Bee-happy, Bee-curious

This is based upon a piece that I wrote recently for my local Beekeeping Association.


Springtime Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving (The American version) occurs in November and celebrates the Pilgrim Fathers. The feasting gives thanks for the country’s bounty. In UK we have our near equivalent, harvest festivals around September time. So what on earth am I thinking of by talking about Springtime Thanksgiving. I feel that there is something very special to beekeepers at this time of year that makes me want to give thanks.

For me the anticipation starts in January when brighter days tempt out some bees for a look around and a bowel emptying. These early flyers are a signal that the colony may be getting ready for spring. I usually over-winter three colonies so sight of bees venturing out from all three hives is wonderful. In some Januaries there is pollen to be brought from snowdrops which grow in profusion in nearby woodland: wonderful and distinctive red pollen.


Every effort was made to feed the bees well during autumn to ensure sufficient stores to draw on throughout a potentially uncertain winter and spring. On a quiet and bright day I carefully lift the roof of each hive and add a slab of fondant to each in late January. This is deliberately a quick precautionary operation. I try to keep the opening to less than a minute. Glimpsing bees moving about just beneath the ventilation holes in the crown board gives another boost to the beekeeper. Nothing is certain or taken for granted about how the colonies will progress. There is still plenty of opportunity for wet and cold weather keeping the bees confined to barracks and poor spring flowers.


The fondant is checked after two or three weeks, weather permitting. Lifting the rooves and seeing the fondant slabs diminished and covered in bees is further cause for hope and thankfulness. It is at least a sign that there are active bees strong and motivated enough to feed themselves and hopefully a healthy queen and brood. My spirits definitely rise at this sight. Still nothing taken for granted.

As February and March progress, the fondant checking continues at two to three week intervals. If the slabs continue to diminish and are covered in industrious bees that’s a great feeling but still no guarantee of a successful outcome.


This spring has been exceptional in a good way. The fondant has disappeared and been replaced, twice. The mild weather has definitely brought the bees out in numbers. Thankfully the spring flowers, blossom and catkins have come early and in profusion. The bees have been out flying and returning with red, orange and yellow pollen. Too soon to open up the hives for inspection but all the activity and pollen gathering allows me to hope that all three colonies have an active queen laying eggs and producing brood. The fondant when last checked was nearly gone again. Bees have been active gathering water from our pond; they need it to dissolve the sugar in the fondant so that stacks up.


Bees have been exceptionally active in our garden this spring (I have my apiary in the garden). The early and profuse flowering in my wife’s spring garden has raised her spirits. Her gardening has been a success, the flowers are thriving, and they look lovely. The way in which she has nurtured the spring garden over the years since we have had bees has pleased her to do it, to see the bright flowers and to play a big part in helping my over-wintering bees. She also derives a special pleasure from the fact that the bees appreciate and benefit from her work.

So much pollen is being brought home that I have decided to remove the mouse guards from the hive entrances as the metal strips with holes large enough for bees but far too small for mice to pass through tend to brush off some of the pollen as the returning bees negotiate the entrance. Mouse guards off, cleaned and stored for next winter. The annual ritual and pleasure of taking off those mouse guards has been performed a couple of weeks earlier than in a more typical spring; a further opportunity to give thanks.


If the weather continues in this way then it won’t be long before I can open the hives for a quick inspection. I plan to do that in two days. Hopefully I’ll find several frames with brood. If so then it will be cause for great thanks again. Then all being well, the first honey supers can go on each hive. Oh what a wonderful early spring, let it last, and I’ll be overflowing with Springtime Thanksgiving.


I checked my stock of supers again yesterday to see if I had missed any wax moth damage, just two dodgy frames. I need to order a few super frames and foundation. Hey, frame making, another beekeeping pleasure.


I hope spring is being kind and gentle to your bees.


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