Spring is decidedly here. I was just looking through my photos from last year to find a new Facebook cover photo for April.
Last year at the end of March it looked like this outside...
Not very spring like, in contrast this year we have barely had a harsh frost, let alone several feet of snow. Theoretically we could still get some cooler weather, but now we're in to April there's the knowledge that it will be short lived, and certainly not in to double digits below freezing.
The warmer weather has meant the bees are out and about far earlier. This isn't necessarily a good thing, warmer weather encourages the bees to go out foraging, but plants tend to flower based on day length, rather than temperature. If the bees start foraging too soon, and building up the colony they could still starve. In fact death by starvation is more likely during early spring. We've been keeping a close eye on the hives over the past few weeks, and were pleased that 2 of the hives still had stores of honey left, the smaller colony wasn't doing too well, so we did put some fondant in with them.
Earlier this week we checked the hives again This time the warmer weather meant we felt confident to go in to the hives properly. The day time temperatures at the moment are as warm as on many days last summer, so we wouldn't be exposing the bees to too much cold air, and disturbing the hibernation clump they form during cold weather.
One hive was doing fantastically, there are still loads of bees present, signs of capped brood, and we spotted the Queen. They look to be hitting the ground running this year so here's hoping for a nice summer and a good honey crop.
The other two hives however, were not looking good. The hive that we'd fed were still struggling, fondant was maybe the wrong food for this time of year, but feeding sugar syrup in our location in early March is risky, as you can see from last year, March at our elevation is still very much winter.
When we inspected the final hive it was clear they were not doing too well either. Two weeks ago we lifted off the top of the hive, checked they still had honey in the top super (layer) and left them to it. This time there were streaks of brown all over the super, when we went in to the main body of the hive it was even worse. They didn't look healthy, weren't flying in and out, there were no brood, and no sign of a Queen... The bees had all got a really bad case of diarrhoea, it can be caused by an infection, but can also just occur naturally, particularly in spring. The bees have good weather, go out foraging, and start ramping up toward summer activity levels. It then gets wet and cold again, and they're stuck inside, but are in summer metabolism mode, so end up pooing inside the hive. There's not really any treatment for either cause, except to feed them, and hope they sort themselves out.
The brown blobs in this picture are all streaks of bee poo. We're still novice bee keepers, so working out what to do in any situation usually involves consulting a book! So after scurrying back to the house, and reading the advice on offer, this hive have been given a fresh home, combined with the other struggling colony, and given some sugar syrup to eat.
The piece of paper separates the 2 colonies until they've got used to each other, and that way you don't end up with the bees killing each other. The bright yellow blobs on the paper are fresh bee poo, both Mum and I ended up covered in blobs of it from the bees that were flying around while we sorted them out.
Our bee suits are now washed in case it is due to disease, and the old frames will be taken apart, the wax melted down and everything sterilised.
A few days later it looks as if we might have caught it in time, as there's huge amounts of bee activity coming in and out of the hive, and no streaks of bee poo all over the place. Now we just need to wait and see if a Queen from either colony survived. If not, we'll either have to buy a Queen, or hope that the other hive produces a Queen cell in the next couple of weeks for us to place in to this hive.