Early season inspections

Synopsis : The first inspection of the season needs to be late enough that the colony is expanding well, early enough that it isn’t making swarm preparations and timed to coincide with reasonable weather. Tricky. When you do open the hive you have to deal with whatever you find and leave the colony in a suitable state for the upcoming season.

Introduction

It is often tricky to decide when to do the first inspection of the season.

Too early and the bees will appear disappointingly understrength. If the weather is borderline you risk chilling the brood or the bees may get very defensive.

Or typically, both 🙁 .

Too late and the colonies may have backfilled the comb with early nectar and already started to make swarm preparations.

Early season – pollen pattie and brace comb

Twitter has been busy with beekeepers proudly announcing “8 frames of brood” or “Supers on this weekend”, without reference to local conditions or sometimes even their location.

Remember, some of these regular ‘tweeters’ are in France 😉 .

It must be particularly confusing for beekeepers starting their first spring with bees. They are desperate to start ‘real beekeeping’ again, which means opening colonies and looking for queens and brood, just like they were doing at the end of last season 1. However, they get dispirited if the colony is defensive or appears weak (less than 8 frames of brood!), and they kick themselves for not starting sooner if there are queen cells already present.

So what’s the best thing to do?

You have to use your experience and your judgement … or failing those, use some common sense.

I have reasonable amounts of experience and (sometimes) have good judgement, but I mainly rely upon a combination of common sense and local observation 2.

Together with a soupçon of opportunism.

Sometimes my timing is spot on, and sometimes I’m early or a bit late.

In these circumstances you have to deal with whatever you find in the colony and make the best of it.

A false start

Despite the incessant storms and getting trapped in a December blizzard (!) it has been a mild winter. We’ve had an unusually low number of frosts – none in January, one in February and two in March.

I was beginning to think that the season proper was going to start unusually early.

That was reinforced by the weather in the the last fortnight of March, which was fantastic.

Late afternoon sun on Beinn Resipol, Ardnamurchan, March 2022

Fantastic for March that is 3. Warm days, bees busy with the early season flowering gorse (it flowers all season), even a little nectar being collected.

About half my colonies had received an extra kilo or two of fondant in February or early March, and all received at least one pollen substitute pattie to help get them off to a good start. By late March the colonies were looking good 4.

I’m still a long distance beekeeper, with my colonies about equally split between the east and west coasts of Scotland. I therefore book hotels weeks or months in advance for some of my beekeeping. Predicting the weather that far ahead is impossible, so it involves some guesstimates and, inevitably, some beekeeping in unsuitable weather.

Early season is usually particularly difficult, but by late March this year I was feeling quietly confident 5.

And then April started with several hard frosts and the temperature dropped to single digits (°C) for days at a time.

Still, I was committed to make the trip to Fife … and I’m pleased I went.

And they’re off!

I have a couple of apiaries in Fife. I usually visit both on each of successive days on a trip. That allows me to store all the equipment in one apiary, without having to transport it back and forth across Scotland. This works well and means I can cope with most eventualities.

It was 9°C with a chilly easterly when I got to the first apiary. On removing the lid on the first hive it was very clear that I was (fashionably, of course 😉 ) late to the party … the bees were already building brace comb in the headspace between the top bars of the frame and the underside of the inverted crownboard.

That’s what you’ve been getting up to …

I had no spare equipment with me 6, but it was obvious that the colony needed a queen excluder and a super … as well as quite a bit of tidying up.

Which was going to be the story of the trip.

With infrequent apiary visits – either enforced by distance (in my case) or imposed by bad weather (not unusual in spring) – you have to deal with whatever situations you find when you have the opportunity to open hives.

It was clear from the state of this colony, which was on a single brood box, that the bees had expanded well during the warm weather and were going to rapidly run out of space.

Other colonies in the same apiary were on double brood boxes and were heavy with remaining winter stores – and, no doubt, some early season nectar – and reassuringly packed with bees.

It looked like a very promising start to the season.

