Littleover Apiaries – February in the Hive
Well, after a long and dreary damp winter, life and our season it seems will start again this February.
It will be slow a start at first as we wait for a warmish day to enable us to go and start to inspect every single hive. We need to choose our days carefully as we want any bees that are disturbed to be able to return to the hive before they become too chilled.
What we will be looking for firstly are colonies that have not made it through the winter, as sadly not all will have. Next we will be looking for colonies that have suffered larger winter losses than we would have liked. The reasons for weak colonies can be many things and among these can be that the “Queen” is old and so there were too few bees in the colony at the start of winter. It can also be caused by disturbance from woodpeckers or even by mice getting into the hive (everyone wants somewhere nice and cosy to live during the winter!). Sometimes, when we have had a mild winter, the bees may have been leaving the hive and flying out foraging in vain only to become too chilled to return. This then leaves the remaining bees in the colony with too few in number to keep the colony warm.
Any small or weak colonies found are marked and come March we will unite two small weaker colonies together in order to make one stronger one. This will give them a flying start once the weather and temperature picks up.
The next job is for every colony to be fed a fondant concentrate to ensure that as the bees reach the most critical time of the whole year that they will have an abundant supply of calories to ensure that the workers left over from last year are bursting to start their harvest, first of pollen and then nectar come spring.
We then start one of the most important jobs of the entire year, which is to sterilise all of the hives belonging to dead colonies and the wooden frames that will be used by the bees to build combs in which to store their honey. This is a dirty, laborious and time consuming job, and is everyone’s least favourite job of the whole bee keeping year!
In keeping with our commitment to be 100% chemical free, the cleaning is done by placing the old and dirty frames and wood work into an old fashioned copper boiling vessel where it’s all completely immersed in boiling water for at least five minutes. This both melts any traces left of the old bees wax and sterilises the wood at the same time. People tend to forget that bees suffer illnesses’ as well and after all we are in the food production industry, which means for us cleanliness and hygiene are vital. The quality of our honey starts in the way we manage our woodwork in the hive.
Also, disease prevention is always preferable to disease treatment. Bee husbandry and the welfare of our bees is the constant theme throughout the whole of Littleover Apiaries. Once the frames have been allowed to air dry, they are fitted with what we call ‘foundation’. This is a slim sheet of bees wax imprinted with a hexagonal pattern on which the bees will build their fresh combs for use during the year ahead. These boxes and frames are carefully stored until they will be needed later in the season.
Next month the work will begin in earnest!