Apiary Blog March 2024

29 March 2024

Like the rest of the garden, the apiary is coming to life after winter.  It has been warm enough during the day that the bees are no longer huddled in a cluster and instead are out foraging for pollen. The valuable early sources of pollen are giving way to the staples – willow and gorse are out and the blackthorn along the burn is starting to flower.  Soon it will be the turn of fruit trees and dandelions.  Inside the hive the queen will start to ramp up her egg laying so that the foraging force will be at its peak by the time of the main summer nectar flow.

The beekeepers have also come out of hibernation – equipment has been cleaned and repaired, new equipment made and plans for the coming season formalised.  We took advantage of the lovely warm Sunday last weekend to carry out a very quick early Spring inspection – a full inspection looking for disease and a spring clean of the hives will have to wait until it’s warmer.  We were heartened to see that all 10 colonies and the nuc have survived the winter and all queens seem to still be fertile and laying. Two of the colonies were a bit light on stores but we plan to continue feeding all the colonies anyway. We could still get a cold snap and early spring is the time when most colonies are lost.

The bees were out in force and the hum at the apiary was amazing.  Most of the pollen being brought back was orange/brown – we analysed one of the pollen pellets under a microscope and as we suspected it was gorse.

Bees with pollen

We took advantage of the weather to change some of the hive floors so that we can clean the ones that overwintered the colonies. Rather distressingly one of the stronger colonies had lots of dead and dying bees on the mesh floor. The bees that weren’t dead were trembling and unable to fly.  Some had a characteristic ‘K sign’ caused by dislocation of the hind and fore wings. The odd bee was black and hairless.

Bees on mesh floor
Shiny Black bee

The signs are those of Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus, an emerging threat to honey bee colonies.  The virus is probably present in low quantities and overcrowding and confinement due to bad weather cause it to spread rapidly resulting in colony collapse.  No-one knows why it has suddenly had a sharp increase in incidence and we’re not sure why this colony has become affected.  It’s a strong colony but there are significantly fewer adult bees than there would be at the height of summer so it’s not overcrowded.  We removed the floor and dead bees and fed the colony sugar syrup. We will check again in a week but if there are lots more affected bees we will probably euthanase the colony to prevent spread to other colonies. As the affected colony becomes weaker, bees from stronger colonies will rob it resulting in spread of the virus.  Beekeepers can also spread disease between colonies and impeccable apiary hygiene and biosecurity are key.

Written and photographed by

Ilona
Ilona is the Head Beekeeper and leads the Apiary team.

Catherine Bradley.
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