A Happy New Year to you!
1 January 2021
I hope you all had a nice Christmas, albeit a rather different one this year. So far, the winter has not been a harsh one. In terms of beekeeping, what we beekeepers hope for is for a very cold snap, about 4 weeks long, and then for it to start warming up with flowers starting to come out in late February. Well, we may have had a cold week or so but not long enough, and the warmer mild weather starting is not a good sign.
You may think the warmer the better, and yes that is true when it comes to bees eating stores (stores is what we would call honey – evidently bees collect honey for their own larder!) The colder it is the more energy they consume. However, we need the cold snap over winter to get their body clocks going, in other words for them to know that its winter and when it is over so the queen can start laying again. The difficulty we have in Wales with a small cold snap, then warm weather (relatively) followed by another cold snap is that in the meantime the queen would have laid more eggs, so there are more bees. The more bees there are the quicker that they will consume their stores. Also, the early warming tricks the bees into thinking spring is on the way so they will go on exploratory flights only to see that there are no flowers around, so in the end they will consume more stores just to see if there is any good hunting.
Quite often the NBU (National Bee Unit – part of government department DEFRA whose responsibility is to look after the health and welfare of bees) will issue a starvation warning should the double cold snap occur. But of course, it is too cold to open colonies at this time of year, we will simply start killing them off should we expose them to the cold. As beekeepers we simply ‘weigh’ the hives with our hands, coupled with a brief tap to the side of the box to see how many react. This will give us an idea of how many bees are inside and how much stores they have. The bigger the buzz, the more stores they would need as there would be more bees. It’s never 100% right, but better than risking opening colonies in the cold. Our secret here at the farm? Keep more honey for the bees inside the colony, it saves a lot of trouble!