While winter rages around, tucked up in their snug hive, the bees are stirring. Well that’s basically what’s happening. In fact, apart from the rain (which fell on 21 days last month and was double the average), it has been mild with the average high of about 12oC.
The bees have been flying and bringing in loads of pollen and quite a bit of nectar. So much so that there is even drone brood in most hives. Incidentally, they should by now have brood on three frames in the middle of the hive which is a little ahead of their usual spring programme. (August is usually a very cold month).
From the hives I’ve looked at, those in the sheltered sites are still heavy with honey and are doing nicely, while some of mine in an exposed site are very short of food. The young bulls rubbing on the hives and generally knocking them about could also have contributed to their poor state, but I believe that it is mostly due to the exposed nature of the site. Anyway, they’ll get a topping of spare wets (supers with the manuka honey still in them which didn’t fully extract out) and a little dry sugar for good measure.
When you depend upon honey production for a living, record keeping takes on more importance. One of the main things you look at is production statistics for each apiary. Poorer sites are analysed as to why. One of the things I’m finding is that early morning sun is very important to get the bees flying. Hence I’ll be clearing a little more bush away from the hives so they get more early sun.
The colour of the hives also takes on anew emphasis. Put your hand on the hive in the morning sun and feel how warm it is. Light colours tend to be cool while the browns are a lot warmer. The bees inside these supers are right up the sides in the darker supers, while those of a light colour are still in the middle of the frames.
Normally our honey flow is over just after Christmas, while further up the Island, theirs will be just getting underway. So we have to build up our bees early to take advantage of our early flows. Darker painted hives require less energy to keep the outer brood nest warm. I also believe our temperate climate means that we don’t need white hives which reflect the light to keep them cool in the middle of summer. Warm hives assist the bees to expel moisture from the honey quicker also.
What to do around your hives? Very little! Keep the grass down, extend the landing boards so the bees landing short have an opportunity to crawl in, and prepare any new gear for the forthcoming season. Check the stored supers for any sign of wax moth and add another tablespoon of PDB if you find any.
The way the bees are coming on, I believe they will most probably build up early and swarm if you don’t watch them. Eastbourne usually has a very early flow starting in September. Other seaside suburbs could be similar. The idea is to record what and when and therefore know your area’s honey flows so you can react at the right time.