Beekeepers and the Weather

In a bit of a tizzy

Land Rover Discovery Sport
Bee Wagon

Some weird stuff is going on. There I was, getting on with my life and feeling great when the Gods decided to remind me of my insignificance. Admittedly I’m one of those who tend to see the negatives in things; it’s what allowed me to be good at my last job. When everyone is ‘high-fiving’ and celebrating a fantastic new deal, I’m the one scratching his chin and saying, “it’s not a done deal until the money’s in the bank”. A doomsayer, I suppose.

KNOWING

Nevertheless, losing swarms in April in my part of the UK is embarrassing. Who am I to lecture others on the finer points of keeping bees when I can’t even keep them myself?! There is a world of difference between knowing something and KNOWING it.

I have never seen bees so strong in April. It wasn’t even a hot April; apparently, it has been the frostiest since records began. Many of my colonies are much stronger than I thought they would be. They have lots of brood and are bringing in nectar and pollen by the bucket load, even though some trees are barely coming into leaf. I can console myself with two thoughts:

  1. The queens that I made last year have come out of winter well and are getting to work early despite the weather
  2. Losing a swarm in April means that the bees will be strong enough to catch the summer flow, so I won’t lose much honey…maybe.

Swarms in April

I have gone through all 38 colonies in the last week, and several hives had queen cells (sealed, no sign of queen). It’s the single brood boxes and nucs that are the problem. Most of my hives are double Langstroth, and I reversed brood boxes at the end of March. They are fine, thank you very much. But the six-frame nucs all needed brood removing or a second box adding – pronto. 

The question that is vexing me is: “have I just raised a load of swarmy bees, or is it that they are prolific bees and I failed to give them enough space?” It has made me doubt my queens. However, on reflection, with the double broods all being great and not swarming, the odds are that it is beekeeper error rather than dodgy queens. If the seasons continue to get earlier, I’ll be doing weekly inspections from early April, frost or no frost. It seems crazy, but that’s the way it’s going.

lots of bees
Strong National nuc

Birds and Bees

Stopping bees from swarming is akin to leaving a bunch of teenagers alone with alcohol and music and telling them not to party. There are always a couple of party poopers, but they are the exception rather than the rule. 

The fact is that the weather in the UK is famously erratic. I think ‘changeable’ is the term. We are not likely to experience prolonged spells of settled weather as they do in continental landmasses, and our bees have to be suitable for our conditions. They must be able to hunker down in the cold and wet, then burst into frantic activity when the sun shows its face. Ideally, they should be reluctant to swarm unless the beekeeper fails to provide the space for expansion. So I feel a little better now. I have convinced myself that my bees are great, and the swarms that I lost were down to my incompetence. 

Ready, set…

On the plus side of the equation, my cell builder is set up, and grafting will be on 4th May, even if it’s snowing. I’m looking forward to making queens again. I have some hives that could do with re-queening and plenty of nucs to make. This year I’m feeling more confident about the mating nucs. I have a mixture of the mini-plus hive, kielers and some three frame nucs, which take full-sized frames. Having seen some research on queen acceptance, I’m hoping to not catch queens until three weeks after they emerge. That means, all being well, the new queens will be ready for service around 6th June. 

Bee Wagon

The other thing that put me in a tizzy is cars. My Land Rover Discovery Sport has served me well for nearly three years and will shortly be replaced by a new version of the same vehicle. I ordered it without much thought. It’s a great car for some of the off-road stuff I sometimes do, and the new one will have a tow bar. However, I have been reading all about how unreliable the car is. Many customers have their lives ruined by bits falling off and long delays waiting for the maintenance guys to stick things back together again.

Maybe I got lucky with the current car, and the new one will be a dud?! I can’t do anything about it now. It’s pretty tricky choosing a vehicle that can be a family car when needed but is primarily a bee wagon. It won’t be long before it also has to be electrically powered too.

The solution to the car conundrum is to win the lottery and buy several carriages. I could have a pick-up truck or flatbed for bees, a nice luxury SUV for family stuff and a little sporty thing for fun. Then I’d need a new home with a big drive. While I’m at it, a piece of land with buildings on it to process honey and build hives would not go amiss. I did the Euro Millions lottery, which promised to give millions to at least ten UK residents, but it would appear that I’m not one of the lucky winners. I’ll just have to hope that my Disco Sport is one of the well-made ones.

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