Springing to life

Spring is such an exciting time of year with everything springing to life. I picked the dandelions off the lawn yesterday, before John mowed, to save them for a salve. There are plenty of dandelions left in the flower beds for the bees and other pollinators.

I love these golden flowers that open like bright stars to greet the sun or which sometimes seem to resemble a fluffy lion’s mane. How can they be called weeds? Folklorists suggest that dandelions were once a ‘shepherd’s clock’ because they open at sunrise and close at sunset. As the dandelions in the garden were all wide open, I took it as an indication that it would be a good day for beekeeping.

At the apiary both mine and Emily’s hives were flying well. I arrived to get started before the crowds – the Grand National was on later and I didn’t want to miss the start. First, a look inside Hope’s hive.

Emily had moved this colony from the polynuc to a full-sized hive last weekend and I wanted to see how they were doing (also, congratulations Emily for winning the Walton’s blog award!). As you can see they are doing very well, almost bursting from the seams, in fact. It is such a different picture for this colony than for this time last spring where they had come out of winter very weak. I’m convinced that the insulation provided in the past year, and that spending the winter in a polynuc (thanks Thomas Bickerdike), has saved this colony from dying out.

Hope’s bees have really got back on their feet – well done girls! – and were buzzing very loudly and contentedly, it was a deep vibrating sound and not high pitched. They had taken down most of the honey from the beautiful honeycomb sculptures in the roof, which I removed without much fuss, and the workers in the brood box were drawing out fresh golden comb on the new frames.

I found Hope on the third frame in and caged her just in case I found queen cells further along. I didn’t find queen cells but took the opportunity, while the queen was caged, to take out two old brood frames, shaking off the bees, and to put in two new frames. We’re taking a frame-by-frame approach to the comb change for the hive this year. Because the bees have only just got back on their feet, a full shook swarm seems a bit harsh. They have been moved to a clean hive and only three old frames remain which we can swop out as they continue to build up.

Emily arrived as I was closing up and writing the hive records. As you can see, the bees are still trying to eat their homework.

Next, Emily looked inside Patience’s hive as a small group of visitors arrived and I busied myself with getting our hive equipment ready for a comb change for this colony, either at or after Easter. I could hear lots of questions being asked and all seemed to be going well.

Patience’s colony had been left to overwinter inside a brood box and a super with insulated frames and a ‘winter blanket’ around the hive. The queen had been laying in the super (as is probably to be expected when the queen excluder has been left off overwinter), but it was largely drone brood and could even be an advantage for the upcoming comb change.

The varroa mite tends to be more attracted to drone brood because drones have a longer period of gestation inside their cells – they emerge around day 22 to 24, unlike workers who emerge around day 21, or the queen who emerges around day 16. This is probably because the queen and workers have a lot more work to do inside the hive and are in more of a hurry to get started!

Where a lot of drone brood has been laid in the super, we might be carrying out effective chemical-free varroa control by getting rid of these frames during a comb change. We might use a decapping fork to decap the drone brood and see whether there are mites inside the cells before they are discarded.

While there were a lot of bees inside Patience’s hive, there was little brood, no eggs and no sight of the queen. But it is early days yet and the bees were well behaved and keeping busy. As usual, they probably have a much better idea of what is going on inside the hive than we do. So, we may give the colony and its queen a couple more weeks to pick up before making a decision about whether they need to be requeened or combined with Hope’s colony – the latter option only providing that they are healthy with low levels of disease.

As we were closing up, a worker bee managed to sting through my thin marigold gloves. I had a bad reaction to a sting several years ago – my first honeybee sting, in fact, and this was only my second – that had seen a short trip to A&E for some swelling and nausea. I put on some clove oil as my hand started to burn, which had an almost immediate effect on the pain, and went to sit down in the cool shade of the apiary benches. One of the apiary visitors also gave me an antihistamine.

