Dear Members,

Well, last month I couldn’t believe that the weather would continue cold into May, but now it is also wet, and colder than usual, providing the bees and beekeepers with even more challenges.

For those of you who, like me, took advantage of a window of warm weather in April to do a swarm or a split, may, like me, have ended up continuing to feed these colonies. Not what I expected in May!

The bad news of course also continues for those virgin queens emerging in May and amid cold winds and rain showers, having difficulty finding a nice warm afternoon to fly off to a Drone Congregation area. This is causing me to be quite anxious about the state of my colonies.

Dr Alan Tarpy, a beekeeping researcher in the USA, has found that virgin queens who mate with 7 or fewer drones are likely to die in their first season; those mating with more than 13 drones increase their fertility and longevity. Gone are the days of queens living for four to five years, now we can usually count on queen’s surviving on average for about two years.

The reasons for this shortened lifespan of queens is complex. It is affected by a range of different factors from poor mating, to poor management by beekeepers (over, or incorrectly, using acaricides, shipping in stock not suited to the area, poor handling of bees) the presence of pesticides in wax, poor nutrition of developing queens resulting from farming practices which limit forage diversity or the moving bees on to mono crops so pollen sources are limited to one protein type. Like us, bees need a variety of pollen to be healthy.

So now, for UK beekeepers, this prolonged period of cold weather, alternating with first dry, and then wet, conditions does not bode well for good queen mating. According to Stephen Flemming (the Beecraft Editor) who has been mapping Drone Congregation Areas (DCA) across the UK for 30 years, the peak time to find large congregations of Drones is in June.

Other factors favouring good DCA’s are apparently, temperatures of about 19deg C, a light breeze, and somewhere between 2.00pm and 5.30pm, with the peak times being 2.30pm to 4.30pm. So far our temperatures have struggled to stay in double figures, let alone reach 19 degrees C, but, maybe, June will show a change of weather - let's hope so.

Flemming maintains that virgin queens can remain viable for successful mating for up to 4 weeks after emergence. I do hope he is right as this may give my young queens a chance. I had thought that after 3 weeks their chances of mating were over!

Martin has been dutifully forwarding to us various questionnaires and information. You will have noticed that both COLOSS and BBKA sent out questionnaires about colony survival. It is a shame that the BBKA has failed to agree to synchronise their information with COLOSS as this may put people off answering either one, or both. Annoying as it is, it is important to take a little time to complete these questionnaires as they give valuable research information about beekeeping in the UK and a comparison with our European colleagues. A little like voting, it may be boring, but we should value that our opinion is sought - the privilege of living in a free society.

Regards, and stay safe and well,

Margaret Holdsworth