March has been a delight for most of the month for beekeepers, according to Ethel Irvine of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association.

In this month’s report she delves deeper into the latest developments for local enthusiasts.

Bees have been flying freely for either cleansing flights or to gather the nectar and pollen available. It is at this time of year when plants in our gardens are at the most important for honeybees in home apiaries as they do not have to fly too far to reach the plentiful bloom available on daffodils, grape hyacinths, pulmonaria, camellia, quince japonica, heathers and all the other flowering shrubs.

Further afield, they are finding the willows, hazel and the few early dandelions and the blackthorns are putting on their starry white shows, brightening up the somewhat dreary hedges.

Later in the year, as the numbers in the colonies increase, our gardens will be of lesser importance to our honeybees but will very important to those pollinators which have a small foraging areas so the message is – keep planting for pollinators!

There have been reports from some of our members about mould in the unoccupied corners of hives and in stored frames.

Good ventilation, allowing the removal of water vapour, is the enemy of mould and most winters this is provided by the open mesh floors which we use as part of our Varroa control.

Certainly, the floors, provided the inserts for monitoring Varroa are not in place, allow for the escape of the condensed water which is the natural result of the metabolising of the food from which the bees get their energy, in the form of heat, to survive the winter.

However, the winter past has been warm and moulds have grown more than usual. Mould in stored super comb, which has been cleaned by the bees after honey extraction, benefitted from the same warm moist conditions.

Again good ventilation is important when storing comb as is making sure that no unwanted visitors such as mice can invade the stacks of supers.

All comb infected with mould should be replaced and the frames should be either destroyed or well scorched with a blow torch to get rid of the spores.

Honey is a very valuable food and beekeepers should make every effort to ensure that the conditions in which it is produced are kept as free from contamination as possible.

On the subject of fungal growths, chalkbrood is caused by fungal spores, contained in the worker jelly fed to the growing larvae by the nurse bees.

They invade the bodies of the larvae and engulf them, the end result being the chalk-like mummies which can be seen in the brood cells and on the floors of the hives.

These spores love the warm, moist conditions of the colony so after this winter, we may see more chalkbrood than we had last autumn but as the season advances and bees are flying strongly, the amount of chalkbrood should drop.

If it does not fall to a barely noticeable level, we should be considering re-queening the colony with a queen whose ancestors originated from a colony where chalkbrood was not a problem.

There is no treatment for it and, while it does not harm the honey produced, it does reduce considerably the numbers of cells available for rearing brood and thus the ability of the colony to support itself and survive.

Nosema is the other common disease which the colony may have had to contend with during winter. Dysentery may be the result of a serious infection and its presence is easily detected from the streaks of faeces down the brood combs and on the front of the hive, as the rectums of the bees cannot cope with the extra water in the waste matter.

This should not be confused with the normal defaecation of the bees when the faeces is stored in the rectum which has the ability to stretch to contain it until there is an opportunity to leave the hive.

This is when those oily yellow spots appear on our cars or on the washing on the clothesline as hundreds of bees leave the hive to relieve themselves.

It’s not always popular with the non-beekeeping fraternity! Back to nosema and its presence at the end of winter which will probably clear up as the colony begin to build up to its correct balance of bees, brood and food.

As with all diseases, stress is a major factor when it comes to nosema damaging the colony. There is no treatment for nosema (which is being renamed) as Fumidil-B is no longer licensed for use in bee colonies.

Again, a reminder that because of winter conditions, it is very likely that the queen’s rate of egg production, hence brood in the colony, remained higher than usual meaning that the Varroa levels could be high.

Keep a close watch on the colony and treat if necessary, remembering that any treatment must not affect the honey in supers which may be on the hive.

Since the setting up of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society queen-rearing group in the county last year, it has been decided by the Association to declare the Association apiary a Black Bee Conservation Area and members of the Association members may follow suit if they wish.

This will strengthen the existing aim in the constitution, which will be changed to reflect this at the next AGM.

The queen rearing group has been raising queens from a native black queen i.e. apis mellifera mellifera. These queens have been mated with local drones which will give the resulting bees the vigour required by the local environment.

This summer the group will continue with the project and will have mated queens which will be given, free, to any beekeeper in the area with the aim of reducing, not only the expense of purchasing queens but also the danger of the importation of exotic disease and the comprising of the native gene pool.

Every year AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute) asks beekeepers to complete a survey, the results of which give an overview of the health and welfare of bees in Northern Ireland. Please consider completing the survey.

The Level 1 ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course students met in CAFRE for instruction in, and assessment of, Unit 1 Equipment for beekeeping. Jackie Barry, tutor, had put together a team of Association members to instruct in the parts of the hive, their uses, building a hive, putting together frame parts and inserting foundation into the frame.

The enthusiasm of the students was infectious as was their interest in bees in general and the level of noise as they hammered and pinned while chatting and asking questions showed their commitment. FBKA thank the Enniskillen campus for providing a classroom where the students, instructors and assessors could work in spacious surroundings.

The next meeting of FBKA will be at the Disease Roadshow, organised by the Ulster Beekeepers Association. The Roadshow will be held in the Westville Hotel, Enniskillen on April 27, 2023 at 6.30pm when a light meal will be served.

The speakers will be Tom Williamson of DAERA who is responsible for honeybee disease inspections in Northern Ireland and Dan Basterfield NDB. Dan is a leading beekeeper in England.

Their advice this year will be particularly important as inspections in Northern Ireland have been somewhat diminished because of the increased workload of DAERA personnel due to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

All beekeepers, including those from all surrounding counties, will be very welcome to attend this informative (and free) meeting.