many top bars do they cover? Are they moving about nicely or are they terribly sluggish, could that be a problem or are they just cold? I encountered Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus late last year and the bees just staggered around the colony, shivering and looking very sorry for themselves. Unfortunately they didn’t see out the Winter and I’ve had to clean out the hive and prepare it for reuse.

Removing frames I’m looking not just at how much stores they have left but I’m also looking at the condition of the stores, is it still ok for the bees or has there been a problem with mould or fermentation, basically can the bees still use it?

I’ve had some pollen supplement on my bees for a couple of weeks and I’m now looking to replace it with an early Spring feed of syrup. But don’t be in too great a hurry to start feeding your bees syrup, know why you’re feeding them, is it because they are running low? Are you aiming for an early crop such as Oil Seed Rape, also called Canola.

Apiry on Oil Seed Rape
Our Apiray on the edge of Oil Seed Rape Last Year

Perhaps your looking to expand the number of colonies you have or want plenty of bees for early queen rearing, just be sure you know why you’re feeding your bees. Once it’s warmed up a little I feed one to one sugar syrup in a contact feeder, it’s a system that works best for me.

You might find your colonies have expanded incredibly quickly, this can seem like a really good start but be careful they have enough space, I’ve seen colonies swarming in early April because they haven’t enough space so be mindful that they may need additional room.

This could be another brood box, ideal if you’re looking to split the colony or you may simply add a queen excluder and super, I like to make the first super I add one that has already been drawn with comb, I always think trying to get the bees to draw out fresh foundation this early in the season is hard work for them but of course if you don’t have any drawn supers then you can only give them empty frames.

One of the most important jobs early in the season is to check for disease, with the colonies generally smaller at this time of the year than at any other time, it’s an ideal opportunity to really get a good look at what’s going on in the frames. I’ve posted a couple of youtube videos showing how to inspect frames for disease so take a look at those when you can.

But of course there are always words of warning, don’t be in too big a hurry to start inspecting when the weather is still cool, you could be doing more harm than good. Chalkbrood is well known for sitting quietly in your hive and then when there is a chill in the brood box caused by the impatient beekeeper it develops quickly and spreads through the hive so that the next time you inspect you end up seeing lots of white mummified larvae scattered in cells throughout the brood box. Just hold off that first inspection for one more week if it’s still chilly.

Chalkbrood visible in the cells
Chalkbrood can be caused by early inspections in the cold

Looking out of my window here it looks lovely, the sun is shining in the sky and there’s not a cloud in sight, it’s stopped rain but there’s still a chill in the air and I won’t bee inspecting properly for a few days as yet.

One of the other inspection points to look out for is to make sure your queen is safe and well. Has she started laying eggs and is everything looking ok with those eggs. We call this a queen right colony. Sometimes a queen that is poorly mated might become a drone laying queen overwinter and these drone cells will be easy to spot, unfortunately there’s not much to be done with a drone laying queen and very often the colony will have collapsed through the Winter and be dead when you check them. Again, it’s a clean up job and prepare the hive for reuse.

All that said, if you’ve enjoyed a mild early Spring you could find yourself looking down at queen cells during your first inspection! I’ve had this happen myself and it’s quite a shock!

But don’t panic because you spent all Winter preparing extra equipment for just this eventuality, didn’t you.

A Queen cell capped
Watch out for early signs of Swarming

Of course there’s always time to take another look at your plans for the coming season, we still await sight of the first major crop of the Spring which for us is the oil seed rape but while we wait there are a few jobs to be sorted.

one of our apiary sites is having a make over so we have to move the existing beehives there away for a couple of weeks to enable the landowner to bring in the mini digger, we’re all heading over at the weekend to clean out the weeds, re-lay some weed fabric and get more wood chip down. It’s going to look fantastic once it’s finished but the bees would just get in the way so tonight we’re off to strap down the hives, close off the entrances and load them onto the pick up truck for a short trip back home

Beehives strapped and ready to be moved
A misty morning move for some of our bee hives

If you’re planning to move beehives over the coming weeks just make sure you’ve got everything planned, I’ve made the mistake of taking short cuts before and in the end it just creates more work so strap them down and be safe however far you’re moving them.

I can’t wait to chat again next week as I think we will have completed our first inspections over the weekend unless the weather turns cold again and I’ll be answering some questions posted on our Patreon page so don’t forget pop back next week.

I’m off out to prepare the straps and entrance foam for moving our hives tonight so for now…..

I’m Stewart Spinks and that was Beekeeping, Short and Sweet

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