It will not be long until the stretch in the evenings makes a difference to beekeepers and their bees. Our honeybees have remained indoors in their hives except for the occasional trip outside.

Their confinement will have exposed some of them to disease pathogens and perhaps, in some cases, death. As for the beekeeper, confinement, to a certain degree, may apply to the older ones, while the young and fit go about their daily business. Beekeepers prepare for the coming season by ensuring that hive repairs are done and the equipment needed is made ready.

Throughout the winter months, honeybees stay “clustered” to conserve heat. They remain close to their food store, always sharing. There is no possibility of the bee replenishing her food store during the winter, since very few plants are in bloom that produce nectar and pollen. Mahonia, jasmine and some winter flowering garden heathers may provide some pollen but there is no guarantee that conditions will provide an opportunity for bees to get out and collect some. Flights out of the hive, at opportune times, may be for voiding purposes only. As the days lengthen, the snowdrop and crocus appear and are a great support to bees.

Feed fondant

It is imperative that beekeepers keep an eye on hive weight and feed fondant where there is a possibility of food running low. Fondant is ready for consumption and needs to be placed immediately over the bees in the hive.

Beehives are not opened during cold winter months because of the risk of cooling the nest, so placing the fondant over the bees will not greatly affect them. Bee fondant is available from suppliers of bee equipment. Beekeepers will recognise if their bees died out from lack of food, since, firstly, there will be no evidence of stores within the hive, and, secondly, there will be a considerable number with their heads buried into the empty honeycomb.

The latter will be sufficient evidence that starvation has been the cause of death. It may happen that bees have died out due to starvation despite food being available to them within the hive. In general, this results from the inability of the cluster to move due to a sudden extreme cold snap or lacking in numbers.

Honeybees have to adjust to our recent mild winters. Beekeepers have observed brood production during the winter period where traditionally this would not have been the case. Brood production at this time of the year may have both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, older bees are dying off so any replacement will be of benefit in ensuring the colony survives.

The negative impacts are where this extra brood needs more pollen, creating a greater demand on food. Where pollen has been stored in the honeycomb, it may be sufficient to support new brood in the short-term but soon the demand must be met from hazel flowers, snowdrop and crocus.

As the days lengthen, the beekeeper’s energy levels improve as they begin to spend more time at their beekeeping tasks.

“Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dúl chun shínead”.

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