Early flowers are coming early

Vitsippor Still wood anemones are beautiful and giving pollen, though bees are now more interested in other sources.

This is an early season, really. And beautiful. Chilly frosty nights but nice and sunny days. Solar wax melter works.

Maskros Dandelions are starting to bloom at sunny road sides. It’s very early. Watch out for its honey, it crystallizes quick, like canola honey.

Dandelions, maple, cowslip are weeks early, while wood anemone is still giving pollen. Dandelions and maple are valuable for nectar and pollen. Some years even giving surplus. Dandelion honey is like canola honey crystallizes quick and hard.

Lönn The chairman of our local bee club is fortunate with maple just in front of the two splits from last year that made it through winter just fine. Winter was mild in Sweden and winter losses very low this year, where varroa hasn’t been too many in the hives. The maple is maybe three weeks early. usually when it blooms in Sweden the weather is bad. We’ll see what happens this year.

Cowslip I’ve seen being visited just one day by the bees during their bloom. And the year after the bees were at the place for the first time, the amount of cowslip had increased substantially. Wood anemone is beautiful early in spring and gives only pollen, but as soon as the bees find other sources they go for them. The amount of birch pollen in the air in Sweden is now all time high.

Gullviva Cowslip make well use of the pollination services of honeybees, even if they just visit them during one day of their bloom.

Salix is valuable


Salix has many species around the world that are important for our pollinators in spring. Rich in nectar and valuable pollen. Willow trees have done most of their job for this year. They are not only loved by bees. When I came to one apiary yesterday a willow bush was heavily visited by my bees and different species of butterflies. Inachis io, the European peacock was on, Aglais urticae, Small Tortoiseshell another. Spring is early this year. And the bees seem to know it somehow, they seem to be in phase and are already growing in size and bringing in nectar and pollen.

Salix bi fjärilar2

Tussilago farfara

Second day checking for increase after winter I now came to some apiaries inside my Elgon area and almost all colonies needed a super above the excluder. The weather had turned warm after winter and the colonies demanded me to come to them in spite of the holiday, so I checked a couple of apiaries yesterday.

Tussilago before Just entered the apiary. Before the increase. Tussilago “field” in the background. Notice the heap of dead bees at the end of the cardboard in front of the hive. A good strong colony cleans the bottom board after winter itself. Soon I will check inside the colonies and put on a super above an excluder above the third box. The colony on two boxes is the one dwindling.

One colony in each apiary was dwindling and got a few grams of thymol, in first place to kill some mites so eventual robbing or drifting shouldn’t spread more mites than necessary.  If it survives I will shift the queen later on. I didn’t see any wingless bees. But something was wrong as they were dwindling. Shotgun pattern of brood also indicated mites. Could be just an old queen. No AFB. Glad for that. Havn’t had for years.

Tussilago after Cardboards in front of the hives are cleaned, ready to be checked later at visits, checking what the bees have dragged out, or other eventual interesting things to be seen there. Excluder and supers are on almost all colonies, now ready for the winter rape to start blooming in a week or two. At next visit some colonies may well need a second super.

At one of the apiaries a big area of fir trees were cut down and I had wondered how the bees would react on more sun and a lot more wind. They seem to handle the different circumstances well. A nice thing is the big areas with a very good spring plant for pollen and nectar, Tussilago farfara, like golden fields of them. Never seen that much of them before. Bees were eager for both nectar and pollen in the nice weather.

TussilagoSmal Tussilago farfara

First increase, the first apiary

A couple of days ago I started for the new season, to check colonies for need of food and for increase of space for bees and brood. I want to give you some glimpses.

I checked four apiaries that afternoon. In the first one I have 7 colonies.