More of the same

I travelled on to my main apiary to review the situation there. This is the apiary with my bee shed and all of my stored equipment. It is closer to the coast and the wind blows in directly from the North Sea.

It was colder and even less welcoming.

However, the bees were all in a very good state and clearly needed more space and a little post-winter TLC to get them ready for the season.

However, the temperature precluded any meaningful colony inspections. I could check for laying queens, get an approximation of colony strength (frames of brood) and give them space for further expansion. Anything more than this and there would be a risk of chilling the bees. Because of the low temperature I took relatively few photos.

Interestingly, colonies outside the bee shed were significantly better advanced than those inside. This is the first time I’ve seen this, and I’ve previously commented that the bees in the shed are often a week or two ahead of those outside.

However, in looking back through my notes I think it’s a reflection of the quality and early winter state of the colonies that currently reside in the shed. These are the ones mainly used for research and which regularly have brood ‘stolen’ for experiments (even late into the autumn). Consequently they were probably weaker going into the winter. At least one of the colonies had been united late in 2021 to ensure they would make it through the winter … and they had 🙂 .

What follows is a discussion of a few of the problems (and some potential solutions) that you can encounter at this time of the season.

‘Dead outs’ and ‘basket cases’

I’m not going to dwell on these as there’s not a lot to say and often little that can be salvaged.

Some colonies die overwinter.

I’ve discussed the numbers (and their questionable reliability) before. Most annual surveys show that about 10-35% of colonies die overwinter. The precise percentage depends upon the size and rigour of the survey 7, the severity of the winter 8 and the honesty of the beekeepers who respond 9.

Let’s just accept that quite a few colonies are lost overwinter.

I strongly suspect the majority of these losses are due to poor Varroa management. I’ve previously discussed the reasons uncontrolled mite levels are deleterious, and the – relatively straightforward – solutions that can be applied to prevent these losses 10.

It’s always worth conducting a post-mortem on ‘dead outs’ to try and work out what went amiss.

Queen failure

Some queens fail overwinter. This is probably unrelated to poor Varroa control and is ’just another thing that can go wrong’.

They either die, stop laying fertilised eggs or stop laying altogether.

They may or not be present when you check the colony in spring.

Whatever the failure, the overall result is much the same, although the appearance of the colony might differ (in terms of numbers of bees and the proportion of drones present). The colony will be significantly understrength, with little or no worker brood … and may have lots of drones.

I consider colonies with failed queens are a lost cause in March or (at least here in Scotland) much of April.

The bees that remain are likely very old. There’s no use providing them with a frame of eggs in the hope they’ll rear a new queen as it’s unlikely that there are sufficient drones about. If there aren’t flying drones I certainly wouldn’t bother.

You could provide them with a new queen if you can find one, but is it worth it?

The colony will be ‘well behind the curve’ in terms of strength for a month or two. You may have to boost them with additional brood. Unless you have ample spare brood in other colonies (as well as a spare queen and a willingness to commit these resources) I really wouldn’t bother.

Fortunately, at least so far (and I won’t be certain until later this month), all my colonies have survived and are flourishing … so let’s move on to a couple of solvable problems instead.

Brace yourself

When I add a fondant ‘top up’ to a colony I remove the crownboard and place the container of fondant directly over the cluster. This ensures that the bees can immediately access the fondant, rather than negotiating their way through a hole in the crownboard to the cold chilly space under the roof. To provide space for the fondant container I either use an eke or one of my deep-rimmed perspex crownboards.

A consequence of this is that, as the colony expands, they may build brace comb in the headspace over the top bars.

What a mess … some tidying required before the super can be added

Sometimes they fill the space entirely, though you might be lucky and find they’ve only built inside the fondant container.

Brace comb hidden inside the empty fondant container

Irrespective of the extent of comb building I usually take this to indicate that the colony needs additional space and that they should be supered.

Pronto.

Removing and reusing brace comb

I smoke the bees down – as gently as practical – and cut off the brace comb using a sharp hive tool. In the photos above the comb was filled with early season nectar.

