I have been keeping a low profile of late because I have a touch of walrus flu. I don’t think it’s anything exciting like that Covid-19, but who knows? A couple of weeks ago I got back from the gym feeling decidedly green about the whiskers, and since then I’ve been a bit off. Given that in the winter months, I live a hermit-like existence, rarely seeing another soul, the risks of me spreading it are slim.
I don’t know enough about viruses and have made a note to read more, but I do know that there are some bad ones out there. It’s not just a problem for mammals; bees suffer from virus outbreaks too, and some can be serious. Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) seems to be a particularly nasty one, and as yet I’m not aware of any cure. The usual advice is to keep colonies healthy and strong with low varroa mite loads and hope for the best. I had a colony die of CBPV last year and was grateful that it was an isolated incident. If it spreads through an apiary, it can wipe the lot out.
Usually, I would be bursting with excitement about the arrival of spring, but right now, I’m lethargic and focusing on defeating my illness. Mrs Walrus and I had a restful stay in our usual hotel in Lanzarote last week, which was marvellous as ever. Many of the cacti and trees are in flower over there, but I did not see a bee. I only saw two flies in the week, but I know there are honeybees on the island. One day I will have to investigate. On one morning there was a frame of honey available for hotel guests to chisel off chunks of comb honey, which I duly did. It went very well with porridge.
Oh yes, for the first couple of days in Lanzarote we had a “calima” (sand storm). Strong winds lifted sand from nearby Africa into the sky making an eerie sky over an already unusual landscape. We didn’t mind, it was still warm and dry.
Over the winter I have found another obsession; the USA Democratic party’s process for selecting a nominee to face off against Trump in November. I was hoping that they might select somebody under the age of 77 but that ship has sailed. I don’t mean to be ageist, I really don’t, but are people at their sharpest and best when they are so advanced in years? President Trump is odds on to see out another four years. Who’d have thunk it?
I’m aiming to get around my hives very soon to change floors, see which colonies are strong or weak (or dead) and feed fondant if necessary. I don’t expect many will need fondant, but you never know. I believe in making sure they have plenty of stores in the autumn then leaving them alone until spring, apart from a quick blast of oxalic acid in November/December. There are bound to be losses. I know already that two nucs have died. I haven’t done a post mortem yet but suspect they got robbed by wasps or other bees, or perhaps they were not quite strong enough.
Every year I learn more, and perhaps one day I will get the hang of this beekeeping lark. It feels to me that I’m making progress; I hope the bees concur. Having said that I’m not in favour of keeping weak or rubbish bees, and I do believe that some losses over winter are nature’s way knocking down the poor ones. Survival of the fittest and all that. If they need constant pampering and molly-coddling then maybe those bees are not the ones I want to live anyway.
Recently I looked up what ROB Manley and Brother Adam did in March. They were great beekeepers, so it makes sense to know what they were up to as spring got going. Manley used to clean floors and add combs of honey to hives that needed it. He would look to see if flying bees were bringing in pollen. When most colonies were flying, but some were not the laggards would be checked more thoroughly, because usually, they were the queenless colonies.
Adam also cleaned/changed floors, and he’d pull out frames at the edges that weren’t covered in bees. These were the older frames that he’d moved to the sides the previous season. As the colony grew, Adam would add back frames of foundation for the bees to draw out, one at a time. By May the brood boxes would be up to their full complement of 12 Modified dadant frames, but he’d often put the first super on before then.
The real action doesn’t typically get started for me until April, but it all depends on our fickle weather. From April to July, time seems to fly by so fast. So much activity by both beekeepers and bees gets compressed into these frantic months. Watching the bee populations explode, adding supers, dealing with swarming, raising queens…it’s such a wonderful time unless we are unlucky with the weather.
Interviews with Beekeepers (Book)
My book, Interviews with Beekeepers, will soon be published! I’m happy that Alex Ellis of the Bee Farmers Association has offered to review it. I’ll be even happier if he likes it!
Oh yes, if anybody spots me at Bee Tradex in Stoneleigh on 14th March please feel free to say hello. I might not shake your hand (virus protocol), but touching elbows is an appropriate substitute these days, apparently. It’s always fun to talk about bees with people who love them as much as I do.