With some trepidation, myself and beekeeping mentor friend, John Holland, approached my two hives in our friend Carmel’s garden to see how the two hives had survived the winter. The temperature outside was about 16 degrees centigrade and the day was fine. It is generally not a good idea to open a hive for any length when the temperature is below 15c as the bees get dangerously chilled. However back in January, I had briefly lifted the lid to place flat bags of fondant on top of the frames so the bees would have some food to survive the very long winter. This was intended to supplement their own winter stores.
One hive was active, the other dead. When we opened the quiet one, the remains of a bee cluster were to be seen. The small size of the cluster suggests there were too few bees to maintain the 37 degree standard temperature of the hive, so essentially they died of the cold. They had hardly touched the fondant I have placed in the hive, so they were too weak even to feed it seems. There were many signs of chalk brood as well, so the brood box and frames will need to be sterilized so all parts are disease free before a new colony can be given a home there.
The other hive was a total contrast. It shows good signs of a young fertile queen as larvae were prolific. In fact the brood box seemed to be quite full of bees. Immediately, we put on a queen excluder and a super on top of the brood box and queen excluder. This super of frames will give the bees space to put the honey ‘up in the attic’ so to speak. This will leave more room in the brood box for the queen to lay eggs and breed more bees. Had I not put on a super, there is a risk that the lack of space might have caused swarming. There is no guarantee the bees are not thinking of swarming so each week from now on, I must make time to examine this healthy hive. If it is growing fast enough to split, then I will have an empty brood box now to house the new swarm. We live in hope!