A beekeeper’s notes for March

“It’s going to be cold till June,” said a courier dropping off some boxes to our house on Saturday. I was dismayed to hear his gloomy forecast, because it meant the bees would wait a long time for spring to return. The bright yellow daffodils had come up in our garden and the robins were fighting sparrows for fat balls on the feeder. Hopefully, the birds and the plants knew differently.

White, blue and pink flowers greeted me along the apiary path as I arrived in the late afternoon. It was heavily overcast and windy, and there was a feeling of dampness in the chilly air. The poor weather hadn’t deterred beekeepers from turning up for Clare’s tea and chocolate cakes. “What are you going to do with your bees?!” demanded John Chapple. I was wearing my bee suit, but explained this was to check the feed under the roof and nothing more. Satisfied that I wasn’t going to open up the hive and expose the bees to unfriendly elements, John returned to his tea.

A beekeeper who is also a doctor was standing next to me. She doesn’t visit the apiary often but I enjoy talking to her when she does. A few years ago I was stung by a bee while checking Pat’s hives at Osterley. The sting was my fault – the hive roof had a sign saying ‘Nasty bees’ and I opened up without my gloves. The next day the sting on my finger had swollen half my arm and I was at A&E.

“Is there a way to be test for allergy to bee stings?” I asked her. She shook her head to explain that the allergic reaction depended on many factors from how quickly the sting is removed and the amount of venom received, to how warm your body is, the flow of blood, and many other variables. Wearing a bee suit at all times is the best precaution we both agreed, watching Tom and Jonesy venture behind the green netted area without their suits.

The afternoon wasn’t getting any brighter so I put over my veil and went to visit the bees. German beekeeper Jochen had arrived to lend a helping hand. The sky was very dark by now. I lifted the roof of each hive to empty the feeders of old syrup and pour in ambrosia from a spare can that Jonesy had brought over. Chamomile’s bees had drunk all their feed and one of her workers was determinedly trying scare off Jochen.

Fortunately Jochen was more delighted to see how well Chamomile’s and Chili’s workers appeared to be doing from their vigorous climbing around the feeders. “What a lovely change,” he said.

It was disappointing not to look inside the hives to check the queens and brood nest. The bees were spilling in and out of Melissa’s and Pepper’s colonies where we had removed the old sugar and cleaned up the crownboards with a damp cloth. Bees, beekeepers and flowers were ready for spring but the weather wasn’t.

The kit boxes are prepared for the season to start too. You can see the pine cones for smoker fuel that John and I foraged for in Rye last autumn.

After Jochen and the others had left, I sat at the apiary table to catch up on writing hive records for March. I put each record in a sleeve under the roof, then wiped down the varroa boards and left one under each hive.

Using a bucket of soda water and old cloths I wiped down all the equipment of our three empty hives and evicted some huge spiders. During the week I had made up the frames for the comb change. The British weather forecast is notoriously unreliable, which means that next week’s chilly outlook could get sunnier.

On my way out I noticed a worker bee clinging to the side of her hive. A few breaths of warm air and she was ready to fly home. With a quick turn to look back, I had left the bees and hives at the apiary as ready as they can be for the clocks to go forward to British summertime.

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25 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for March

  1. I love the rituals you describe in your diary of bee-keeping. I have to say I am with you and the bees, looking for signs of spring in and amongst the chill rain. We have bumble bees on the heather but no sign of the solitary bees yet. The Nottingham hives (up on the roof of our town cinema) are very silent still..

    • Thank you, the bee rituals rub off on us 🙂 Bumblebees are warm blooded like us so they can forage in cooler temperatures than cold-blooded honeybees, but I did spy a few honeybee foragers last week. Fingers crossed spring is truly coming. I expect your Nottingham hives are staying sensibly inside till it gets warmer 🙂

  2. I hope the couriers forecast is wrong for the sake of the bees and for ours too. We need a bit of warmth and sunshine now. I’m glad the hives are doing well and they’re eating nicely.
    Those flowers are wonderful.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Me too! The flowers look too pretty for such a gloomy outlook – they’re similar to bluebells, so I wonder what they are? May sunshine bring lots of warmth to you and your family also! 🙂 xx

  3. That courier has got to be wrong. Last year winter hung on forever, it seemed. Your post has me anxious to get peeking into my surviving (or at least it was as of the last warm day) to see if the bees have enough to keep them until a nectar flow starts. That won’t be today as there’s freezing rain in the forecast.

  4. Despite living considerably further south, I am encountering similar unbee weather. I have never experienced such a dull spring here. The sky is grey with an almost constant rain or drizzle. In addition only worse news trickling in about the huge loses of hives over here. Very depressing. Amelia

    • Yes, I’ve heard of some hive losses already this year and wonder if the mild winter is to blame. A very experienced beekeeper at our apiary says mild winters are worse for bees than cold ones because they don’t cluster properly. Like you, I hope we get some bee weather soon!

      • This winter was not as mild as the previous one and very average for the region. However, it is an agricultural region and because of the unprecedented losses the bee keepers are pointing their fingers at pesticide use (and mal-use).

  5. We are in the north of the Netherlands very close to the German border. To get a reasonably accurate weather forecast for our location it is better to follow a German one. The Dutch ones thinks we fell off the planet up here. They think everything above Amsterdam did too. We had a lovely week last week, almost springlke, some days nearly 18°C then the precipitation started. I have an app in my IPad that warns me of rain. Last Friday it said NO PRECIPITATION and that was forecast for the whole day…… What dit we get….. Yes you are right Precipitation!!!!!!!

  6. Don’t listen to the gloomy courier, is he trained in all thing meteorological? the flowers obviously know more than he as your lovely photos prove. What a busy beekeeper you are, feeding, scrubbing and writing up notes 😊🐝

  7. The temperature is hovering around the 15c mark this Easter weekend in Cornwall and if it continues I will be tempted to open up and carry out the first inspection of the season. The weather forecast can be quite misleading at times; gets you all excited then lets you down at the last minute 🙂 Great blog site, I shall be back for more.

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  9. What an educational post this has been.. I have never been stung by a Bee only wasps… Love the Hyacinths 🙂 Since your posting its been an exceptionally warm Spring.. 🙂 And there is lots to bee keeping I am learning from your posts Emma 🙂

  10. Pingback: A beekeeper’s notes for April | Miss Apis Mellifera

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