When cutting off the comb I try and prevent too much of the nectar from oozing out and down between the frames. A sharp hive tool held almost parallel to the top bars is often the best solution. Working fast but carefully, I dumped the nectar-filled brace comb into the empty fondant container and then quickly checked the colony. The latter consisted of little more than gently splitting the brood nest and checking the approximate number of frames of brood in all stages.

I added a queen excluder, a super and a crownboard with a small hole in it, above which I placed the salvaged brace comb, surrounded by an empty super.

Crownboard and nectar-filled brace comb – stored overwinter and (hopefully) used in the spring

Finally, I added a second crownboard with some additional honey-filled brace comb they’d built last September. I wrote about this in Winding down last year. The intention is that the bees will take down the nectar/honey above the lower crownboard and either use it for brood rearing (if it’s too cold to forage) or store it properly.

If all this works as hoped the empty comb can be melted down and turned into beeswax wraps.

Waste not, want not 😉 .

The accidental ‘brood and a half’

My colony #7 has a stellar queen who produces prolific, gentle bees and who lays gorgeous slabs of brood with barely a cell missed. I used her as a source of larvae for queen rearing last season and will do so again this year.

“Gorgeous slabs of brood”

The colony entered the winter with a ‘nadired super’. I’ve discussed these somewhere before 11. Essentially this means a stores-filled super underneath the (single in this case) brood box.

Often the bees will empty the super before the winter and it can be safely removed.

Or, as in this instance, completely forgotten 🙁 .

When the bees had emptied it or not is a moot point … by last weekend they’d part filled it again.

With brood.

The queen had moved down into the super and laid up half the frames, at least two of which were drone comb 12.

I consider ‘brood and half’ an abomination. I prefer the flexibility offered by just one size of brood frame and also prefer using a single brood box if possible.

Despite perhaps swearing quietly when I realised the super was half-filled with brood (the drone brood was almost all capped) it’s only really a minor inconvenience.

Furthermore, this is a good queen and is likely to produce drones with good genes. How could I get rid of the ‘brood and a half’ setup as soon as possible and save all those lovely drones with the hope that they could spread their genes far and wide?

Upper entrances

The obvious answer was to add a queen excluder and a super, but to move the nadired super containing brood above the queen excluder.

If there had been no drone brood in this ‘super’ that would have been sufficient. However, drones cannot get through a queen excluder and distressingly 13 die trying.

Rearrangement to provide an upper entrance – before (left) and after (right)

I therefore added an upper entrance to the colony, immediately above the queen excluder. The easiest way to do this is to use a very shallow eke. I build them just 18 mm deep from softwood, with a suitably placed slot only half that depth.

The brood is directly above the brood box and so will be kept warm. The drones can emerge in due course, and fly from the upper entrance. Some will return there but – ‘boys will be boys’ – many will distribute themselves around the apiary waiting for better weather and potential queen mating.

Standard and upper entrance

If there is a strong nectar flow the bees can fill the new empty super and they will backfill the no-longer-nadired super once the brood emerges.

And finally … what did I fail to mention in this colony rearrangement ?

That’s right, the thing I failed to mention because I failed to check 🙁 ?

Where was the queen ?

It is important that the queen is in the brood box, rather than the no-longer-nadired super, when you reassemble the hive. If she isn’t, you’ll return to find two supers full of brood and an empty brood box.

A very quick check confirmed that the queen was in the brood box so I left them to get on with things.

Stores

I didn’t do a full inspection on any of the colonies I checked.

It was far too cold to spend much time rummaging around in the boxes. However, I did confirm that all were queenright and had brood in all stages.

I also ‘eyeballed’ the approximate strength of the colonies in terms of frames of brood. Typically this just involves separating the frames and looking down the seams of bees, perhaps partly removing the outer frames only to confirm things. Even just doing this I still saw a few queens which was doubly reassuring 🙂 .

