Don't Rush in Too Soon! by Tamsin Harris
Some of the country has been blessed with balmy temperatures that may lull you into thinking it's time to start inspecting the bees. By all means lift the crown board and peek in by don't be too intrusive just yet!
If the sun is high in the sky and the air is fairly still, with temperatures of 13 degrees C, then a check of the end frames to assess the amount of stores is acceptable.
If the conditions are right and you are able to open up the hive, then assess where the bees are within the brood box in relation to their stores. It may be that they have eaten their way through frames of stores and have ended up against a side wall of the brood box. If this is the situation that you find then you will need to move frames of stores to either side of the brood nest - not move the brood nest to the stores. Don't be tempted to lift out frames of brood just to have a look at the bees, should you inadvertently do damage to the queen then there is little you can do to rectify the situation at this time of year.
Move the frames of stores carefully, you will need to use your hive tool to lever apart the propolis and wax seal on the frames, then gently arrange the frames of stores to either side of the nest. I would only use a fine mist of water over the bees if they started to take too much notice of the inspection, at this time of year using a smoker isn't really necessary.
Reassemble the hive with care and before you put the roof on, heft the back of the hive to judge the weight. This helps you assess whether more feed is necessary. I leave the hive with a pack of pollen subsitute such as Candipollien or Bee Nectar. This will give the colony the boost it needs to get going with the brood rearing at a time when the weather can be quite changeable. I like to ensure a constant supply of protein rich pollen for the developing brood, rather than a stop/start supply owing to the fickle weather patterns of the UK.
Down here in Cornwall a few days of sun lifted the spirits but the cool breeze kept the ambient temperature low. I noticed many bees working the crocus, hellebores and camellias in my garden for an hour or so around lunchtime but they soon went quietly home by about 3pm.
Something else that is always noticable at this time of year is that wherever there is a shallow container of water, there are numerous bees gathering a crop full of water to take back to the hive. The bees use this water to reconstitute the granulated winter stores and this helps clear the brood nest area at a time of year when the queen is increasing her rate of egg laying.
Help the bees by leaving shallow trays of water filled will stones and moss that the bees can land on. Somewhere between 5 and 10m from the hives is ideal, too close and it may get fouled by cleansing flights. From here they can collect the water that is being warmed through the day, remember to keep it topped up in dry conditions.
Invariably the bees will do their own thing by ignoring your efforts at a water supply and choose a muddy puddle instead (nutrients from the mud is the possible attractant) but at least you've made an effort to keep them happy!