It being a glorious Spring day today with temperatures soaring to nearly 50 degrees (F), I thought I’d look at a couple of hives. The first one was at the Long Ash site which, last time I looked, seemed reasonably prosperous. I saw an ominous heap of corpses and cappings in front of the hive. I placed an ear against the brood box and tapped: silence. I removed the 4 supers, one of which, the lowest, seemed, by weight, still to have some stores, the queen excluder, then, one by one, the frames. Many of them had gaping holes where mice had chewed them away. There were no bees or brood in the frames, not even the ‘head in cell’ bees typical of starving colonies. Clearly there had been mice in the hive, but how had they got in as the entrance block, leaving only a quarter inch deep entrance, was still in place. I found the answer when I removed the penultimate frame: a hole in the floor.
I found a plastic bag (somebody else’s litter) and cut away the bred-in parts of the naturally drawn (foundationless) comb, leaving a footprint to guide the next inhabitants in building comb convenient for me as well as for them. I made a mental note to concentrate on floor construction as this is the second hive I’ve lost through mice getting in through unnoticed gaps.
After lunch, I headed for Litton Cheney, tooled up to repair my top bar hive that The Queen, when she visited, had noticed was coming apart. No, not THAT, Queen! Vanessa, the Irish Honey Queen! I had a preliminary chat with Pat, who’s land it is: ‘Ourganics’ a permacultural endeavour on 5 acres of former water meadow. Both her hives had died out, one of them containing a complete mouse nest!
My Top Bar Hive had bees flying as if midsummer! Pat later told me that the temperature in the sunshine was 80 degrees. I saw pollen going in, which meant that all was well. I hadn’t brought my smoker so gave them a waft of liquid smoke and zipped myself into my bee-suit for the first time this year.
The problem with the hive was that the back wall, on the right hand side, was being prised away from the planking of the side walls, probably because a) I hadn’t dovetailed my nailing and b) I had exerted too much pressure getting the bars back in. I had brought an L shaped shelf bracket, some screws, hammer and a drill and bits.
I removed the roof; wriggly tin held down by bricks, then the rearmost bar. This left space that I could close so (with some trepidation!) I applied the hammer to the right hand side of the end wall to close the gap. It took several blows and I was expecting mayhem! The bees ignored me! I was able to drill holes and fix the bracket without interference.
I had reduced the length of the hive by maybe a quarter of an inch and had to re-create space so I could replace the last bar. I reached for my hive tool and a tin and, bar by bar, reaped a harvest of propolis. Most of the bars had comb heavy with honey and I shall reap a honey harvest soon, but not until I am sure the bees require space rather than stores; maybe at dandelion wine time.
I took a harvest about this time last year and left it with Pat to sell to her visitors. Unfortunately, she has lost it! Her set up is untidier than mine! She has a customer asking for it and is offering £6 a pound.
My hive there has flourished far better than my conventional hives scattered around the county. I noticed today that the bees seem darker than usual so I might take a sample and check their wing veins to see whether they are relatively native.