Hive Mind: the bees in February

It’s February, one of those achingly cold, bright days I love so much where if you concentrate there’s the first hint that maybe, just maybe, spring is on its way. It’s time to start thinking about the bees. There are two jobs we needed to do: prune the hedge and feed the bees.

Tidying the apiary

The picture above, taken last summer, shows the tall hedge forming part of the apiary boundary encroaching on the hives. Pete and I had to wait to trim the hedge to avoid illegally disturbing nesting birds. We’re used to managing hedges however wearing a bee suit while doing so is a whole new experience.

Hannah in a bee suit
My (heavily pregnant) friend Hannah of Blod_Design in her bee suit. Photo: me, all rights reserved.

Bee suits are precious things, an important and frankly expensive part of our protective equipment, so I found myself moving veeerrrry sloooowly and deliberately to ensure no twigs or thorns made holes in the suit or veil. We could have trimmed the hedge without them but there’s always the chance some bees will pop out to check what we’re doing and be distinctly unimpressed at our efforts. And of course if we weren’t suited it’d be just our luck they’d be interested in what we were up to. Thankfully we managed to catch any branches before they landed on the hives which wouldn’t have made us popular.

 

We also took the opportunity to remove weeds from the floor of the apiary. The last thing you’re thinking about when beekeeping is where you’re putting your feet so too many weeds can become a trip hazard. Needless to say tripping over when beekeeping rarely ends well.

Feeding the bees

We also checked how the bees were doing for stores. This is the time of year when they are at risk of running out of food: on warm days they’ll fly to look for food and, not to put too fine a point on it, have a poo. They’re unlikely to find much in bloom this time of year so they use up their stores more quickly — the queen is laying more eggs to build up the colony ready for the vital summer honey flow therefore there are more mouths to feed.

The books tell you to heft the hive, which means lifting the floor and everything above it to test the weight, if it’s easy to lift they need feeding, if it’s heavy they don’t. However, what none of the books tell you is at this point some rather annoyed bees are likely to exit said hive and investigate what the heck is going on. There weren’t many and they were all a bit drowsy though persuading them to disembark from the exterior of our bee suits took a while.

While Pete hefted his hive with the outcome described above, I chose just to feed my hive, possibly not good beekeeping but saves breaking the bees from their cosy cluster. I won’t harm them by feeding if they don’t need it, they’ll just ignore it if they don’t want it. I found several bees at the top of the frames just where I needed to place the food, didn’t have a smoker with me to move them down (idiot) so manoeuvred the packet gently and slowly across the top of the frames to persuade them to get out of the way. Note to self: always take a smoker when feeding.

This time of year we feed fondant or candy which looks a lot like fondant icing. We can’t feed a sugar solution due to the temperature: it’s too cold for the bees to turn it into honey and it can freeze. Feeding is about solving a problem not creating one.

The bees are ahead of us

We’ve been busy with a house move this winter (hence this blog being late) and so haven’t had the chance to review, renew and repair our beekeeping kit as we normally would. With the move behind us (hooray!) and a workspace at the new house we can now catch up with these tasks and be ready with clean and sterilised hive parts ready for spring. If it ever arrives.

The next big milestone

Knowing the colony is alive is one thing, knowing the queen is laying the next generation is another. It’s too cold at the moment to check this — if I did I’d chill the brood which is likely to kill them. Killing baby bees is a bad thing on so many levels. I’ll write about the first hive inspection of the season when it happens but in the meantime if, like me, you need a beekeeping fix here’s the blog I wrote last year.

What the bees taught me this time

  • Wearing a bee suit while tidying the apiary can be a bit cumbersome but worth it to prevent a sting.
  • Always take a smoker to move the bees when feeding.
  • Catch up with checking, cleaning and repairing hive parts.

 

 

Cover photo by me, all rights reserved.

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