As this was the first meeting of our second year with both new members and those from last year we ran with a standing agenda to make sure all tastes were served – we'll stick to this format for future meets. Here are some of the main points we discussed:
Following a round of introductions we enquired how many hives that went into the winter survived. Of those present, plus a couple of members who gave their apologies, we ascertained that of these 9 hives that went into winter all but 1 survived and that was a late swarm which seemed to have starved – dead bees buried face into cells. The dead out was only established just before last summer's appalling weather. Could other members not present today please report back?
- Four YABeePers are attending the RBI Combating Colony Loss day at Tiverton next Saturday – there are still places left.
- The Safe Land for Bees event is on Sat 11th April – Windmill Hill Community Centre in Bristol
- Nick Miller will be holding a launch meeting of the Kingsdown (Bristol) bee project using top bar hives on Saturday 17th April – details will follow when published. Nick kindly showed us an example of the hives they will be using to host feral bees as part of this project.
Ali kindly gave the group detailed feedback on the presentations at the Somerset BKA Lecture day on 20th February which all YABeeP members who attended seemed to enjoy.
What's Going on in the colony?
This slot, designed to inform members about what should be happening within the hives, will become a standard agenda item. Volunteers to present it would be greatly appreciated (hint, hint!)
- The long, cold winter has been a benefit following last summer's appalling weather as the bees have been in winter cluster for long periods. Consumption of their stores drops to virtually nil during cold spells whereas in a mild winter they don't cluster and can eat all their stores and starve.
- Queens will also have stopped laying during this spell allowing the cluster temperature to drop. They maintain 20°C when broodless but have to raise this to 35°C when brood is present.
- Longer days and occasional warmth will have triggered the queens into laying, normally in January but probably later this year given the harsh winter. They will now (March) certainly be laying.
- In a way now is the danger period – if a warm spell is followed by another lengthy cold snap they will struggle to feed all the extra and growing brood and may consequently starve if they can't get out to forage – you'll be glad you didn't take their honey last autumn like the conventional beek's do!
- They can now be seen on warmer days on cleansing flights (watch those washing lines!) and collecting pollen & nectar - snowdrop, crocus, catkins, mahonia, etc. Why not buy or use an online pollen chart to identify what they are bringing back?
- Most of the winter bees will be dead come the end of March with the new girls taking over their duties – watch for bees taking orientation flights – sort of figure of 8s facing the hive. All female bees are genetically identical and yet summer workers live just about 6/8 weeks, winter bees live 6 months and the queen, who's only difference is the diet she was brought up on, can live for several years - apparently it is believed to be switches in the genes that determine longevity.
- Some years early drones (male bees) can be seen by the end of March but, given the recent winter, I expect it will be well into April before we see them this year.
Jobs for the month
Again, another new but to be regular feature.
- Bumble nests must be prepared and out by now [indeed I saw 2 bombus terrestris queens out today – 14/3/10]
- Clean any hives that were empty over winter and may have grown mould – use washing soda (its high pH will help kill bacteria) or scortch with a blow lamp.
- Ensure there is a water supply near to your hives. Bees prefer water with algae in it rather than what we would term as 'clean' water as it is thought that they derive some nutrients, etc, from it. Place a bucket or larger container, fill it to the top with stones then water and allow the contents to turn green/black with algae. A layer of moss on the top or wool/straw fibres is beneficial. They will alight on the stones/straw and drink. Ensure the water is topped up in dry spells.
Alternatively why not add a natural pond near the hive? Plant it well (the rhynes around here are a great source of free planting!) and don't add fish - let it self populate with frogs, toads, newt and other creepy crawlies; bees aren't the only beneficial insect after all! So long as there is plenty of vegetation it will make a great water supply for your bees plus an attraction for additional wildlife - win win!
- If you have a varroa screen now would be a good time to do an occasional mite count – we will cover this in detail at the next meeting.
- If you are feeding (but please, only in dire emergencies for sustainable beekeepers!) then change from fondant to syrup.
- Don't be tempted to open your hives to inspect unless the temperature reaches 16°C.
- There will be no changes to our lose and free membership structure and it was agreed by those present that emails sent by YABeeP would continue to use the To: box for the member circulation list so members had access to each others emails.
- Robin again appealed for ALL members to volunteer to adopt a topic to research and feed back to the group at future meetings. Can all year 2 members who have not yet done so please volunteer for a topic – download the updated list here.
Hive Building Workshop – Saturday 27 March
As we need to to order the materials, we need to know the following by Wednesday 17th March:
- Whether you wish YABeeP get the timber (£1.0 per mtr + vat) - it should total around £30 for a 4' hive inc. glue and screws, around £5 more if you add an observation window.
- Whether you want an observation window?
- If you want materials for more than one hive.
Sarah has suggested a project with the local Junior School – we are currently awaiting their response. The proposal is to pre cut some solitary bee nest boxes which the kids can assemble in a supervised session. They will then have record sheets so they can record and feed back (make it a competition?) their population and possibly species. If we get the go ahead we need the following – can you help?
- More volunteers to help pre-cut pallets to join Ali, Robin and John - John has experience of a similar bird nest box project in Devon schools.
- Pallets – Lou can provide some but more always welcome
- Old bamboo canes
- Someone to lead on the project – any volunteers?
Monthly Feature - Introduction to Sustainable Beekeeping
New members were given our introduction talk – and nobody ran for cover!
One of our new members (sorry, I didn't write down who but I think it was Kay?) suggested that we could organise plant swaps for future meetings. When growing plants from seeds or cuttings to attract bees we could exchange any surpluses amongst the group to encourage more bee friendly planting. We will pursue this at the next meeting when we discuss Planting for Bees as our monthly feature.
10th April when the Monthly Features will include Planting for Bees (Julie, Beanie & Di), Varroa monitoring and Horizontal Hive Inspection with, weather permitting, a live inspection - please bring your veils!
[All original photographs on this page of Apis Mellifera © Robin Morris and were taken in St. Margarets garden - 14-Mar-10