Well another year starts and the bees are hopefully slumbering (mostly?) and its time for the beekeeper to start making preparations for the rest of the year.
This year in the UK could be a challenging one for several reasons, the weather hasn’t yet produced the really cold weather needed to “reset the clock” within our colonies, so some queens may have continued to lay throughout the last winter months; this means the queens are using up their valuable ability to fertilize eggs.
The possibility of drone laying queens early in the season starts to become more possible, as does the chances of “Queen failure”, compounded with the wet weather and lack of stores these “natural” issues can produce a pressure for a colony to fail or perform weakly at the start of the year.
Nosema and Varroa Mites are also an issue that the colony has to contend with, and when the weather gets warmer other pests such as wasps, and now the slight possibility of Asian Hornets preying on them or just competing for spring nectar, can be just too much for weaker colonies.
What can the beekeeper do?
The best way to help you colonies is to prepare them well for winter, and to monitor their progress through the winter months, checking their food levels and providing fondant when required; my colonies late in the year found an abundance of Ivy and I have several very large sugar cubes in the garden when the colonies should be!
This may actually not be enough for an overwintered colony that is still active, and the cold solidified Ivy honey may not be accessible for the colony, so fondant may still be needed as the weather warms up.
Check you winter food levels especially as the weather changes and the colony starts to activate, they will devour the winter stores banking on the spring flowers, that may yet not arrive if the winter does give us a late burst of frost and snow. Check a source of water is also available.
Colony health could also be an issue that could be affected by Nosema, so check you colonies strength and watch out for Nosema signs on the front of the hive and poor behaviour within. Varroa mite levels can be suppressed with the administering of Oxyalic Acid treatments; but only if the colony is strong enough to withstand the treatment.
Lots of animals love Honey, so check for mouse intrusions and check the sheds and other suitable spots nearby for over wintering Queen wasps. Recently a neighbor invited me into his shed where I killed 9 large over wintering Wasp Queens he was watching to see what happened! I also was foolishly buzzed by an over wintering Queen wasp in the house loft yesterday, needless to say she won’t be attending the spring dance in her honour!
The Asian Hornet was confirmed as having arrived in the UK last summer, several Hornets were killed and monitoring is now taking place around the sites; it is imperative we also help with this task and I will be publishing some more Monitoring trap designs shortly that are a lot simpler than existing designs.
Please check out the resources page on Asian Hornets HERE; I strongly suggest you also print out the Asian Hornet advice poster HERE and put it on your local noticeboard where it can be seen; also have a word with your local farmers market or garden center to make them aware of the possibility that the Asian Hornet has arrived in the UK.
There is still the possibility our climate is not right for long term survival of this invasive species, only time will tell.
What to look forward to?
The spring conferences get underway, the Bee colonies start to awake from their slumber and beekeeping becomes enjoyable and practical again; as well as the prospects for a successful honey harvest. This harvest following of course, the activities to manage your colonies during the swarm season!
Lots of possibilities to expand your understanding of beekeeping and meet up with other beekeepers.
Lets hope its a good one! – WebBee