More Harm Than Good by Tamsin Harris

More Harm Than Good by Tamsin Harris

So here we have a picture of Ribes Sanguineum in full flower that I took here in Cornwall on 7th March.

Historically it was thought that when the flowering currant is in full flower then your first inspection of the year can take place. How the seasons have changed! I would be inclined to say that when I'm comfortable wearing a teeshirt in a sheltered sunny apiary then it's time to get my beesuit on. It's the microclimate around your apiary that will dictate inspection time.

I certainly would not consider inspecting any of my colonies at the moment as the detrimental effect of opening them up in cool weather, very early in the season would outweigh any benefits. Adding fondant, or as I did yesterday - 19th March - adding syrup to colonies by placing the feed on the crownboard above a feed hole, is perfectly acceptable, but to remove frames because the traditional literature says its the time to inspect is counterproductive!

The sun is high enough now to generate some heat and when its shining on the entrances of my hives there is a great deal of activity. Various coloured pollens are being carried back to give fresh protein to the developing brood, water is being collected to rehydrate winter stores and scout bees are returning with messages as to where good food souces can be found. But all this activity rapidly stops when the cloud cover blocks the heat of the sun, many foraging bees fail to make it back to the hive and succumb to the cold.

So why do you want to inspect now and what do you hope to achieve? I think possibly the answer to that is curiosity - and peace of mind that they are still alive. Ideally these are both reasons that can wait until the weather is warmer in your area.

A huge amount of work is going on inside the hive at a time when overwintered bees are at the end of their lives, the queen has increased her egg laying and as a consequence there are many more mouths to feed by a diminished number of foraging bees.

There is no need to add any more stress to this precarious situation by taking off the crown board, unsealing all the carefully constructed propolis and wax caulking then pulling frames out to check for eggs. You will disturb the carefully maintained brood temperature when resources are potentially low and to repair their nest after your intrusion would consume these valuable resources at a time when they are not readily available. Plus, you've ripped their draught excluders to bits when you removed the crown board and this is very difficult for them to repair when the temperatures are generally low.

Be patient and just settle down to enjoy the display of colourful energy that is the entrance of a healthy colony of honeybees in March. Take photos, then try to identify the source of the pollens, watch the undertaker bees struggle to take off with their loads and marvel at how those antenna are cleaned of hive scent before the foragers launch off on their travels.

As long as your hives are weighty you can safely assume that all will be well until the warmer weather is here.

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