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Oxalic acid in a sugar solution is dribbled between the frames over the bees as a varroa miticide when the brood is at its least, i.e. after a long cold spell. Whilst it can kill the mites on the bees or in open brood cells it can’t touch those behind a brood cell capping. A writer in BBKA News claimed that brood frames could be removed even in mid-winter, any cappings perforated and then the frames replaced prior to the oxalic acid treatment.

We hadn’t had a long cold spell but it’s a matter of compromise so I chose a day to suit me best. It was a lovely day; 9°C and the sun was shining. Thank goodness I was in full armour. Whilst it was too cold for the bees to be flying naturally, they really went for it, and me; when I took the decision to break the cluster out of their hands and made the decision for them. Having started however, I decided to press on and found three small patches of brood on two frames which I duly perforated with my uncapping fork before re-assembling the hive.

Lesson learned, the other seven hives were just given a quick 5ml of oxalic acid between the frames and the crown-boards replaced.

Unbeknown to me however, my back and hat had collected a huge number of hangers-on; the disadvantage of being a solo beekeeper. Having completed the work, as I disrobed and pulled my jacket over my head the bees on the back decided that my now bare face was a good target for revenge. Oh well, I suppose it helps to build up sting resistance early in the season.

One job leads to another they say.

I’ve discovered that my smoker needs some serious reconditioning as the hinge is worn and badly distorted and the interior is really caked up; a workshop job for a wet day.

No netting has been needed so far this year as there’s been no permafrost..

Stuart Roweth, inventor of note (and the Beegym) has sent me the mite-drop statistics for some of his hives through 1918. Some hives had two and even three Beegyms both above and below the frames and the results were really impressive. Rather than having just one gym on the floor of several hives I’ll try putting several in a few hives, above and below the brood and see what the figures are like.

The winter honeysuckle has flowered extremely well this year and the bees have been making good use of it on the many flying days.

Everything is late this year due to the very long winter; November to March. Colonies have been late building up but fortunately the rape has also been about two weeks late in flowering. This has enabled four colonies to be just about big enough for supering.

All the hives were spring cleaned between 14th and 20th April. This involved giving each colony a clean floor, brood box and crown board. All frames were inspected for disease and age and yellow spacers added to frames which had become too dark brown and needed replacing. These frames will be gradually worked to the edge of the box at each hive inspection and then replaced with foundation once any brood has emerged.

The dirty hives were scraped down and then scorched out with a blow-torch before being used again.

Stuart Roweth has produced yet another new version of his beegym and I will be trialing this in one of the larger colonies. (www.beegym.co.uk)

I have returned to the training scene this year with just two young lady students keen to learn about this absorbing hobby. Having just two students, rather than the six or seven in the past, will I am sure produce a much more rewarding learning environment.

The Asian Hornet justifiably continues to feature high in the list of threats. I have two lure traps, based on the National Bee Unit water-bottle design, hanging in the garden and charged with some of our own home-pressed apple juice. One by the hives and the other by the bee shed. Fortunately nothing yet.

The big question on my mind is whether 2018 will be a repeat of 2017 when it comes to oil seed rape. As the month comes to a close the rape has been on flower for two weeks now and the real-feel down in the apiary is -3, it’s blowing a gale and raining hard. It’s been like this for a week now and is set to continue.

All the honey has now been extracted. This year was the first year I noticed such a strong floral smell as I lifted each crown-board. It was possibly the hawthorn which has a strong pungent aroma and is a most erratic yielder. All the honey this year is dark in colour, strong and loth to crystallize. I fear my creamed honey regulars are going to have to get used to clear honey .

One super was simply fitted with eleven starter strips rather than foundation. As the bees drew out this 100% fresh comb, one frame was removed and the remaining ten spaced a little more widely. This gave a slightly wider and heavier comb to cut into blocks. Much of it was also drone comb which, with its larger cells, meant less wax and more honey.

Having removed all the supers I can now complete my records of honey-yield per hive in order to make my decisions as to which queens to over-winter. Eleven colonies and one nucleus are going down to 8 hives. The queen in hive nine was culled and the colony moved around the apiary further than three feet each time placing it alongside other colonies whose number I wanted to boost. Each time it was moved, the flying bees returned to the hive nearest its old position. This way I gradually bled half the colony into other hives. The remainder was then united in its full-sized box with the nucleus colony. Each frame of bees was gently misted with a dilute sugar solution with a drop of oil of lavender to mask the colony aromas and the frames placed alternately into the 14 x 12 box and left for a few days to settle down. This box was then united with hive 1 using the newspaper method. The queen was removed from colony 1 and then later in the evening, this queenless colony was placed above the queen-right colony with a sheet of paper between them. By the time they had nibbled through, their aromas were sufficiently blended as to avoid any confrontation.

The varroa counts have reached scary levels so I decided to treat with Apivar before I feed. Having had Deformed Wing Virus and Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus during the year I thought it best not to just leave it to the beegyms. The hives fitted with beegyms have registered noticeably higher mite-falls but the beegym instructions do say ‘use as part of your integrated pest management’.

Next week we have the ‘Taster Session’ for prospective beekeepers followed by Audley End Apple Weekend. Lots of hard work to finish the season.