In The Apiary: April

1         Carry out thorough inspection of colonies

2         Check for queen cells – swarm control/supersedure

3         Monitor varroa population – mite drop

4         Keep a look out for Small Hive Beetle

The pussy willows have just started flowering here (12th March) and the bees have started foraging a little more freely. April heralds the start of the beekeeping year insofar as regular inspections/manipulations are concerned. There should be days this month that are warm enough to carry out your first full inspections of the hives; if the bees are active and you feel comfortable in a T-shirt, then it should be alright.  For beginners, it is an excellent time of year to familiarise yourselves with the internal workings of the hive, as bees should behave quite placidly, being far too busy to react to what you are doing.

Make sure you have the smoker going well and gently open the first hive. As you work through the broodnest you should be trying to answer five questions:

  1. Is the queen present and laying?  If you don’t see the queen, but have seen eggs, one per cell, then all is well. If you do spot the queen, then now is a very good time to mark her – this year’s official colour is white.
  2. Is the colony building up well, or as fast as other colonies in the apiary?  When you examine the bees you will probably find a few very advanced colonies, one or two weak ones, but by far the majority somewhere in the middle.  The more advanced colonies may well have one or more supers on already, the medium-sized ones will probably be ready for their first, but it is the weak colonies that demand careful scrutiny to ascertain what is holding them back.  Scattered brood would indicate a poor queen, and a large amount of drone brood mixed in with worker brood would point to an old queen who has run out of sperm, or an imperfectly mated queen from the previous year.  If the colony occupies at least 2/3 of the brood chamber then it is probably worth saving.
  3. Are there any signs of brood disease or other abnormality?  The advice here is to become familiar with the appearance of normal brood, and then anything abnormal should be obvious. Most good bee books give a description of brood diseases. If you think you may have a problem, please do ask a more experienced association member or your seasonal bee inspector.
  4. Has the colony sufficient room?  If the colony occupies nearly all of the available space, then put a super on when you have finished the inspection; bees should not be using all the space available to them in the spring – putting a super on too early is better than putting one on too late.
  5. Has the colony sufficient stores to see it through to the next inspection? If in doubt, feed a gallon of syrup.

Swarm control.  Towards the end of the month, some of the colonies may start swarming preparations, especially if the queen is in her second full season.  If you see several occupied queen cells, then you must make some sort of division or the bees will do it for you in a few days’ time.  More details are available of the complete Newsletter of the options available to you.

If, however, you see only one or two occupied queen cells, and these are on the face of the comb rather than on the edge, it is probable that the bees are arranging to supersede their queen. In this instance, I would leave them to get on with the job, but just keep an eye on them in case they change their minds and go the swarming route instead.

Varroa.   Keep monitoring the varroa situation, and by far the most accurate way of doing this is by uncapping a patch or two of drone brood with an uncapping fork and looking for mites on the pupae. Counting natural mite fall over a week or two can lull you into a false sense of security and lead you to believe that your bees are fine (see BBKA newsletter for October 2007 – article on use of open mesh floors).  Also, do keep a wary eye out for Small Hive Beetle.

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