The Met Office described spring 2020 as exceptional. As a result bees appreciated the record sunshine amounts of the past three months; they have built up strongly and filled super after super. Bill Turnbull interviewed yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast, explained in normal spring weather bees forage for a couple of days a week and then are confined to the hive for the rest of the week, they then eat the honey they brought in when the weather was good. Not so this year. When colonies became strong enough they have filled a super in a matter of days – quite extraordinary.
This may explain why not all colonies have tried to swarm yet. Some have produced queen cells and needed artificial swarming but many others have not.
However, the forecast for the next few days is for much cooler weather so my suspicion is that colonies will start producing queen cells during their confinement to the hive. When the weather conditions allow do check again for queen cells. We are at peak swarming time now and many colonies are really powerful – just right as far as bees are concerned to split themselves into two.
If bees are confined for the next few days they will be able to finish off ripening the stores brought in recently. It is not necessary for honey to be completely capped before it can be extracted. Do a ‘shake’ test with a frame to see if honey falls out. Hold the frame with one side facing downwards. Give the frame a sharp shake downards. Repeat with the other side of the frame. If no honey ‘flies’ out of the frame it is safe to extract. Quite often the outside frames in a super are still ‘wet’ but the others are good to be extracted. I collect all frames that need further ripening into a separate super and place it back over a hive. Mark this super with a chalk tick helps identify it and it should be safe to extract a few days later.
As most of my supers are now on hives I need to extract some of them. The really heavy ones I rearrange above the crown board and they are normally found immediately above the queen excluder. Remove all supers from the hive putting aside the lighter ones apart the heavy ones. Return the lighter supers above the queen excluder followed by the crown board. Now place the heavy supers above the crown board – some help may be needed here depending on how high the hive has become. Leave the heavy supers for a few days which allows the bees time to finish ripening them. Any fresh nectar the bees collect is generally placed in the supers below the crown board. But do a shake test when removing the heavy supers as unripe honey can cause fermentation thereby losing a whole bucket of honey. As always bees do not always have access to our books so they sometimes do things a little differently. So it is safer to test frames that are not capped.
Finally, we now entering the ‘June gap’ with little forage available for bees. When taking honey off a colony ensure it has enough food to last it a few weeks. If too much honey is removed a colony can easily starve – there are so many bees and a lot of brood to feed.