I have just spent a week in London and was pleased to find lovely weather on my return to Anjou. I have been keeping a sharp eye on the hives during the past four weeks and while inspecting bee hives I noticed four of them plus the wild hive bringing in pollen. The other two were just flying and not bringing in very much at all.
Bee Hive Inspection
They say that the first inspection should wait until the flowering currant is in blossom and certainly it is now. So this week we have eaten our first asparagus of the season, planted our potatoes (more to follow in another post) and today, we have done the spring inspection of the hives.
Straight away I should say that one of the hives has been abandoned. Lots of honey was left behind but not a single bee, dead or alive, nor any brood. Is this Colony Collapse Disorder? I don’t know but from what I’ve read it’s showing at least some of the signs.
The three busy busy hives were in great condition. Although we only found the queen in one of them there was so much brood in the others that there is clearly a queen present. The brood boxes were in fact very full of honey and brood although there was no evidence of queen cells.
The oil seed rape (or colza) is just beginning to come into flower one kilometre away so, with the full boxes, we have put a super on each of these hives. I’m aware this is early but I would rather be too early than too late and risk swarming. Mind you, I said that last year too!
Inspecting the Wild Bee Hive
The wild hive is difficult to assess as we obviously cannot look into the main body of the tree trunk. However, we looked down from the top and there are plenty of bees. If there is brood present it is further down but I’ve never seen brood in this hive so I am not worried. This is a colony that we leave to its own devices and are grateful if there’s any honey for us later in the year.
Then we went out to our “out apiary”. A frightfully grand name for one hive a few miles away. We collected a swarm from a friend last year and they asked us to leave it in their garden. It suits us well as it is far enough away to benefit from other crops. The queen in this one wasn’t marked last year – it’s a very “flighty” hive and when we found her she was very quick to move off so we didn’t worry. Today we found a hive stuffed full of honey and brood and the queen, still quite flighty, conveniently placed for marking, which I quickly did. However, if the possibility arises I will change this queen. The bees are very quick to be irritated and I suspect if I can requeen with a calmer strain this would help. I don’t like being pinged by dozens of bees when I’m inspecting a hive.
Foul Brood in our Bee Hive
Finally, I should mention the second weak colony that I mentioned earlier. A bit of history: last year, just after we had collected the honey harvest, I discovered Foul Brood (not sure if it was European Foulbrood or American Foulbrood) in a hive. Although I hadn’t come across it before I recognised it immediately. It is a requirement to inform the local Agent Sanitaire d’Apiculture if you come across this nasty disease and, rather alarmed, I telephoned him straight away. He came round that afternoon and it was an education in itself.
First of all, he inspected all the other, apparently healthy hives first and confirmed that they were indeed in good health. He then put a disposable cover over his bee suit and told me that from now on I was not to touch anything of the diseased hive. He would do it all and would leave me his disposable suit and gloves for burning.
We set up a fresh nucleus hive with undrawn wax on the frames. He then put a white sheet in front of this hive and bashed all the frames from the diseased hive onto the sheet. The frames, empty of bees, were put into a large paper sack for later burning. The next job was to find the queen. How he did this I do not know. She was unmarked and there were literally thousands of bees all over this white sheet. However, after a couple of minutes, he became very intent and there she was. He scooped her into the fresh nucleus hive and within minutes the bees began their march into the hive.
Everything was gathered up scrupulously. The frames and the sheet were in the sack for burning, together with his suit and gloves. The hive, floor, crown board, lid, etc were immediately given the once over with the flame thrower. The hive tools and my gloves were soaked in a bleach solution. Then the formality of form filling and reassurance that Foul Brood can be picked up from other bees during foraging and has no reflection on the beekeepers’ ability. He was in fact pleased that I’d a) recognised it and b) informed him – apparently not all beekeepers do.
I couldn’t possibly say that I was pleased to find this disease in one of my hives but the silver lining was a couple of hours of one-to-one instruction from a real expert.
I checked this hive, as instructed, three weeks later and sure enough, there was food and brood and the queen which I marked. However, by now it was October and I was worried the colony wasn’t strong enough. There was nothing I could do but wait.
Today’s inspection found a very small colony and the original queen. I fear it won’t survive. I’m tempted to put a frame of brood and young bees into the hive to help it but suspect it will be too late. I also don’t want to disturb the stronger hives just at the beginning of the OSR season.
All in all, I’m happy that we have four strong hives at the start of the season. Let’s hope it continues well!