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Four of the hives have now been spring-cleaned. A freshly scorched box, floor, entrance block and crown board are positioned alongside the hive and frames are removed one by one, inspected, scraped clean and placed in the new box. Halfway through the exercise, boxes are exchanged whilst they are easier to lift, and the remaining frames moved across. Hopefully the queen will be seen and the egg laying rate assessed. Unfortunately the first hive I did this year had a drone-laying queen. How could I tell? The larvae and brood in worker-size cells had domed cappings like full-sized drone brood. The quickest and easiest way to rescue what remained of the colony was to unite rapidly. The whole colony was shaken out during the afternoon and the workers wasted no time in seeking refuge in the neighbouring hive.

Comb with drone cappings in worker cells

At the time of cleaning, the Apivar has been removed as the weekly varroa counts have dropped to zero or the odd 1.

This has been the month when the world was hit by the CV19 virus. Not only were supermarkets hit by panic buying but honey sales as well. In four days I sold an average month’s number of jars. No sooner had I instituted rationing and put a notice in the porch to that effect than the government introduced a lock-down so sales ceased.

The foragers are more interested in pollen rather than nectar. The hives I’ve cleaned still have loads of honey stores but are in need of pollen for brood food. I’ve removed several nice clean frames full of honey and replaced them with drawn comb in order to give more laying capacity. The honey-full combs are being sterilized and will be used as food for any swarms.

The Dartington hive is finished. I’ve cut some letter-box slots for the varroa tray and finished painting it. Supers will have to wait as doing real beekeeping now calls.

Work continues in both the apiary and the workshop.

We’ve had no long cold spell again this winter. Maybe climate change means they are a thing of the past?

Never-the-less oxalic acid treatment had to be done, brood or no brood. Total drop varied from 570 down to 70 which I didn’t think was too bad. There was still a small natural drop the following week so I’ve followed up with an Apivar treatment.

Weeks of dull cloudy and cold weather has kept the bees confined to hive but a morning sunshine early in the month brought them out. It wasn’t just cleansing flights either. The aroma of the winter honeysuckle was hanging like a cloud around the shrub and the girls were foraging madly. I have at long last succeeded in getting some winter aconite to grow in the damson copse and their gloriously yellow blooms were a real magnet. No aconite in the spinney yet which is a real disappointment

Honeybees working the aconite

The Dartington Long-hive continues (unapace) to grow steadily. I have tried to do a little each day through the winter. The brood box is now finished, the roof is assembled and it is all ready for proofing. Honeyboxes and insulated dummy-boards can be gradually completed throughout the spring. The former are of course not vital as I can always use conventional supers if necessary.

The honey DNA testing results have come back from the CEH (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Some results were as expected but there were some surprises as well. The three varieties of open-pollenated rape were the main leaders in the spring and they showed up quite distinctly. The surprise was a noticeable content of sycamore. The spinney, which is only a third of an acre, consists of sycamore and elm 50:50 about twenty five years old but already yielding well. Unfortunately sycamore is an alien species and everyone I’ve consulted about the spinney’s future has said “You can get those out!”. We’ll see.