The Buzz : Pizza Hive

Litrico's Menu

While the art of creative pizza construction has sure come a long way since the tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil-topped, thin-crust prototype, I was a little taken aback by the ingredients of the “Valdostano” at Litrico’s in Fiumicello di Maratea in Basilicata. Go for the house pizza instead !

In The Apiary : Mid-April 2013 : Spring Feeding

In The Apiary: Mid-April 2013 : Spring Feeding


In the first week of April, I took off the hives the pollen substitute paste (fondant with pollen supplement) which had been put on to nourish the bees since late February, despite the fact that on all of the hives, the pollen supplement had been partially eaten. This dusty-yellow slab of sticky pollen substitute had been placed over the feedhole in the crownboard, just above the comb, to provide the raw materials for bee-production: pollen is essential to raise new brood, yet the prolonged winter weather had postponed pollen production by plants and seriously curtailed the bees’ ability to forage for what little there was (bees need 8-10 degrees to leave the hive).

After removing the pollen substitute, I switched to a few litres of syrup feed (1.5 water:1 sugar – NOT the Golden Syrup in my picture – although note the bees around the Lion on the tin! That is my little joke) for two main reasons: firstly, after almost three weeks of a chilling east wind, London was not just cold, but also arid. At this time of year, the main priority for the bees would be to ensure sufficient water to dilute honey stores and to raise brood – and with the temperature stuck around zero, water collection was a big problem for the bees.

My introduction of a liquid syrup feed would solve this problem (as long as I waited until the temperature was above freezing!) and also simulate a nectar flow, which would encourage the Q to start laying freely. Secondly, there was clearly pollen about locally from early April onwards, bursting out on the willow, mahonia and hazel, despite the low temperatures (I don’t think my bees sniffed a single London crocus this year, given the non-flying temperatures while their purple petals were out). But even with a small recent improvement, the rotten weather has been too poor to permit a nectar flow, as well as keeping the foragers mostly hive-bound. I kept the quantities of syrup feed low – 3 litres for a large hive, 2 litres for a smaller hive – so that the storage of this resource inside the wax cells of the hive would not reduce significantly the brood area available for the Queen to lay, but would nevertheless provide sufficient stimulation for wax production by the younger bees.

So that’s this Spring’s feeding regime over….all lot of nips and tucks, but things look to be getting a whole lot better with the weather now, both for nectar and pollen. My hope is that my interventions will have jump-started my Qs’ laying tendencies by a couple of weeks or so…..the only other interventions this month have been to remove the metal mouse-guards from the hive entrances and gently lifting the intact hives, to replace their overwintered open-mesh floors with fresh ones.

I have to wonder, though, whether the temptation to micro-manage my colonies in this frustrating and tedious Spring must have got the better of me ! I am not an habitual Spring feeder, but this Winter was just too long and too harsh to risk not feeding, in my view. Enough nurture for now. Anyhow, given the prospects for a slow build-up, it looks like the penultimate week of April for my first full inspections (six weeks later than 2012’s first inspections!). The bees will be left alone to sort themselves out until then. Relaxed.

BLink: Queen’s Cell-Out Concert

Queen Cell

Another quick link to a “vibration” topic, this time on pre-swarming noise. See this New Scientist article entitled: Bee Sensor Picks Up Queen Bee’s Farewell Vibes.

We know that the old Queen will swarm out with half of the hive (the bees’ natural form of reproduction) once the new Queen cell(s) are sealed, about 8 days after the egg(s) are laid and half-way to hatching at 16 days. We keep a beady eye out for the tell-tale queen cells drooping on the comb in May and June.

This article, however, focuses solely on the changes in a hive’s vibrations about 10 days prior to swarming, suggesting that these auditory changes could alert a pitch-perfect beekeeper of imminent swarming, just before a new Queen larva is ready to be sealed in her cell at 8 days (which is the prompt for her mother to swarm out of the hive). So there’s some scientific evidence that, for beekeepers, hearing can be as helpful as vision. Eyes and ears. Don’t leave home without them !

The Beekeeper’s Fear Of The Apiary

UK In Snow

In every walk of life, there is a time of year which brings heightened anxieties. For farmers it is the harvest, for office workers it is the annual pay-rise, for motorists it is the first snowfall of the winter, for students it is the hiss on the doormat of the unopened letter of acceptance or rejection, for sprinters it is the hiatus between “On Your Marks” and the pop of the starting gun. For we Beekeepers, is the wait for the first warm day of the Spring, to open up a beehive and see how the overwintered bees are doing.

This year, 2013, the freezing weather has lasted to the end of March, almost 5 months since the hive was last opened up and inspected. That passage of time, as the days slowly lengthen and the present apprehensively tip-toes into the future, is a rich canvas for the human mind. Somewhere between knowing that the die is cast and its unseen consequence, our imagination trespasses into a world of  different outcomes – and only one outcome is good – a healthy hive. The psychologists have a word which blankets it: “Angst”. This German word is variously translated as “Fear”, “Dread”, “Apprehension” or “Anxiety”, but it expresses a colly-wobbling anticipation of an uncertain outcome (which is why “Angst” is generally preferred for its descriptive brevity!). The cult Seventies film “The Goal-Keeper’s Fear Of  The Penalty” centres on this prickly period: the eponymous goalkeeper and a policeman are watching a football match: on the field, the whistle has gone for a penalty kick; all attention now focuses on two players, the poised penalty-taker and the goal-keeper, shifting his weight tensely. The observers and the players know that the outcome depends on the actions of the other. But the tension is greatest for the goal-keeper, since he cannot influence the event internecie. : he has no choice but to wait until the referee has blown his whistle and the penalty-taker has started his run to the ball before being free to move. The goalkeeper, like me, has no choice but Muschibilder to anticipate, and wait.

So this the time of year when I experience my own version of this existential phenomenon, which I call “The Bee-keeper’s Fear Of The Apiary”. The dark depths of January and February have passed and the fate of each over-wintered bee colony has yet to be disclosed. The ball is placed firmly on the penalty spot. Will this be a healthy, queenright Spring, or will there be a gut-wrenching “dead-out”? Will the Queen be laying worker eggs, signalling a rapid build-up, or will the listless and unconnected wanderings of the bees on the comb indicate a Queenless OBD hive, doomed through indolence and indifference to fail, just as April starts serving up its bounty of blossoms? Only a shirt-sleeves temperature will allow the beekeeper to German lift the roof, the insulation and the crown board to reveal the true state of a Colony’s health. wholesale jerseys The Angst is pupating in me.

As the days lengthen into March, the waiting gets more oppressive. My imagination is pulsing, the flow-charts of indecision budding freely. Things will not always be what they seem. The appearance of numbers of dead bees outside the hive is not bad news at all – the good news is that  at least there are  sufficient live bees your inside to carry out this macabre housekeeping. Even before my first inspection, activity at the hive entrance should include the reassuring sight of bees taking colourful baskets of pollen into the hive to feed the new brood, but only the first peek inside will reveal whether clumped domes of drone brood indicate a failing Queen and a drastic management decision.  But, like the goal-keeper, the beekeeper is rooted to the spot, waiting for the whistle, waiting for a warm day, the hit-and-miss of a seven-metre shot, a cracking of the crownboard to open the hive. But for now, I wait. And wait.