As February draws to a close, signs of spring have become evident and are welcomed by many following the freezing conditions of recent weeks. Welcome too is the latest instalment from Andy Bailey, our resident EPC-UK beekeeper, who has been met with some dangerous challenges of late. Here, he delivers his most recent report from the Rough Close Works’ hives.

A thief in our midst?

At the beginning of November 2020, I visited another apiary site in Annesley, Nottinghamshire, where I care for bees for a different well-known company. As I approached the apiary location I couldn’t see the hives at all. My first thought was that they had been stolen; believe it or not, theft of bees and beehives is quite rife when you consider that a hive and colony of bees will cost you around £400 to £500. While you need to know what you are doing of course, hive theft is – or can be – a lucrative trade for an unscrupulous beekeeper and thief.

I thought the situation before me was strange, as the compound the bees live within is secure and monitored by CCTV. As I got closer, I could see that a tree had blown over in the storm and fallen onto the hives. One of the hives was in two parts, with the other intact, but with a heavy branch resting upon it.

Cut to the solution

There was no other choice than to return to the site with a bow saw and cut away the tree branches to allow me access to both hives. It was a tricky operation, as I was aware that although the main branches were resting upon or around the hives, the body of the tree was positioned precariously on the site’s security fencing, so any sawing mistake could result in the branches falling – in their entirety – onto the hives, and me.

I gingerly cut away the branches a little at a time until I could get to the hives. There was no possibility of me leaving them as they were – the hive stand was damaged by the tree – so if the rest of the tree did fall, it would be in direct line with the hives.

A temporary move to Rough Close Works

I loaded up both hives in my truck and made my way over to EPC-UK’s Rough Close Works site, where I was able to make thorough checks and nurse the hives through the winter. Today, Friday 19 February, with both hives now thriving and the tree removed from the Annesley apiary, I was able to return the bees to their original site. It was a comfort knowing that Rough Close Works could actually provide a temporary safe haven for both colonies. Without moving the Annesley hives, one at least would have perished, as I couldn’t safely check and monitor the bees’ food stores until the tree had been removed – so thank you.

Rough Close apiary update

The four over-wintering colonies I have at Rough Close Works have so far made it through the winter. February and March are always difficult months as there are warm days, which encourage the bees to fly, but no forage yet available for them. Many beekeepers lose bees over these last few weeks of winter due to starvation. It is vital therefore to check every couple of weeks to make sure that food stocks are topped up. As the days become longer and warmer, the queen will lay more and more eggs too, once again building up the colony to full strength.

At the moment the clusters are quite small, hopefully you will get an idea from the video clip I took showing the bees munching on the fondant.

The build-up to summer

By May and June however, it’s a different story: I keep my bees in Langstroth hives, which are bigger than the more commonly used British National hives. Each frame has enough space to hold 7,000 bees and there are ten frames in each hive, so when I pop the lid in the summer I get a really impressive sight. Mind you, most of the bees would be out flying, looking for nectar, pollen and water, so they are only ever all at home at night.

However, first things first; to get to the summer months I have to care for the bees through these last few weeks of winter. I will do my best and hope that we have some luck on our side with regards to the weather.

Until next time, take care, keep safe and we will see how things are in March.