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I have had two swarm calls so far but they were only casts. This is a small secondary swarm headed by a virgin queen. They are bees never-the-less and by uniting them I have recouped one of my colony losses. They were treated with 24 hours of Apivar at the same time as hiving to knock down any varroa which had hitched a ride.

The girls have been foraging for oil-seed-rape honey but the nectar flow wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped due to the continual dry weather. This was also accompanied by foraging for hawthorn nectar on the may blossom. This is a rare honey which changes the aroma of the rape honey and crystallises very coarsely.

May blossom in the spinney

Queen cells had started appearing so now was the time to start making nucleus colonies to replace my winter losses. One QC in hive 3 was used to start a nucleus but the girls in their wisdom tore it down. A week later they had made 6 emergency queen cells.

One hive made three beautiful queen cells so I established another nucleus and gave the third cell to the other nucleus with the emergency cells.

The colony making the queen cells has not made any more so no need to do an artificial swarm.

During the CV lockdown, the road passing the apiary is no longer a tunnel of air pollution so the bees can can forage right up to the roadside.

Another lockdown effect that we have noticed is that without the noise pollution we can hear the whole garden humming.

On 12th of May, there were bees all round the garden pond so I knew the rape had finished. In the absence of nectar to fan for cooling and also thirst quenching they had resorted to water. I put clearer-boards on early next morning so I could do the first extraction the following day.

A second brief extraction for just two tubs and that was that. The June gap had already started a week before the end of May.

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.