The weakest colonies – those in the shed – had 3-4 frames of brood. The strongest were booming … perhaps even the 8 cadres de couvée 14 you read about on Twitter 😉 .

All of the colonies had ample stores, and several had too much.

The capped frames of stores were occupying valuable space in the brood box that the colony will need to expand into over the next 2-3 weeks. I therefore used my judgement to replace one or two frames 15 of capped stores with drawn comb or new frames. I save the frames of stores carefully and will use them to make up nucs next month.

Here are some I saved for later

I’ve heard mixed reports of winter survival and spring build up this year. I’m aware that some beekeepers in the south of England are reporting higher than usual colony losses. Others were reporting very strong expansion in the early spring and even a few early swarms.

It will be interesting to see how the season develops. As always it will be ’the same, but different’ which is one of the things that makes beekeeping so challenging and enjoyable.


 

Footnotes

  1. Reality check … ‘real beekeeping’ also means running a smelly steam wax extractor in the rain in November or making frames in January when it’s too cold to feel your fingertips.
  2. I’ve been meaning to write a post about phenology – studying the cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena e.g. the arrival of cuckoos, the flowering of willow – but it’s not progressed further than a rough draft so far. Cuckoos will typically arrive here in about 10 days, wheatear by the weekend and chiffchaff are overdue.
  3. Remember this is Scotland … actually, thinking about it, the weather we had in late March was fantastic for some July’s.
  4. As determined by observing their activity and peeking through the perspex crownboard. I’d not opened any boxes, other than to add fondant and patties.
  5. Will I ever learn?
  6. This was effectively my out apiary.
  7. The more the better.
  8. The excuse most beekeepers use for lost colonies, despite the overwhelming evidence that Varroa is probably the main culprit.
  9. Always unquestionable, of course.
  10. And I’m not going to repeat things here …
  11. For example, here if you care to look.
  12. I use a lot of drone foundation in my supers.
  13. To me at least.
  14. With thanks to Google Translate and apologies to French readers.
  15. In the case of those on a double brood box.

16 thoughts on “Early season inspections

  1. Paul Kirk

    When I did my ‘bee course’ in 2012, the accepted norm was to do a first hive opening on a warm day around April 11th. I think that advice was based on historical context informed by well defined seasons. In recent times in my locality near Swansea, with 20 degrees for a couple of weeks in Feb and then 18 degrees for 3 weeks in March, followed by about 9 degrees for three weeks in April, with huge diurnal temperature ranges, coupled with the driest winter and spring I can remember whlist living here for 37 years – I’m amazed I still have bees….I wonder for how long?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Paul

      I don’t think it’s ever sensible to use a calendar to determine when to do things with the bees. As you say, there can be enormous variation year on year. Undoubtedly things are warming up overall, and exceptional weather (storms, floods, droughts) is becoming a lot less exceptional.

      However, I’m not sure that the variation we’re now seeing is that much greater than seen 20 or 30 years ago.

      If you really wanted to check there are historical records for Cardiff Bute Park weather station (probably the closest one to you) available by request from the Met Office that date back to 1977. I had a quick look at the monthly data for April over that timespan and the Tmax ranges from 10.6°C to 18.4°C and the Tmin from 2.7°C to 8.0°C … that’s quite a range.

      However, in terms of the “how long will I have bees for?” question … it’s worth remembering that bees are kept everywhere from the equator to the north of Finland, an enormous range of latitude. The beekeeping is very different across that range.

      Just think of conditions in Swansea as becoming more equatorial 😉

      None of which takes away from the fact that the more changeable the weather becomes, and the more normal the extremes are, the more difficult it might get for the bees 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. John

    Extremely timely, except for me I’d just done first inspection today and then I saw the the blog. Pity, but not too serious.
    One mysterious colony. One very long beautiful sealed queen cell in brood box plus one normal sized one. No brood or eggs. She’s gone I suppose.
    But in super that was on all winter above queen excluder ( probably should have nadered it) I find two frames have some sealed brood and what looks like a sealed queen cell. No eggs or larvae.
    I’m in Kilkenny.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello John

      Be wary of “enormous long QC’s” … in my experience they may not contain a queen. Here’s one I found in a hive a year or two ago (nor particularly beautiful though):

      Bride of Frankenstein queen cell

      With no brood (presumably sealed worker brood or larvae?) or eggs it seems likely that there’s been no queen in the box for at least 21 days. In which case, considering the development cycle for a queen is 16 days, why hasn’t the queen emerged?

