County Wexford Beekeepers' Association
April in the Apiary
by John Cloney
The first few weeks of April are important for pollen, mainly from dandelions and furze or gorse, and sally willow. The bees will be busy bringing in pollen at this stage. They need it for brood food. The worker bees will also be taking water into the hive because they need water to break down the old honey.
The First Inspection
Come the first of April, most years anyway, you’d be looking at carrying out the first inspection of the hive. The rule of thumb for opening a hive is temperatures of 15 degrees, but you’d probably get away with 14 degrees, if you were quick.
The time frame for this temperature in the apiary is quite short, probably from about midday to two o’ clock at this time of year. It’s safer for the brood if the weather is warm, plus on a warm day a lot of the bees are out foraging so you have fewer to contend with.
What to do in the First Inspection
This first inspection is to check if the bees made it through the winter, scrape off some propolis, take off the empty feeders and look at the general health of the colony. The initial inspection is a bit of a clean up and also to check if the queen has started to lay. This is also the time to find and mark your queen.
It’s easier to do this in April as the number of bees in the hive is relatively small and it’s easier to spot the queen to mark her. You can use a specialist beekeeping marker, which is not harmful to the bees. You just put a little dot of paint on the queen’s thorax to make it easier to find her in the future.
Normally when you do the first inspection, you’d bring a number of supers with you in the hope that you’d be fitting them to the hive, as well as a few queen excluders. The main point of supering in early April is to give the colony more room to expand and to reduce the risk of swarming later; for example, later in April or into May.
On occasions you’ll find that the colony is very strong, that everything is good, and you can put on your super. In other cases, you’ll find that a hive can be very weak, even though maybe both hives were doing well in the previous autumn. Once the first inspection is completed and the supers have been fitted in early April, then you need to start with weekly inspections.
But all this is dependent on the weather. In a late spring, everything could be delayed by a couple of weeks.
As the month goes on, you might need to add a second super, if it’s a good year. You can even have a start of a honey flow in April.
Managing the Frames
This is another thing to do in April. Quite often you can have some frames of hard comb; for example, from ivy the previous year. Over the winter it can solidify and get very hard and the bees find it difficult to break it down and expand their brood across the hive.
You might have to start frame management. This is where you have to take out some of the frames in the hive beside the brood nest and fit in some frames of drawn comb, if you have it and if not, some frames of foundation. This will allow the queen to move across and continue laying.