As the Surrey Bees Training WhatsApp group comes to life with stories of lost colonies, our first inspection was with a degree of trepidation.
Hoping for success
Through the winter months the WhatsApp group that is the beating heart of our local bee-keeping community had been quite quiet. Other than the scheduling, cancelling, re-scheduling, cancelling, re-scheduling, and re-cancelling of the Christmas meal, there wasn’t much to discuss. After all, how much conversation can you get from talking about square wooden boxes covered in hessian?
But, as February turned to March, the snowdrops turned to daffodils, and the sun made a welcome appearance, the chat came back to life. Talk turned to first inspections, “the flow”, and rather sadly, some lost colonies. When there’s a few thousand in the air around you, or you open a hive and find 50,000 – 60,000 of the wondrous little things, they can seem remarkably tough and self-sufficient. The reality can be different, and they have a lot to contend with including predators, the experience of their keepers, and the weather. A colony can die from starvation in a couple of weeks, or can just as easily get too wet – through nothing more than condensation. Cold doesn’t kill colonies – damp does.
So, with the warm sun on our backs, we donned our suits, remembered how to light the smoker, and cracked the first hive – Ivy.
Lifting the roof off, and then the super, I was stunned by the weight. Through 2021 the hives and frames had been hefty, but not heavy. Now, the super had assumed some form of gravitational pull, and so our hopes were lifted. We worked our way through the super which was rammed to the rafters with capped stores, some pollen, and some nectar. Boy – they’d been busy! No queen yet, and no sign of brood in the super.
I worked my way though the brood box – which was a delightful mix of pollen (very dark), nectar, eggs, sealed brood, unsealed brood, a small amount of sealed drone. And a Queen! Out came the crown of thorns and the paint, and she was daubed!
As I reassembled the hive, even with marigolds, gauntlets, and my Chernobyl grade suit, I got stung on the wrist. Fair play to the plucky girl that got her sting through that lot!
Holly was a repeat of Ivy – though without the sighting of the queen. What struck me was just how glued together everything was with propolis. It was an absolute fight to get any of the frames out in one piece. And, as I neared the half-way mark the attendance of the girls became a little much. It’s an odd psychology being in a bee suit. The noise they make near your ears plays tricks on the mind.
All in all – we are massively relieved that both colonies appear to be in good shape. But, we’re anything BUT complacent.
Now – the season starts!