  • Colony 1: It wintered on three 12 frame shallow boxes. All colonies always have a lot of food for winter (most important so they have enough food for brood in spring and early summer). This colony for a couple of years have needed in my eyes too much thymol due to wingless bees. So I decided to split it and give the two parts a mature queencell. When I split a bad colony I keep the split (which is made including the queen, the two upper brood boxes) in the same apiary moving it to another place. It will this lose its field bees and it will be easy to find the queen and take her away. The split is colony 6 in this apiary. 2012 colony 1 needed 20 grams of thymol (to be compared with the at least 50 grams needed for unselected bees for varroa resistance). 2013 it needed still 15 grams in spite of the new queen, broodless period and a very big split taken. And the need came later in season so I wondered how to interpret this need. The virus probably was hanging around and making life miserable for the bees. The colony shrank in size in autumn, but kept the three boxes though quite some combs in the upper box were exchanged with insulation/dummy combs. I was a little worried for it. But now it made me happy. They are healthy with capped brood and increasing strenght of bees. They got the upper third box filled with combs, three of them foundation and one food. The queen is a daughter of the interesting queen H137, which had zero varroa infestation in the brood last year.
  • Colony 2: It was a walkaway split last year from a colony about 4 km (2,5 miles) from this apiary. The third upper box taken without the queen. Thus it normally gets enough brood and food in that box, but without the queen. I shake all bees in that box down below and put the queen excluder on box two. I put the third back, for a quarter of to half an hour, and then take it on a new closed bottom (with the cover) and move it to another apiary. Also the way I takes it, it gets almost too strong, so I put another empty box with some food and drawn combs underneath it at the new place. The split made a new queen and grew enough, but barely enough, to be wintered on three boxes. It needed no thymol last year as a split. The third box was now filled up with combs of which three were foundation and one food. They looked very nice. Now the mother colony though didn’t look as fine this spring. I saw no wingless bees in that one, but it had had problems during winter and I had to take away the bottom box. It has been weaker and weaker all winter. Still it is not too weak and it had capped brood. I will give the mother colony 5 grams of thymol soon enough. This daughter colony no 2 in this apiary I will keep my eyes on for eventual need of thymol.
  • Colony 3: This colony needed thymol early in the season and it didn’t grow well, so I took the queen away and gave it a mature queen cell in the middle of the summer. The colony grew well and wintered about the same size as the two mentioned. It was given combs the same way, but I was almost giving it a fourth box, the first above the queen excluder, but I concluded it can be done at the next visit. The mother queen to the queen is H109, which also is the mother to H137. H109 was old last year and began laying 50 % drones early in the season so I said good bye to her.
  • Colony 4: This apiary was not a very good one last year. This colony 4 was the only one that gave a good crop in this apiary. Some years are like that. But instead this one gave me a crop for at least two, 130 kg with 23 kg left for winter (280 pounds + 50 pounds). And I used no thymol last year and none the year before, which was the walkaway split year. The mother colony (to this colony) 4 km away didn’t need any thymol either last year. But I hesitate using it for breeding as this apiary is one of the apiaries at the edge of the area with Elgon bees. Thus the queen may have been mated to non-Elgon drones. Should I care? And the colony uses a little too much food during winter. Temper is not the best, but quite okey. The queen is related to H109 and H137 but not close. It was full of bees on three boxes and got a super above the excluder with some foundation and three combes of food as it had very little food left.
  • Colony 5: This is a walkaway split from a colony 4 km away. The mother colony actually is a walkaway split from Colony 4 above, though not mated in the other colony but in this apiary. And now another generation and mating in this same apiary. Could it be part of the explanation why this colony did not winter well and is very weak and showing wingless bees already now. The mother colony 4 km away didn’t need any thymol last year and has wintered well. I plan to combine this weak colony with another very weak colony from another apiary close by and give it 2-3 grams of thymol as soon as possible.
  • Colony 6: This is the split from colony 1 in this apiary made last year. It needed just a little thymol, but much less than the part left as colony 1. It has a queen that is a daughter of S120, the swarm from the wall of the dog training center that had VSH-index of 50 % last year. It looks very nice. Got increase combs as colony 1, 2 and 3 to fill up the upper box no 3.
  • Colony 7: This is a walkaway split from the apaiary 4 km away. The mother line is Kefuss, but that is now many generations back. But still some characteristics of this influence can be seen. Very little food used during winter, late spring build up, but quick when it has started, good honey crop in combination with Elgon. The temper is not the best. They want to swarm more. It is a little behind the others (1, 2, 3 and 6 to compare with) in development, but is coming fine. No thymol was used last year. And the mother colony didn’t need any either. Though the mother colony (in the other apiary 4 km away) defecated a little on the front of the hive.