Luckily, an hour or so passed and I felt fine. John picked me up and I was home in time to watch the Grand National. John had put a bet on for my horse, One for Arthur, which won by the way!

With the first smoker of the year having been lit, the bees looking in a much better position than they did last spring, and the dandelions marinating in olive oil in the sunshine, it had not been a bad day’s beekeeping.

Meantime, Emily, Tom and I have been nominated again for best beekeeping blogs by WhatShed. Ealing beekeeping blogs are really doing very well this year!

I plan on making some simple dandelion salves with the marinated oil and beeswax for hands and chapped skin after gardening. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dandelions have so many uses and were once considered a very useful herb in folk medicine and cooking. I wonder when we stopped noticing the usefulness of ‘weeds’? As Culpeper wrote in his Complete Herbal in the 17th century, the French and Dutch seemed to commonly use dandelions in spring, and to which he concluded with his usual tact that “foreign physicians are not so selfish as ours are, but more communicative of the virtues of plants to people”.


12 thoughts on “Springing to life

  1. I hadn’t even seen that page by What Shed! How nice!

    Clove oil is magical stuff. And how lucky that Sue had some anti-histamines with her. Glad your day ended well! Did you win much?

    • In the end maybe a good thing I got stung as I didn’t have a bad reaction this time (perhaps last time because it was my first ever honeybee sting), which is good to know.

      It cheered me up seeing the bees and good to know they have come through winter after working so hard to keep them alive last year. Looking forward to seeing how they develop – it is still early days and a cold dip in the weather keeps being promised.

  2. Pingback: Tidying up my beekeeping bumbles | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

  3. Dandelions are flourishing more than usual this year so it is good that you can make use of them, as well as the bees. Kourosh has put a brood frame of drone foundation in the brood box to sue as a trap for the breeding varroa. This will be removed and replaced with a new one. Every little helps in the fight. Amelia

    • You are right Amelia – the next day after John mowed the lawn he said all the dandelions were back. I like the idea of trapping varroa periodically in drone brood – we haven’t done that yet but as you say, every little helps. Now conscious that there is a possible cold front coming and that our bees may need some TLC for a little while longer. All the best, Emma

  4. Lovely to know your Hives are all doing so well Emma.. And Dandelions are such a useful flower… And I have drunk my share of dandelion tea in the past too.. I have though been digging a few up in our allotments today.. but there are plenty still flourishing on our garden paths either side.. So lots of yellow is showing..
    🙂 and Big smiles too on the Grand national winner.. 🙂 Easter is almost upon us… I hope you have a wonderful Holiday time Emma.. The weather is up and down hot one minute colder the next… Not all that good for Bees.. So I hope they keep warm

    Love and Hugs
    Sue xx

    • Yes I love dandelion leaf tea too – such wonderful flowers, I’m glad not to be the only dandelion fan! The bees aren’t out of the woods yet but the woods aren’t as dark as last year. They’ll need a bit of on-off TLC in the form of warmth and food between now and summer, I’m sure. Of course, the garden demands attention too! The first tadpole was seen today and so it all starts again 🙂 love and hugs xx

      • We have one tadpole so far in the tub of spawn I fished out of the pond. I left the rest in the pond this year, although the frogs have not been as prolific as last year. I called the tadpole Tim 😉 Have a wonderful Easter Sue and much fun and laughter xx

  5. A lovely post Emma and it’s good to see someone championing dandelions, there’d be a lot of hungry insects out there without them! They are beautiful, but we were warned as children not to pick them as they might make you wet the bed – in fact that’s one of their old folk names! We still have so much to learn, or should that be remember? about the uses of our wild plants. Great bee pics too, they look nice and healthy!

    • I wonder if wet-the-bed and various other common names came from its old folk use as a diuretic? Or perhaps an old wives tale to stop children picking weeds and bringing them home 😉 I do love dandelions and let them grow as they please in the flower beds. I hope our bees will find plenty of dandelions growing around the apiary too. Best, Emma

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