The Apiary Year – April

This is the month when things really start to get going. The air is beginning to warm up – in fact this weekend the air temperature could be as high as 18C. The queen should be laying with enthusiasm. For this to be successful the hive will need plenty of pollen. When doing a hive inspection check that there is plenty of pollen going in. As an aside this is the time to remove the mouse guards. They can strip the valuable pollen from the bees as they enter. If there is not sufficient pollen going in then it might be worth thinking about putting pollen patties on top of the frames.
This is also the time to remove any other winter protection such as insulation and any wire used to deter woodpeckers

Before you ever inspect a hive make certain you have a good reason to open the hive. At this time of year you have several good reasons for opening the hive. You certainly have several tasks to do at this time of year. You are checking

  • the state of the queen,
  • the condition of the hive following the winter,
  • the food stores,
  • whether they intend to swarm and
  • whether there is any disease.
Let us consider each of these in turn:

The Queen
At the start of the month the number of bees in the hive are fewer bees than at other times of the year when you can inspect the hive. for that reason it is a good time to find the queen.
If you find the queen then make sure she is marked. This year’s colour is blue as the year ends in a 0. This is not this year’s queen so she should be marked with last year`s colour which is green – as a best guess as to her age. For more on queen colours there is a page here

Once you get into the hive check the brood frames to see if there are signs of the queen laying and all stages of brood present.
Are there:

  • Empty cells ready to receive eggs
  • Cells with eggs
  • Developing brood and is the brood glistening, white and clear segmentation present or is the brood twisted and distorted?
  • Capped cells with workers inside

If the cells contain workers then the caps will be almost flush with the side walls of the cells. If the caps are raised as a dome then there is a chance they are drone cells. If there are many of these then it suggests that either you have a drone laying queen or laying workers.

Food stores
This is a time of year when we can go from an air temperature of 8C to 18C in a couple of days. Then on top of that we could have a couple of days of snow. All of these are good reasons why we have to have to make sure there is enough food stores. If in doubt they can be fed some syrup using 1kg of sugar to 1.25litre of water.

It is also a time when a few warm sunny days and the rape crop could be in full production. If there is rape near your bees you will know if they are working it because they will be coming back with yellow faces. If this is the case then be prepared to add new supers as soon as they are needed. What you do not want is the bees wishing to swarm because there is not enough space in the hive. If you are not certain what crops are grown in your area then this site may help.

Swarming
As said this is a time when he bees may decide to swarm. One of the things to check is that there is enough space in the hive. On your hive inspection you will be on the lookout for signs that the some of the bees are intending to swarm.
Are there any queen cups or play cells. These are cells that the workers build to possibly house a queen. If you see such cells then check to see if they contain an egg. If they contain an egg be prepared. Does the cell contain an egg in Royal jelly? If so be very prepared. This is a sign that a swarm is quite likely.

Disease
This is also a time to check for the presence of disease. This is too big a topic to cover on this page and I am pleased to say that I have no pictures of diseased cells which I can use. However there are excellent examples of what you do not want to see on the Talking With Bees website. Even though we are in “lockdown” this does not apply to visits from your local bee inspector. If you suspect that your bees have one of the notifiable diseases then you are required by law to notify the Bee Inspector. They will come out and inspect your hive though social distancing will mean that it will not be the two of you leaning over to inspect the frames.

That about covers it for April. These are difficult times but the bees don’t know it and they will be carrying on as before. Let us enjoy the freedom we have to go and inspect them.