Whilst Coronavirus demands immediate change in how we go about our daily lives, nature continues its annual cycle of survival. In March’s Bee Update, EPC-UK beekeeper, Andy Bailey, confirms that behaviour at the hives is as it should be for early spring:

Covid -19 impact

Covid -19 seems to have come out of the blue and will impact on our lives in ways none of us could ever have imagined. However, this time will pass and things, eventually, will revert to some kind of normality, I hope. In the interim, the bees have no interest in human viruses and are now turning their attention to what they do best – pollination and gathering nectar for their brood.

A wet start

Earlier in the month it was still very wet and too cold to begin a proper inspection of the hives. Today (Monday 23rd March), the sun is out, and the bees are flying, so I undertook the first proper hive inspection of the year. In a nutshell, all is well with all but one colony, which has developed a disease called Nosema.
What is Nosema?
Nosema is the bee equivalent of diarrhoea. The disease spreads when spores passed through the digestive system of an infected bee, are ingested by a healthy worker bee. The spores can contaminate water sources, food sources or be picked up by bees cleaning waste material, specifically faeces, from within and around the entrance of the hive.
How did the colony contract Nosema?
There are two reasons: Firstly, the roof of the affected colony was sadly blown off during one of the first storms we experienced this winter, which led to the bees getting damp. Bees hate damp. The condition can be a main cause of colony loss during winter months. Whilst bees can tolerate cold, if they become damp they often don’t survive.
The second reason for bees contracting Nosema is a weak colony. A weak colony is always prone to the disease, particularly when coming out of a damp winter, and unfortunately the bees’ vulnerability means there is little chance of survival.

Saddening signs

On inspecting the colony the classic signs of Nosema were evident, as streaks of brown bee faeces were in, on and around the hive. There were only a few bees left in the hive and no sign of a queen so I can only assume that sadly – and possibly as the result of the lid blowing off in the storm – the queen was lost. Inevitably it is only a matter of time before this colony dies out.
However, my plan is to wait for nature to take its course, clean the entire hive and hive parts with washing soda (the hives are polystyrene so can’t be scorched out like a wooden hive) and burn the infected frames. I will wait for the other colonies to build up and possibly around May time, split the strongest colony into two – thus returning us to five colonies.

New beginnings

There is a saying often used by the old time Beekeepers which is quite true. “You can either go for bees or honey in a season but not the two”. It means that the colony I choose to make the split from will have to be built up by worker bees again, as will the new colony so their energies will go into producing as many bees as possible.
The bees in those colonies will need any honey to feed the bee grubs and build up their stock of worker bees, so we will not be expecting a crop of honey from them this year, although it can happen! The good news is that we still have four strong colonies and that we are starting to see the first of the wild flowers begin to flower thanks to the burst of warmer weather that we’re currently experiencing, so the bees are able to fly and forage for pollen and nectar once again.

A terrific sight and an eye to the future

I stood and watched the bees bringing in loads of bright yellow pollen, more than likely dandelion pollen. The four good colonies appear to have productive queens with lots of eggs and brood evident. So, fingers crossed, if the coronavirus doesn’t intervene with transport being halted, we might have a productive year (my transport that is, not the bees).

Until next time, keep safe, keep well and if you can stand to see a few dandelions on your lawn or borders think about leaving them, just until they finish flowering. The bees love them. What is it they say, “One man’s weeds are another man’s wildflower”?

Andy B