Wildlife & Countryside

Beekeeping in April

Beekeeping in April

By the time April arrives beekeepers can carry out their first hive inspections of the year, taking advantage of the warm spring sunshine.   It is time to check that queens have come safely through the winter, to mark and clip the queens if necessary and to check the overall robustness and health of each colony.  It is easier to find the queen at this time of year before colonies are built up to full strength and putting a coloured dot on her makes the task so much easier as the season progresses.  Each year has a different colour.  Queens bred in 2017 will be marked yellow using a bee friendly pen that you can buy from beekeeping suppliers.  Some beekeepers also choose to clip one of the queen’s wings as part of swarm control.  It won’t stop a colony from swarming but will buy a few extra days between inspections.

The bees are particularly attracted to fields of oilseed rape at this time of year.  You can always tell when they are working the rape as they return to the hive with yellow faces as well as pollen baskets bursting with yellow pollen.  It is important for the beekeeper to provide enough space in the hive when a nectar flow is on otherwise the brood nest gets filled up with honey leaving the queen nowhere to lay her eggs.  The hive becomes congested and swarming preparations will be triggered.  That is why April sees the start of the swarm season.  Extra space needs to be given to the bees and this is provided by putting honey supers (shallow versions of the brood box) onto the hive above a queen excluder.  The excluder keeps the queen in the brood box and excess honey will be stored in honeycomb in the boxes (supers) above it.

This spring the weather has been a mixed bag of fortunes for nectar flow and pollen.  The lovely warm weather at the start of the month promised a really good crop of honey, then of course it got cold and it looks to be getting colder next week.  In cold weather the nectar doesn’t flow and the bees have to rely on the stores they have within the hive.  So maybe it will only be an average crop this year.  With a bit of luck it might warm up again before the rape crop stops flowering.  That’s what I love about beekeepers, we are such an optimistic bunch.

Honey bee on oilseed rape

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