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Although on the surface it looked as if all 10 hives had survived the winter, the first spring inspections revealed otherwise. Two were queenless and two had drone-laying queens. The fifth was so weak it really didn’t deserve to survive.

Result; I have lost half my stock. Only once before in over 40 years have I ever lost colonies in the winter.

What was strange was that queenless hives 5 and 6 continued to forage keenly bringing in both nectar and pollen. The latter is said to indicate a colony being queen-right. Test frames of eggs from another colony were inserted into both. Had they no source of queen pheromones they would have immediately started to draw out emergency queen cells. No such cells were developed which was a weird phenomenon. The colonies continued to dwindle as no eggs were being laid.

They had to be united with another colony but a normal unite wouldn’t work as they thought they already had a queen. Their population was used to supplement the abysmally small, but queenright hive 2. Bit by bit they were moved closer together until they could be shaken out in front of 2. First I caged the queen in hive 2 just as a precaution and shook out the smaller colony and took their hive right away. A few days later I then did the same with the larger. The result is that hive 2 now has sufficient bees to care for brood and the queen is merrily laying away. By the beginning of May they should be large enough to take a super.

The rape came on flower and the first supers have gone onto the five healthy hives. This is where the excitement starts to build and we see the distinct difference between colonies. By the last week of April, hive 3 has three supers and hive 4 is still on its first.

The month has been gloriously sunny and as I gardened each day, the air was full of the gentle hum of the girls hard at work in the greengage branches and down at ground level on the wallflowers.

Of course, continual sunshine meant that the nectar dried up and by week four they were getting a little cross. A solid day’s rain in the last week has hopefully corrected the situation.

However, only half the usual number of bees means half the usual amount of honey so they’ll have to work twice as hard. Maybe the lack of air pollution due to CV lockdown will give them extra impetus.

To those I promised bees this spring, don’t hold your breath.

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.