The months of June, July and August are a busy time for beekeepers. There are the weekly inspections of all your colonies to look out for signs of swarming and to take measures to prevent, such as doing an artificial swarm, so that your bees don't become a nuisance to any neighbours. We also need to keep on top of the varroa mite levels in colonies, which is a constant battle, as our honey bees Apis mellifera have no natural defence mechanisms and could very easily succumb wiping out whole colonies.
The yellow-legged or Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is native to South-East Asia, and is a voracious predator of pollinating insects including honey bees. Since its accidental introduction into South-Western France in 2004, V. velutina has spread to much of western Europe. The presence of V. velutina in Great Britain was first confirmed in September 2016. The likely dynamics following an initial incursion are uncertain, especially the risk of continued spread, and the likely success of control measures.
I've taken this title from a presentation our Regional Bee Inspector, David Packham, gave at the Avon Beekeepers' Spring Day in April because what a joy it was to go and help collect a swarm of bees. Over the past few weeks, I've been hearing about lots of beekeepers collecting their swarms and been in envy. Being my first time, I got into a panic when I received a call from Allan, a beekeeper friend, saying he'd got a call about a swarm and would I like to join him. I soon settled down and gathered everything I needed - bee suit, wellies, gloves, smoker.
It hardly seems that this time last year, I was getting my first colony of bees and here I am - one year on - extracting this year's first crop of honey that the girls have been busy making. Since breaking out of their winter cluster, Lizzie has been a prolific egg-layer and her family has increased into a good strong colony which means they have a good foraging force to bring back nectar and pollen.
It's mid-April and have you noticed how green and colourful the landscape has become now that the days are beginning to warm? Here in our patch of East Devon, there is an abundance of a plant that grows along the coastal paths and hedgerows. Over the years, I've never really given it much thought, other than to know when it's growing by the smell - not a pleasant aroma to my nose! The plant I have since found out is called Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), a native plant in Britain that was introduced by the Romans.
Let me set the scene... I'm going about my business at home and every now again, I look through the window to look see how the girls are doing at the bottom of the garden. All seems to look fine with bees flying backwards and forwards, so I carry on with whatever I was doing. It's mid-afternoon and thinking of going out and again I'm passing the back door and naturally look across to see what the girls are up to. This time, my eyes are met with something very different - hundreds of bees hanging around the entrance of the hive. We're told not to panic...!
What feelings and emotions do new beekeepers feel when they are about to go out and open up a hive for the very first time after the long winter months? For a couple of months now, I must confess to feeling quite anxious at times. Even to the point of keeping me awake at night, worrying at what I might find. At the same time, I have an overwhelming feeling of excitement at the whole idea of opening the hive up to see how Lizzie and her family are doing. After all, it's been quite a while since my last inspection and there's a deep urge to find out how they are doing.
March is beginning to warm up down here in Devon but not enough for the girls to be out flying full-time yet but there's plenty to be doing in readiness for when the nectar starts to flow. Last week I ordered new frames and foundation because it won't be long now before beekeepers start to make regular inspections of their colonies and looking out for their bees making swarming preparations.