A beekeeper’s notes for February

purple crocus opens

On Saturday 14th February I saw the white snowdrops in flower and the purple crocuses opening. Winter aconite and catkins of the hazel and the willow will also blossom bringing the year’s first forage for bees.

Ealing beekeepers were at the scout hut for their monthly meeting. I stood outside the entrance of the hives and noticed not a single bee took to the wing. The stillness made all other movements sharper.

I watched a red-breasted robin hopping in the thorny foliage and breathed as a magpie swooped down to pick a twig to build her nest.

I found a spider crawling on the fondant under the roof of a hive and two slugs sliding in the dead leaves beneath the floor of another.

snowdrops

Alan Gibbs arrived just as I had put under varroa boards to check this month’s mite drop. He had come with his spade on this cold, rainy day to lay more paving stones in the communal area. Betty Gibbs was sensibly waiting in the car outside the apiary, reading a book.

We then looked at the fondant under the roofs. I had brought more in case it was needed, but Alan said they had “quite enough”.

A chilly February can be a time of uncertainty for beekeepers with thoughts of wakeful bees kept inside the hive as the winter larder runs bare. I gave each hive a heft for weight of stores. In particular Melissa’s and Pepper’s were very heavy, while Chili’s and Chamomile’s were lighter. Nothing to do but observe, February is also a time to rest and wait as everything unfolds.

With that, I said goodbye to Alan and the bees, and waved to Betty on my way out. John too was sensibly waiting for me in a warm car. There were flowers, cards and chocolates sitting at home.

valentines flowers pink

This is a short and sweet post like the month.

Emily and I have decided to use paper records for our hives again. Our blogs provide an online diary of beekeeping, and I’ve found electronic records or apps sometimes difficult to access or just fiddly to use on my phone during a hive inspection. Also, it seems better to keep records under the hive roofs at the apiary, in case other beekeepers need to read them.

Here’s a start on preparing our hive record sheets for the season ahead, based on others we have used and ideas for monthly reminders. Let me know in your comments if there’s anything you would include, I’d be interested to know how to improve them:

Hive records 2015 pdf
Hive records 2015 Word doc

And a note on something less practical and more frilly… Sometimes there is snow in February, which makes me remember my favourite passage from The Snow Queen, A Tale is Seven Stories, by Hans Christian Andersen.

In the second story about a little boy and a little girl, Kay and Gerda sit by frozen windows to watch the snowstorm. They lay heated copper farthings on the windowpane to make a peep-hole to look outside…


”Look! The white bees are swarming,” said the old grandmother. “Have they a queen bee, too?” asked the little boy, for he knew that there was a queen among the real bees. “Yes, indeed they have,” said the grandmother. “She flies where the swarm is thickest. She is biggest of them all, and she never remains on the ground. She always flies up again to the sky. Many a winter’s night she flies through the streets and peeps in at the windows, and then the ice freezes on the panes into wonderful patterns like flowers.”

“Oh yes, we have seen that,” said both children, and then they knew it was true.

“Can the Snow Queen come in here?” asked the little girl.

“Just let her come,” said the boy, “and I will put her on the stove, where she will melt.”

But the grandmother smoothed his hair and told him more stories.

In the evening when little Kay was at home and half undressed, he crept up on to the chair by the window, and peeped out of the little hole. A few snowflakes were falling, and one of these, the biggest, remained on the edge of the window-box. It grew bigger and bigger, till it became the figure of a woman, dressed in the finest white gauze, which appeared to be made of millions of starry flakes. She was delicately lovely, but all ice, glittering, dazzling ice. Still she was alive, her eyes shone like two bright stars, but there was no rest or peace in them. She nodded to the window and waved her hand. The little boy was frightened and jumped down off the chair, and then he fancied that a big bird flew past the window.

The next day was bright and frosty, and then came the thaw—and after that the spring.”

valentines flowers white

A beekeeper’s notes
A beekeeper’s notes for January

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22 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for February

  1. Loved that passage, if I’ve read it before as a child I’d forgotten it. A fairy tale with bees in it!

    Thanks so much for producing the hive records. Hopefully we have one folder per hive to put them in, but if not I’ll buy some more.

  2. Thanks for sharing the white bees – I’d never heard of them. But why not, the summer has yellow bees so clearly the winter should have white ones. What a great passage.

    I’m still trying to figure out how I will keep hive records with my first bees this year. I like the idea of an electronic record, but seems like work. Paper and pen seems much more natural. Thanks for sharing your form.

    • Thanks Erik, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I tried keeping hive records on an app last year, but it didn’t have all we needed to take note of – practical stuff like details on queen, brood and stores. Also I noticed it took longer to keep opening it on my phone than it did to write it on paper, and my phone kept getting sticky with honey and propolis! Then, of course, at an apiary it’s useful to have hive notes in the roof, as we did before, so if other beekeepers did need to open the hive (such as during the annual beekeeper inspector’s visit) they can see the notes and know what was last done.

      Good to try keeping both and see what you prefer. I’ll be interested to hear what you come up with that could improve ours too!

  3. I’ve gone back to paper records this year as well after having the same issues as you with using smartphone based apps. It’s simply too fiddly. Under each roof I have a clipboard in a ziplock bag along with a pen and hive records printed on waterproof paper. Sometimes simpler is better.

    • Yes! Smartphones are not easy to use in beekeeping gloves or when certain hives get irritated by your phone! Paper and pen is much better in a plastic folder and clipboard like you say, so everyone can see the records at the hive too.

      Also, paper records can always be scanned and put online at the end of the month – as I’m planning to do.

  4. Hi there,
    You might like to see how we do things in our training apiary at Fleet beekeepers. We have a large double-sided whiteboard with a permanent section for each hive. At every apiary visit, whoever is in charge writes down their findings and any action taken.

    Then someone with a phone takes a few pictures and mails them to the apiary manager who transcribes them into the Google Docs visible on our website.

    The writing on the board is still there for anyone else to see on the next site visit before it is wiped off with the new findings…

    • Hi Fleet beekeepers! Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been recovering from sick leave for a while. Your apiary sounds much more organised than ours. I do think it’s important at an apiary to have records for each hive clearly visible to other beekeepers and that’s what we intend to do this year.

  5. So pleased to know your Bee’s are all fine.. And I loved the part of the Snow Queen story too.. 🙂 And glad you got some nice flowers and chocs for Valentines day.. I had some nice flowers too 🙂 Aren’t we lucky 🙂

    • Just seen your comment here Sue and remembered I hadn’t replied – a big catch up with family, friends and WPers is in order this weekend!

      Glad you got flowers for Valentines too, we are very lucky! 🙂

      • Dear Emma.. please no apologies needed.. I so know when we are feeling under the weather we need some ‘ME’ time.. and I have been giving myself more of that time lately too.. Many thanks for you comments.. I will be replying tomorrow.. Just popped on for to try and sort a new post I have in my head.. 🙂 Good to see you back.. Have a restful Sunday xxx Hugs Sue ❤

  6. Pingback: Winter moves into spring | Ealing and District Beekeepers Association

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