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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.

What had seemed an amazing start to the season rapidly turned sour. The marvellous weather we had in March enabled supers to go on eight of the hives earlier than ever before. April arrived, the oil-seed-rape came on flower, and the weather turned for the worst; next to no rain meant no nectar and the bitterly cold winds meant the foragers could not leave the hives. These conditions lasted for almost the whole of the rape’s flowering season. Some of the hives got up to two supers but I added the second just to ensure there was plenty of space to store any incoming nectar.

Varroa counts have continued on a weekly basis and Stuart Roweth (www.beegym.co.uk) has kindly supplied some more up-to-date beegym equipment. His floor-mounted model has been upgraded once again and these are installed in hives 7 & 8. Hive 9 has ten of the new production model minigyms.

Beegym 2017
The latest model Beegym

Varroa has unfortunately been the least of my worries. Last year I had a severe case of CBPV (Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus) in hive 8 which I managed to clear by hand-picking all the infected drones from the combs. This year the virus has swept through all the colonies killing thousands. Being confined to their hives has exacerbated the problem because it meant that infected bees were not dropping out of the sky away on foraging trips but were staying at home to share the infection with their brothers and sisters. To add to the misery I also had cases of DWV (Deformed Wing Virus). Each day the ground in front of the hives has been littered with dead bees, to the extent that I got ‘The man from the ministry’ to come and have a look. He confirmed not only my diagnosis but the fact that there is no known cure. He scooped up several handfuls of dead bees, put them in a carrier-bag to send off for analysis just in case there was something else we hadn’t noticed. All we can really hope for is more rain at night and more sunshine in the day.

Varroa drop record sheet 2017
Weekly varroa drop so far

Over the road is a crop of field beans just about to come on flower but whether they’ll yield a harvest for me as well as the grower remains to be seen.

On a less despondent note, the Saffron Walden beekeepers group had a trip out to Kew Gardens to see The Hive. A marvellous edifice in stainless steel complete with lights and music. Not a lot to do with bees unfortunately, apart from the interior shape, which resembled a skep.

The Hive, Kew
The Hive at London's Kew Gardens