BeeZeen – Spring 2019
Welcome to Westerham Beekeepers’ BeeZeen, a canter around beekeeping in our local
Deck chairs in the garden in Feb – what’s going on?😎
It’s still too early to forecast with confidence that our colonies have over wintered well,
but from various reports from beekeepers ……. IT LOOKS VERY PROMISING🙏 . All
seasons are different and we’ll probably be plagued with early swarms this year…..
especially for those beekeepers who have Easter holidays planned!
This quarter, the BeeZeen will cover:-
Colonies in delicate balance
Pollen crucial to spring development
First inspection of the year
Treatment free update
Training apiary plans: Queen rearing= locally adapted bees
Colonies in delicate balance
Most colony starvations occur in March for a number of reasons:-
1) the colony is made up of old winter bees coming to the end of their lives
2) stores are used up rapidly, with new brood requiring the brood nest to be kept at a
toasty 35’C, requiring large amounts of honey to generate the heat
3) the colonies have more brood in them than adult bees (see graph) at this time of year
and are delicately balanced.
In prolonged cold snaps, bees are reluctant to leave brood and their heating duties.
“Isolation starvation” can result, where the bees lose touch with their stores.
TOP TIP: in your first quick inspection (see below) move any frames of honey on the
outer of the hive nearer the broodnest.
If the hive feels light during this rapid development of the colony, add some fondant for
insurance, NB; still a little early for syrup
Crucially important to the spring development of the colony is fresh pollen. Thankfully
there are large early supplies around Kent and Surrey with flowerings of snowdrops,
crocuses, catkins, hazel, hellebores, winter honeysuckle, pussy willow, blackthorn and
the odd early dandelion. Yellow carpeted fields of OSR should also appear in March
providing a bounty of pollen and nectar for the bees.
Fresh pollen is about 50% more nutritious than older stored pollen, providing proteins,
minerals, vitamins and fats. A colony is estimated to use a whopping 20kg of pollen a
Crucially at this time of year with the development of brood, the pollen activates the
hypopharygeal glands of nurse bees (and even older winter bees) which produce the
milky liquid feed that you see the larvae floating on. c70% of the brood food is water,
which is also required to dilute honey stores for digestion – so collecting water from both
inside and outside of the hive is also very important to the spring development of the
Ivy frames left over from the Autumn
Bees love ivy honey, even when it’s crystallised and a similar consistency to fondant (but
includes the good natural stuff).
Hopefully, you can see the crystallised ivy honey nibbled away in the centre-right of the
frame, where the bees make room for brood. Picture taken in February.
Some beekeepers worry that it can clog up the brood nest in the spring and reduce the
room for the queen to lay.
TOP TIP: to encourage bees to eat the ivy honey, score it with your hive tool and spray
the frame with water. Move ivy frames away from the broodnest area and replace with
Your first inspectIon is a quick affair – 5 minutes max. This is NOT a full brood box
inspection. Your objective is to check that the Queen has survived and is laying, without
too much disturbance of the broodnest. Choose a warm day.
So, here we go:-
- mouse guard and woodpecker protection off. Entrance reducer back in
- roof off
- hive tool carefully around the underside of the crownboard to break the propolis seal
- little smoke under the crown board as you lift it; after 5 to 6 months, they won’t
necessarily be pleased to see you
- check for Her Majesty under the crown board lid!
- take out one of the end frames to create space
- go straight to the brood nest and inspect a frame and the one next to it
- as soon as you find any sign that the queen is laying (eggs, larvae or sealed brood)
- very carefully put everything back together and close up the hive
- 5 minutes MAX⏳
Hopefully all will be in order and you’ll feel thrilled.
Top tip: Seems obvious, but be super careful not to squish the queen. There are few, if
any drones around just now to mate with a virgin queen replacement.
Natural Beekeeping update
(aka Treatment Free project)
The story so far………
A group of Westerham Beekeepers are working together across 7 apiaries, mimic-ing
some natural techniques to reduce varroa loads in the colonies. No chemical mitacides
are being used on the bees.
The project started last season and over wintering was the first big test.
Our longer term goal is to help bees adapt to varroa, as they have done in parts of the
UK, Europe and elsewhere.
We have a presentation on Wednesday, 24th April at Westerham Hall to share our
learnings. Do please come along!
The project has thrown up lots of interesting ideas, which we’ll be experimenting on in the
anti-microbial propolis “shrouds” around the brood area (as you find in feral colonies)
more insulation for our thin-walled hives, as you find in natural cavities
natural comb where bees provide the wax and decide on the cell size
eco floors and symbionts (insects who help out in colonies but get wiped out by
These aren’t new ideas to the bees. They have been tested over millions of years along
side their evolution.
Training Apiary plans
The new season opens on Sunday, 7 April 2019 @ 10.00.
Come and tell us your overwintering stories and share in sacred cake eating rituals🐷
This year, we will be Queen rearing. There is a BBKA and DEFRA backed initiative for us
to rear more of own locally adapted queens, rather than rely on imports. Last year, we
imported some 16,000 queens🙈 , some of which have been shown to bring in new
strains of European Foul Brood. These imported genetics also affect the local adaption
of our own colonies.
3 Westerham Beekeepers are attending a BIBBA supported queen rearing course in
March, so what could possibly go wrong?😜
If you know anyone new who is interested in trying beekeeping, Jacky DeLooz, our
Training Apiary Manager, runs great Taster sessions. For more information or on what’s
going on at the Training Apiary, contact Jacky on firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you all a fabulous season and watch out for March swarms!
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