      If the sealed brood in the super is worker and not scattered all over the place (in which case suspect laying workers, though they tend not to produce queen cells as they think they’re queenright) are you sure the queen wasn’t above the QE overwinter … or perhaps the QE is defective?

      Whatever the explanation, the absence of eggs at this time of the season suggests that things have gone wrong. If you’ve not got drones flying yet then the chances of any queens that might emerge of getting mated are slim. Drones take 24 days from egg to emergence and then ~11 days more to be sexually mature. Without drones the queens have no chance I’m afraid.

      It sounds like you have other colonies, which is good as I suspect the ‘mysterious’ one may not succeed.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Neil Lackenby

    Hi David
    My first hive (in Carnoustie, received from your good self, last year prior to your move) has survived the first winter. I am still waiting for this good weather the forecasters have been promising so I can go and have a good look; the glorious temperatures probably experienced by others not too far away at higher altitudes away from the coast. However, all I have witnessed so far is a cold haar keeping the temperatures below that promised and building excitement yet to be released.
    I was told to wait until you feel its warm enough to strip down to short sleeves before starting full inspections – if you feel the cold when you take your top off, so will the bees. Today looking slightly better so maybe today is the day to remove my sweater!!
    Neil

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Neil

      Good to hear from you. You’ll probably find the bees are pretty well advanced if they’re anything like mine. Those on the coast weren’t far behind the ones further inland, so it just depends how much worse Carnoustie has been compared with south of the Tay.

      One of the big differences I’ve noticed in Fife this spring is the absence of OSR. The fields along the A91 are usually a patchwork of bright yellow by now, but there’s only one extensive area between St Andrews and Cupar. It should be flowering by now so I can only assume they’ve planted less (presumably due to demand or subsidies).

      I think the ‘shirtsleeve weather’ comment was dreamt up by beekeepers in Surrey … we and our bees have to be a little hardier 😉 . I was starting my queen rearing last season without it being warm enough for shirtsleeves.

      Just checked the Fife weather – looks not too bad, hope you managed to get a peek at the colony.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Lindsay Stephen

    Hello David
    I always hate the first inspections of the year and I’m more filled with dread than optimism before opening up the hives. We had a good spell of weather in Orkney mid March followed by three weeks of cold and damp. So I have had my first good look at the bees in the last few days. As expected I came across slugs, slaters and mouldy combs (even in my new poly hives which I was disappointed to see) The good news was that they all had laying queens. The best one has 5 frames of brood, a lot have 4 and and a few only have 2.
    I had over wintered a few splits with new mated queens in full sized hives because I thought they needed the room but with hindsight I should left them in their ploy nucs. My bees that I left in poly nucs are doing great by the way, so lessons learned for this winter. Now I have to unite a few colonies in the next couple of weeks.
    I noticed mould on the frame that your keeping, do you expect the bees to clean that up and how bad does a frame have to get before you write it off.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Lindsay

      Good to hear from you. All the comments in the post above are about my bees in Fife. I’ve yet to go through the bees on the west coast as we’ve had weather not dissimilar to you … a great spell in March and then back to the same old, same old. However, I’ve had the crownboards up a couple of times to give them fondant or pollen patties and I’ve had trays under the OMF (I’d call them Varroa trays, but – I think like you – there are no mites here 🙂 ) and so know they’re rearing brood. I also keep quite a close eye on the colonies as the days warm through February and early March. I always have a panicky stage when I’m sure the weather is good enough, but only one hive is flying. However, now it’s warmed a bit it’s clear everything is OK and – like Fife – there’s even a bit of nectar coming in and being stored in small amounts.

