The Life of a Breconshire Beekeeper March 2021

Ouch! I’ve just been stung by a bee on the back of my neck. I swipe my hand at the back of my head and the bee buzzes around and tries to sting me again even though its sting is in my neck. Angry! I flick the sting out as best I can and then wonder why she stung me. I often stand or sit in my apiaries just to observe the bees going about their business and to get a check on colony sizes and activity, and at this early time of the year I don’t need to wear a veil.

A worker bee returning from a foraging flight might occasionally bump into me, usually into my head as she returns, tired, to the hive. This was different though as the bee was angry. I suspect that there’s a problem with one of the hives; a queen problem that I’ll find when I first inspect them in a few days time.

I’ve been checking on the hives all throughout winter, mainly to see if the colonies had enough food; adding fondant if they needed it. I use crown boards with a centre hole so that I can simply cut a piece of plastic out of the centre of the pack of fondant and place it over the crown board hole. Then its easy to check progress as the bees will be visible eating the fondant under the plastic when I remove the roof.

I over winter quite a few nucs, for several reasons; to hold a new queen, to replace winter losses, to add more colonies, to add brood to existing colonies. All nucs are British Standard apart from the Abelo mating nucs.

I use the Maisemore type mainly, with the Miller type feeder on top. The bees come up through the middle of the feeder and can access the syrup in a small trough and are less likely to drown. I have some Paynes nucs as well, the original poly nuc several years ago, which have the feeder on the side, similar to an in frame feeder. You need to put a piece of wood into it so that the bees can sit on the wood which floats on the syrup, again so less likely to drown.

BS Honeybees has a nuc based on the Maisemore nuc, but with harder density polystyrene, that can be split into two mini nucs with three frames in each nuc. I bought more of these this winter in their sale, to use as mating nucs this year along with the Abelo (Lyson) mating nucs I already have.

I have also bought several Maisemore nuc brood chambers, floors, feeders and roofs. This is so that I can grow nucs quickly, add a brood chamber that the bees will fill, then I have the option to remove the brood chamber onto another floor if I have a new queen(s) available.

One important thing about a nuc is that it will grow quickly at any time in the season, unlike a larger colony which grows early on in Spring, reaches a peak and then slows down brood growth. This is a very useful aspect of the nuc, but it will need feeding and you’ll need to consider how to manage it over winter.

I haven’t inspected the colonies yet this year, but will do so soon. I noticed from my notes that my first inspection was March 14th last year. I’ll be about 10-12 days behind this year, but that’s not a problem.

I have been feeding the nucs syrup since mid February and they are getting quite lively now when the suns out. There’s plenty of pollen about from Hazel, Willow and to a lesser extent the Lesser Cellandine and Wood Anenome. I’ve not see any Blackthorn blossom near me as yet, its later than last year. The season is short and by feeding them small amounts regularly I hope to gain a larger brood cycle early on as it all helps when the season gets in full flow.

If you imagine a season of three months growth; April to June, 90 odd days then with a 21 day brood cycle, the bees may get 4 cycles of growth before starting to slow down. With a larger amount of brood early on from mid Feb to end March they may get another two uninterrupted cycles of brood as long as I give them syrup. There may be plenty of pollen, but not nectar. So, if there’s a cold spell the brood may die unless the bees are fed. I recommend Ted Hooper’s book Guide to Bees and Honey, if you want to read more around this.

Here is short video of a nuc on 24th Feb 2021

Here is the same nuc on March 15th 2021

I have also introduced two British Black Bee queens to my apiaries. Towards the end of last season a beekeeping friend raised some QCs and gave me two to raise. I used an Abelo double mating nuc to get them mated and started with the idea of overwintering the two together. I had been on a queen rearing course a few years ago where a well know queen breeder had informed us that these Abelo nucs can overwinter well. I’m pleased to say that both small colonies have come through the winter well. Bear in mind that these nucs have three frames each with an area about the size of a frame and a half of a super!

Honeybee on Hazel catkins
Honeybee and Lesser Celandine

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