Colony 47

Colony 47

Colony 47 is a remarkable colony. It started as a walkaway split last year. From colony 236. It is placed in apiary 4 as colony no 7. The split was moved from apiary 23 to apiary 4. When I checked the walkaway splits a week later I saw that 47 was a strong split so I stole some brood combs and bees to form additional splits together with other ”stolen brood combs and food combs with bees from other strong walkaway splits. Those new formed splits with ”stolen” brood and combs were moved to still another apiary and got a mature queen cell.

The initial walkaway splits raised their own queens. Colony 47 succeeded in producing a laying queen and grew. But close to ”bedding down” for winter, when feeding somewhat extra as honey didn’t seem to be enough for winter, I saw that the size of the cluster had shrinked somewhat, to my surprise so I shrank the space for winter inserting dummy/insulating combs in the two boxes that this colony were going to winter in.

Did they have varroa and virus problems as they shrank in size? A queen of the same year seldom quit laying early in the fall as older queens of my stock normally do (when not affected by mites and viruses). If mites and viruses are a problem often dead bees are lying outside the entrance, if wingless bees are seen that’s a definitive sign. But nothing like that. It was clean. They took the feed very well. The colony was heavy enough considering the size, so it kept the feed, no robbing from others.

I kept an eye on the colony as I was interested how it would make it through the winter. The cluster diminished in size following the temperature and sat still as a healthy colony should behave. That’s good. I looked mainly through the plastic cover sheet when I visited the apiary, but sometimes opened up, yes in winter, it’s okey if you are quick.

The temperature went down to below 10 degrees below freezing (-10C/15F), it didn’t go colder this winter, for a couple of weeks in late January, though I’m at 59°N latitude (and 15° E longitude). The Golf stream is making the difference. Then I didn’t see the bees, well when I took off the plastic, and looked with a flash light I could see a small cluster down below in the two shallow boxes. It looked like two fists in size, but probably somewhat bigger, like 5 tennisballs or so. Very tight cluster, still. Yesterday after a cold night, some degrees below freezing, it looked like on the picture. In daytime yesterday temperature raised to just below 15C (60F). Grass have just started to grow, actually we cut one part of the lawn yesterday. Spring flowers like scilla are giving some nectar and pollen, of course the very important willow. But trees are still bare.

Colony 47 Scilla

Colony 47 didn’t get any treatment for varroa last year. The mother colony 236 didn’t either. Actually 236 was the only colony in her apiary that didn’t get any treatment (thymol). It gave well above average in honeyyield. It has wintered very nicely on three shallow boxes full of frames and bees.

It will be very interesting to test these two colonies for VSH later this season!

Actually I have a colony that behaved and wintered in a very similiar way last winter, which was a very hard one. That was colony 137. That colony was the only one in its apiary last season I didn’t treat, neither in 2012. It has wintered successfully as well this winter. That colony was the third I tested for VSH last year. I didn’t manage to get a value for VSH as I didn’t find one single mite in the brood. Of course that’s why I didn’t have to treat. That would have been unfair to them.

Today I will start to check my colonies for the need of increase and additional food frames which I have stored over the winter.

Clover, fertilizers and bees

In Wanganui Chronicles in New Zealand April 14 there’s an article by Rachel Rose titled Bees play vital role in food chain. In New Zealand they know bees are important for dairy and meat production. Yes, for dairy and for meat production! For pasture! White clover is an important part for good pasture. It takes nitrogen from air into the food chain, producing fertilizer without cost. Organic! And you shouldn’t use artificial fertilizers on pasture fields if you want natural continuation of white clover there. With rich pollination of clover it produces seeds that fall off and lay in the ground for years and germinate up to 10 years and keep the white clover there fertilizing the pasture, for ”free”, organic.


But you need a lot of bees to pollinate big pasture fields. And for pollinating seed production for use in new pastures, organic and other.


If bees don’t disappear entirely, but “only” have severe problems, they maybe are barely enough many to pollinate the almonds, but are they enough many to also help organic farming continue and grow?