      I get a lot of condensation in poly hives and it’s not unusual to find the odd slug or two lurking. Good to hear that the queens overwintered well in poly nucs. I’ve not done any this year, but regularly do. If you can successfully control the strength of the colony in late summer (and not have them swarm) it usually works really well but you do need to give them space promptly in the spring.

      I don’t think there’s mould on the frame of stores. I had a look at the full-size original image. The two-tone colouration is different cappings. The white cappings around the edge and darker cappings in the centre, probably with the capping contacting the underlying stores. Alternatively, the centre might be some ivy stores which often look like that (and the autumn was warm enough for them to get to it, which is unusual). I don’t think I saw mould on any frames I checked last week, but didn’t check anything like every frame in all colonies. It was too cold. I’m back next week so will have another look.

      I’d chuck a really manky mouldy frame, but if it was just a few patches or the top corners I’d probably be happy enough sticking it into a strong colony. The mould shouldn’t harm the bees and they’ll soon clean it up.

      I hope you have a good season and perhaps we’ll overlap at an SNHBS event or something later in the year.

      Best Wishes
      David

      Reply
  5. Martin Booth

    I had my first 2 hive last summer, checked for stores / fondant 3rd week in March. They seemed ok, I took the unused fondant off, as both my 14×12 had 3 and 2 full frames of food still. Planned on a check two weeks later, but the weather turned and until this last week, in the midlands we’ve had night time frosts and not much above 12 degrees in the daytime. Both my hives swarmed this week, one on Wednesday and one on Saturday. One is in a new 14×12 hive and the other I first thought was a cast, and put in a nuc box, but checking the next day my queen is in there.

    So I now have 1 hive and 1 nuc that I know are queen right. I spotted a QC with a hole in the side in one of my 2 hives that swarmed, which I think might mean I’ve already got a queen in that hive.

    It’s a total mess, but not sure what I could of done to prevent it, nothing really to suggest they were thinking of this malarkey when I looked back in March. Will I get honey off any of the hives this year?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Martin

      Not sure I understand some of your descriptions …

      However, whether you get any honey depends upon forage availability and whether the hives have laying queens. There’s certainly time for the colonies to build up for the summer honey, but you’ll get little or nothing from the spring sources (presumably oil seed rape in your area).

      You describe the colonies as queenright, but if the colonies swarmed these are presumably virgin queens. If so, they still need to get out and mate and won’t be doing that at 12°C. However, the Midlands can have good enough weather (I remember starting queen rearing there in the first or second week of April some years) so keep your fingers crossed.

      I also don’t understand the ‘hole in the side of the queen cell’ … that’s not what a cell looks like if the queen has emerged, but sounds more like a cell that’s been torn down by the colony. Queens emerge out of the tip of the cell, leaving something like this (flap still attached in this photo):

      Queen cell

      During your March checks you should have got an idea of the strength of the hive, both in terms of adult bees and – more importantly – in the amount of brood (and therefore soon-to-be adult bees). Leaving lots of stores risks the colony not having enough space to expand into, but removing it all risks starvation if the weather really turns bad. It can be a tricky balancing act. These checks don’t involve a full inspection, but you should be able to determine the extent of the brood nest.

      It sounds like you should talk to someone in your association or your mentor. The priority should be to ensure:

      • All your colonies are headed by well mated queens
      • Colonies have sufficient stores and sufficient space to both expand and survive another week or two of poor weather

      And once that is all done you can worry about getting a honey crop this season. Without achieving the above there’s good chance you might not 🙁

      How to avoid this situation in the future? Probably take advantage of a day with borderline weather to check the colonies … it doesn’t have to be 16°C, calm and sunny. As you can see from the description above, I was quickly checking the state of the colonies at 8-9°C with a chilly wind. I was quick and barely removed any frames (other than some stores) from the boxes. The conditions weren’t ideal, but I didn’t have a choice. I’ll be checking them again on the 24/25 when the weather is predicted to be a balmy 10°C 🙁

      Your temperatures are predicted to be mid-teens for the next week or ten days … there should be ample opportunities to check things. The final advice I’d give is to make sure you don’t interrupt a queen mating flight. These will occur during the best part of the day. I’ve discussed the timing and frequency of these recently.

