Finding an unmarked queen is difficult enough so getting her marked early in the season is vital for what comes later. As an illustration of that – see if you can spot the queen in the photo above – experienced beekeepers hold your whist!
There are all sorts of bees for sale out there – Buckfast, Carniolan, Italian, Russian, Greek – you name it but how can they possibly be better than the locals on their home turf? Think about it, think about the risks in importing diseases and god knows what-all else. Don’t import bees – improve your own.
Here’s how and it isn’t difficult. In fact it’s fun and very rewarding – you will see real results year on year. We used to have some really horrible bees here and only a few hives of them but each year they would chase us round the garden. Now, in the middle of summer I have around 25 hives of bees here and stings are rare.
Bee improvement is not difficult – anybody can do it and in fact every beekeeper should do it. The first step is to assess your colonies for a full season and record the data in a Colony Assessment Sheet. It will take a full season because the bees often do not show their true colours till they are big and strong and start to throw their weight about. Once you have the data you can compare colonies systematically and objectively then select stocks for breeding and stocks for culling.
The sheet below has been designed to record both Colony Assessment Data and routine beekeeping information from each visit. Click it for a better view. Scroll down and I’ll walk you through it…
Once upon a time I used to keep mice. They don’t swarm but they are territorial and they do fight. If you try to introduce two mice, of any or either sex, by simply dropping one into the cage of the other they will fight. However, if you put the two of them together in a third cage they will get along like a house on fire. This is what I call ‘the third box principle’ and the same thing applies with bees.
Before we go any further I should state that the Third Box Principle is not an explanation of bee behaviour but it is a mental model which helps the beekeeper to ‘put a handle’ on what is observed. It is also a particularly helpful thing to know when you are in the thick of the latest bee conundrum and wondering what the hell to do next – it can give you extra options.
Between the showers, the sun is very strong and the the sycamores are alive with bees. One of the good things about sycamore flowers is that they hang down beneath the leaves in the shelter of the canopy so showers don’t really harm them. However, gusty squalls will tear off the flowering panicles – lovely.
The forecast for the next few days is good, so with the trees in full bloom there is a good chance of a few pounds of honey.
The beekeeper’s smoker is seen as an essential piece of equipment; it is certainly the most effective way of putting manners on the bees but it is not always either appropriate or necessary. Consider for a moment the lion tamer – he doesn’t rush at his animals jabbing away with his chair but if he needs them, his whip and his chair are at hand; the beekeeper should view his smoker the same way. Continue reading Beekeeping without Smoke→
Now is the time for spring inspections. In fact the time is nearly gone and if it hadn’t been for Eircom I’d have written about this at the end of March. However, if you haven’t already done so – next time your bees are flying freely you’d better get in there and take a look at them. Continue reading Spring Inspections→