You often hear that in beekeeping, no two years are alike. That’s certainly true in the 10+ years I’ve been keeping bees and this year we saw the worst winter losses ever. Almost half our London colonies succumbed over winter, with most going down due to queen failure. In simple terms a failed queen is one that wasn’t strong enough to keep the hive going. The exact reason gets more complicated to decipher but the bottom line is the same.
With far fewer colonies to look after though the upside is the workload dramatically decreases. In particular the weekly visits take less time, and in the early spring, there’s less brood frames to make. Making up frames can be quite therapeutic, slotting the beautiful smelling pine pieces together and securing the aromatic wax. It’s a fun task when you’ve got a few to make and lots of time, but a bit of a bummer when you need to make 100+ in a hurry! And I always leave it too late…
Spring is the time when the bees want to reproduce and they do this by swarming. It’s not easy trying to stop nature doing its thing but as a beekeeper you don’t want to lose a swarm for a number of reasons. Not least because you’re unlikely to get a decent honey crop. This year, from the colonies that made it through, almost all of them were in swarm mode and because I missed a week being off with Covid (again!) I turned up a few weeks ago, mid-swarm. Fortunately I was in time to prevent all bar one of the colonies from flying off with their queen and in the weeks since they have all settled down and been getting on with making honey.
There are no fields of Rapeseed nearby our London apiary so we don’t have to deal with honey going rock hard in the comb or extracting it as an early crop. We only harvest once a year so any nectar collected in spring contributes to the medley of flavours that create our award winning London variety. And as we don’t take any supers off it’s difficult to say for sure how much honey the bees make during the spring flow, but this year feels like one of the best ever. Although only half the boxes are currently full, one of the strongest colonies has 8 supers. That’s unheard of at this time of year, but then again, no two years are ever the same.