      Good luck
      David

      Reply
        1. David Post author

          Not the first time that has been mentioned … however, my search for a £1M advance continues 🙁

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  6. Helen

    Congrats David on another successful overwintering!

    It just shows how many ways there are to skin a cat. In southern Tennessee, although there is no nectar flow during the winter months, I do not feed my 22 colonies, all of which are booming. This is my 8th consecutive winter, since starting in March 2014, without losing a single overwintering colony. Part luck, I’m sure, but mostly conscientious varroa management.

    I’ve never united smaller colonies going into winter (we use the term combine over here). If they are queenright (in the bees’ minds) in the fall I always give them the chance to make it on their own, reducing their hive space to be commensurate with their size.

    2 winters in a row I’ve had 2 colonies with queens laying unfertilized eggs venture into winter. Each made it through to spring with bees eager to make queen cells, after I removed the queen and gave them a frame of open brood. I’ve observed that these bees don’t age overwinter probably due to high vitellogenin and low juvenile hormone titres. They also don’t raise drone brood at a time when it wouldn’t usually be produced. Last spring, one of these colonies, became incredibly strong and honey-productive. We’ll see how this year’s one does. I am very hopeful for it.

    My goal in spring, as the nectar flow commences, is for the bees to exhaust their winter food just as they start to store fresh nectar. Our spring, too, has been cycling between warm and cold days.

    As a side note; I’ve had 2 collaborating engineers design a butane oxalic sublimator. I call her the BOS. she’s been through rigorous testing and sublimates like a dream. The design has solved several flaws I’d encountered using various wand, band and butane heaters.

    Thank you for your wonderful posts and information.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Helen

      Interesting observation of queens laying unfertilized eggs going into the winter. She presumably must have stopped (laying worker brood) quite late in the year to ensure that the winter bees are present in good numbers. I’m surprised that there were sufficient bees to raise queen cells and suspect this reflects differences in climate. In the UK the demise of the winter bees precedes the rearing of drones for queen mating, but perhaps it starts a lot earlier for you (reflecting the difference between our latitudes … ~35°N and ~55°N) or they had no choice because of the state of the queen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a colony headed by a similarly ‘failed’ queen surviving here (at least not without uniting/combining, which doesn’t count).

      There are a couple of homegrown OA sublimators that have been developed here that I’m aware of. I’ve not used any of them and still rely upon my trusty Sublimox. I need a 220V supply and a gas powered one has advantages for out apiaries and other remote locations.

      Delighted you enjoy the posts.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Willy Aspinall

    Hello David,
    Into my second season, I am finding your weekly posts informative and valuable – thank you.
    An aid I would find useful would be an annotated colour photo with a key showing the different lines of cappings and debris that accumulate each day on an OMF varroa tray. These lines generally parallel the (brood) frames and, I presume, indicate the predominant cell types above? In one of my two hives – the weaker – the lines of debris are all to one side of the box (I haven’t yet done a full inspection). I haven’t found such a cribsheet, and wonder if any of your followers know of one?
    Best wishes
    Willy

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Willy

      I’ve discussed these in passing several times. Have a look at the images and the text on the following pages:

      There may have been other examples as well, but a simple search of the images on the site dug up those three.

      Lines on one side of the box only indicate that the cluster is likely relatively small and the brood nest is off centre. That’s not unusual and you should expect it to expand over the next few weeks.

      It’s worth noting that ‘reading’ these trays is not an exact science. For example, a colony with sealed brood which has not started emerging yet will only produce pale cappings as stores are uncapped. Just because there are no biscuit coloured cappings on the tray does not mean that the colony has no brood. It just means there is no brood emerging.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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