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A really mixed bag of weather this year. Some glorious spring weather early on and at the end of the month had me thinking that hive spring cleaning could start early again this year. It wasn’t quite warm enough to pass the ‘gardening in your shirt-sleeves’ test so they have been left undisturbed. All the hives are active on the warmer days as witnessed by the activity on flowers around the garden.

Although no varroa treatment is actively being pursued at this time, the drop tray gives a good indication of the size of the cluster and its position in the hive. Instead of looking for varroa one can inspect the spread of discarded cell cappings; where are they in the box? Are they moving around to find food?

Not having seen the green woodpecker for several months I decided to gamble on the netting and left it off. I kept a constant presence in the apiary however, inspecting for any signs of hive damage.

In the workshop, some equipment has been repaired or replacements made. I now have another design of clearer-board, two new crown boards and several new entrance blocks. The old entrance blocks were a good indication of what forty years of bee foot-fall wear can do to a piece of wood.

Probably one of the most useful jobs done this winter was to totally clean and recondition the smoker. Apart from the hive tool, the most used item in the tool box so it takes quite a hammering throughout the year.

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.