Bon Apis-teet!

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


I've been meaning to go to the apiary for a while now to sort out the feeding situation, but the temperature has barely gone above 8°C or so. Despite that, I kept remembering that my bees weren't taking the fondant, and, being a late swarm, their reserves weren't huge. Looking at the long-term forecast, it seemed that won't be a warm day for a while.

Curly is visiting this weekend and was happy to help me with a bit of beekeeping, as well as providing the title of this entry. I was going to go for The bees and the birds. Anyway, we decided to make an unplanned check on them. We'd open up the roof, turn the fondant over, replace the roof, and go. We would just be quick and try to minimise any chilling.

When we got there, the ground was very boggy and wet. No bee was out of the hive. Curly took the roof of the hive off and two things were then clear. Firstly, only a little more of the Fondabee had been taken. Perhaps a third of the original bag had now been taken, and there were one or two dead bees in the fondant. Maybe that means that it's been more solid in the last few weeks. Secondly, there was a total absence of any bees above the crownboard, or any sound or odour. I honestly thought the bees were dead. Awkward, Curly said, and that was a fair summary. Well, I thought, I didn't expect them to make it through the winter.

With this in mind, and with no bee in sight, I opened up the crownboard, even in the relatively chilly weather. I was relieved to see bees, barely moving, in a small colony on only two or three frames, and not in the ball shape of bees keeping warm that I'd been expecting. One or two of the bees had the wherewithall to wake up and — quite reasonably — attack us. Time was clearly of the essence.

Considering this small population of struggling bees, I felt it best that I do what was needed to get them into a much smaller space. In a smaller space, I reasoned, they could manage their defence and environment better. There was a bit of burr comb — a bit more than when we last looked inside. It had become very brittle and was stick to the underside of the crown board as well as to the top of the frames. No bees were sat on any of it, nor any larvae, stores, or anything else. So, I broke it off quickly, and put it in the gap left by a temporarily-removed empty frame.

By now the hive had been open for over a minute, Curly quickly replaced the roof and the fondant was turned upside-down over the central hole in the crown board. When it is replaced, it will be slit along the edge and left on top of the frames, but for now we hope that both the bag won't drop its contents on the sleepy bees, and that they sniff out the sugar.

We left, with one straggler bee on Curly's suit. Her abdomen was pulsating, presumably to give off pheromones to tell everyone in range to attack. On her stinger was an orange ball of something, but I don't yet know what. After helping her off, we drove off.

After checking on the bees, I went to my first starling roost of the winter. Without even ringing the Starling Hotline, we headed off to Ham Wall, a wetland nature reserve about 4km west of Glastonbury. We stood at a spot on the track with a good view of the sky and the reed beds and waited a few minutes. We were rewarded with huge numbers of starlings making mesmerising patterns in the sky before dropping dramatically to the reed beds. Then after walking to Tor View Hide, we found ourselves around — and sometimes directly below — flocks of thousands of birds. Together, the sound they made sounded like a low, wooshing roar. We walked back as the sun set over the reserve.

Temper / docilityWeather
C178°C ☀ windy