The life of a Breconshire beekeeper part 3

April 2020 has been a warm and sunny month, great if you can get out and enjoy it in these times of lockdown. I’m very lucky in that respect living in the countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park I can visit my apiaries being close to home.

Flowering Plants:

I have been monitoring the flowers that have been emerging daily and making a note as and when they come into flower and if I see any honeybees or any pollinator feeding on them. I am trialling an app on my phone called PlantSnap that identifies a flower or plant from a photo.

As a beekeeper I am keen to see what is available for the bees to forage on to get pollen and nectar so that they can build up their colonies as quickly as they can. Pollen provides protein and nectar provides carbohydrate, and for bees the sweeter the nectar the better. I have written in more detail in a previous post: What are the best plants for bees.

By April 6th I had noted that there are 20 flowering plants; a mixture of woodland and wild flowers and tree blossom. I’ve also tried out a couple of free video editing apps; Adobe Spark and iMovie, using each to make a brief record of these flowering plants:

March flowering plants (1:17)

April flowering Plants (2:00)

A walk around Pentwyn with me (6:00)

Here’s a book I’d recommend: ‘Plants for Honeybees’ by F.N.Howes.

I have also listed the main pollen and nectar providers across a typical year for the area of Breconshire in which I live and keep bees. Plants for Honey Bees – Chris Cardew October 2013 – Sheet1

Each day I sit in the apiary at the end of the back field, the one I will use for queen breeding very soon and just observe the bees as they go about their day. I can see several colours of pollen coming into the hives as well as house bees working around the entrance and clearing the hive of rubbish and dead bees. A honey bee can carry a bee carcass away from the hive in flight, quite amazing skills these creatures have. In the evening I can smell the odour of the day! The plants the bees have been foraging on and in these last weeks the bees have been busy on Oil seed rape OSR even though I can’t see it growing I recognise the strong smell and the big lumps of yellow pollen the bees are carrying. As the evening turns to night there is a gentle hum that emanates from each hive as the bees set about evaporating the watery nectar….the joys of beekeeping.

Swarms and Swarm Control:

As May approaches there have been reports of swarms in southern England and swarm control is something that we expect to have to do here in Wales from now onwards for a couple of months. By and large the main swarming season is from end April to end June, but honeybees will swarm up to late autumn in certain circumstances.

Swarming is natural phenomenon, its the way that the bee colony propagates and they get ready to do it when they feel ready to so. There has been much written about swarm control over the years and we have some clear ideas why bees will swarm, but they can just swarm even if we can see no reason for them doing so other than they are making new queens. As beekeepers if our colony swarms it will have a big impact on honey production as half the colony departs and if there is more than one queen cell the bees may swarm again and again until the parent colony has very bees left in it.

By opening up each hive on a weekly basis, we check the progress the colony is making; it should be growing at its fastest rate now until roughly mid June (Guide to Honey bees Ted Hooper). We make sure that the bees have what they need for this growth; enough room, enough food and that they are using their space, most importantly we start to look for the signs that the bees are making new queens; queen cells. A ‘swarm’ queen cell hangs vertically off the comb at 90 degrees to the worker and drone brood and can be seen on the edges of the comb or the bottom of the combs in the upper box of a two box hive. However, we cannot wait until the cells reach the pupa stage as the bees can easily swarm just before, so we look for the signs of making the queen cells. A queen is created in just 16 days from egg to queen; it is created from a worker bee egg, but fed copious amounts of royal jelly all its larval life, in contrast to the worker which only gets a little at the start of growth.

Swarm control is about taking action before we find the queen cells; preempting the swarm, and after finding the queen cells. In both cases there are several ways in which to manage the colony, one of which is based on the original ideas of a beekeeper of the 1930s called Snelgrove. Snelgrove developed the swarm board; a cover board with mesh over the feed/escape hole and opening entrances on all sides, his theory based on the colony having too many young bees to keep them busy and hence time to make a new colony.

In brief the beekeeper splits the colony vertically in two parts separated by the Snelgrove ‘swarm’ board; the queen in the lower box and the majority of brood in the upper box. The foraging bees can return to the lower box with the queen, but with almost no brood the swarming impulse dies down. The upper box makes a new queen, but with no foraging bees will not swarm either. In doing so the beekeeper can make increase in colonies or recombine the two at the end of the season with no or little loss in honey production

Rather than explain in more detail there is a modern take on Snelgrove’s method from Ken Basterfield

In Wales Wally Shaw also explains really well in ‘An apiary guide to swarm control

I have used both methods in the past and will use Wally’s method with my own bees this year.

Making beehives

I have been making beehive frames and boxes this month, here are a couple of videos showing me doing it. I try to keep them short so that I don’t bore you too much:

Frame making for honey supers (0:23):

Brood box (0:46):

Collecting an established swarm on wild comb (28:00)

This month I re-housed a swarm that had come into my apiary into a swarm box that I had set up with a little old comb in it. The bees had completely filled the box with wild comb and even though I had given them a brood box with frames below it they hadn’t migrated down. I carefully cut the wild comb out and placed it into frames with rubber bands to hold the comb in place and then put these frames into a new brood box onto the hive stand. I use this method to gather an established swarm almost anywhere, but chimneys prove to be problem!!

Follow me on Instagram for more regular photos and videos @breconshirebeekeeping, scroll down to the bottom of this page to see my Instagram photos

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