Monday just gone was my 3rd time attending Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers Association meeting and my first as a member.
This month the subject was "Preparing for the New Season Ahead" with guest speaker David Aston. In the meeting he talked about the importance of getting ready for the new season.
Such things as removing mouse guards now that some flowers are starting to bloom and we are having the occasional nice day, the bees are starting their first foraging runs. With mouse guards still in place some of the pollen can be brushed off the bees as they re-enter the hive. At the beginning of the season bees need this early pollen as it provides them with protein needed to thrive.
Also mentioned was the importance of cleaning comb and disposing of old, damaged or diseased comb. This is of greater importance than ever with the recent decline of bees. The best way of disposing of old comb is to burn it as this will get rid of any potential contagion. Also with frames being so cheap it would often be cheaper to replace comb rather than risk infection and end up having to replace whole colonies!
Other pieces of equipment that were mentioned that need checking before the new season are your smoker, hive tool, suit, veil and gauntlets (heavy-duty elbow length gloves).
Without a working smoker you can end up working with angry bees as smoke makes the bees think there's a fire so eat lots of honey; they do this in case they need to make a speedy get away and by doing so makes it harder for them to physically sting due to their bellies being so full. He also mentioned another option which is to spray water across the mouth of the hive; the advantage of this is that it doesn't scare the queen as much so she may be less inclined to hide when the hive is opened and if a hive is smoked too much bees can think there is a problem and leave.
A hive tool is essential for removing the comb that bees build to glue everything together, also known as burr comb. It is also used to pry frames apart so inspections can take place.
The suit, veil and gauntlets are all for the Beekeepers safety so are essential. They all need to be thoroughly checked for gaps that bees can get through and kept clean so disease is kept from spreading. There was also recommendation to not use gauntlets where possible and use disposable rubber gloves if needed. By using disposable gloves your are guaranteeing the cleanest possible approach.
There was more talk on bee health and several slides, one including small hive beetles. These little nasties haven't made it to our shores yet (from the other side of the Atlantic) but due to the size of them it would be hard to see them so could be accidentally brought in on something else. In the picture you can see the little black beetles (click to enlarge). The larvae of the beetles can burrow through the comb, defecating as they go, which can in turn discolour the honey and cause it to ferment, thus spoiling the honey! A common sign of this damage is a smell of decaying orange and a slimy froth. If the infestation gets too bad the bees may abscond the hive.
At each meeting there is a raffle and I took part this time for the first time and am happy to report I won one of the prizes. If your number comes out you can choose your prize from a variety of things, I choose a bottle of beer which I shared with my better half when I got home.