As Coronavirus continues to alter our daily routines, our resident EPC-UK beekeeper, Andy Bailey remains committed to supporting the hives on our Rough Close Works farming estate in Derbyshire.  Here is his most recent report on how the EPC-UK bees have faired through April:

WWF work on hold

I hope April finds you all fit and well. With the Coronavirus still making its serious global impact, all my work for the World Wildlife Fund and Woodland Trust has been put on hold for the time being, so I’m concentrating on the bees and my garden.

Nosema update

I have made two visits to Rough Close Works this month. The first inspection at the beginning of April confirmed my assumption that the colony with nosema – the most common honeybee disease – would die out. On inspecting the colony there was no sign of life. To stop other bees from entering the hive and potentially spreading the disease I blocked the entrance off and resolved to remove the hive and clean it out on my next visit. All the other hives seem to be doing well.

Artificial swarm

Within the hives there are two colonies with unmarked queens. This can make it difficult to quickly identify the queen bee when one needs to undertake a manipulation such as an artificial swarm.

Creating an artificial swarm can be a detailed process, however in simple terms it involves separating the queen and flying bees from the brood using colony manipulations. The principle can help with different elements of bee management, from natural swarming, to controlling varroa (a parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on honeybees).

A beekeeper can manipulate the bees so that they think they have swarmed, but to do this one first has to identify and remove the queen to a new hive, together with an amount of brood and food from the original hive and some undrawn foundation.

This divides the colony into two. The remaining bees without the queen make a new queen and the original queen starts to lay more eggs to build up a new colony. To do this successfully the queen has to be identified and the easiest way to do this is to mark her with a special paint.

Bee colour code

The colour the queen is marked with depends on the year. Last year’s colour was green, this year’s colour is blue, next year it will be white, then red, then yellow. In essence a year ending with 1 or 6 is white, 2 or 7 yellow, 3 or 8 red, 4 or 9 green, and 5 or 0 is blue. It’s an internationally recognised code that allows the beekeeper to know how old the queen is. Most queens need replacing after 2 to 3 years.

On my first visit I was unable again to find the two unmarked queens, but I did manage to fit queen excluders onto the two colonies with marked queens and honey supers. The queen excluders stop the queen from travelling up into the honey supers and laying eggs. If we are fortunate to get any honey from either of these colonies this year, we need to ensure that the queen remains in the brood box and does not lay eggs in the honey supers.

Successful second visit

On my second visit I had success with the other colonies, managing to identify both the queens and successfully marking them. We are now all set for the main season. My plan will be to divide the best colony – possibly in a couple of weeks’ time – in the hope that the bees will make a new queen and I can then replace the colony that died out and bring the hive count back up to five, or possibly even more.

Until next time please keep safe.

Go well,