Exclusive Advice with Beekeeper Kasper
The weather this April has been slightly warmer compared to Spring 2021, where we had cold weather right to the end of May so bees this Spring are looking a lot better. We’re seeing lots of pollen coming into the hives – and fresh honey too! From the third week in April, I have started to see queen cups with eggs or little larvae in the stronger colonies which means swarm season is upon us and we have to keep a close eye on it to stop our hives from swarming.
As the swarm season started, I will be checking hives between 9-14 days for swarm cells and giving bees enough space to stop them from swarming. I always start with a light puff of smoke as I am lifting the crown board, I put the supers to the side and start checking the brood box first. I take one frame out of the brood chamber, checking for the queen. If I don’t see the queen, I put this frame aside on the frame rests to give myself more space for working the hive. I then check each from carefully for swarm cells. At the same time, I am looking how much honey and pollen there is in the hive as well as checking the brood. All stages of brood present in the hive from the egg to the emerging bees means there is a laying queen in there.
For swarm control, I look at the frames of brood closely, so I don’t miss even one swarm cell. It’s good to add some frames with foundation to keep bees busy. Adding foundation into the brood chamber in early to mid-May I make sure the frames with foundations are placed on the side of the brood or by the frames with honey. Because the nights can still be cold, I don’t place foundation between frames with brood.
In late April and May, there are lots of flowers in bloom. On the warm days, bees can collect an abundance of pollen and nectar and we have to make sure they have plenty of space to store it. I have added some supers on the strongest hives already but there are still some without a super -which I will be adding very soon. I will add more supers on the hives when the previous one will be at least half-filled with bees and honey.
Occasionally I will equalize hives in May by taking a frame of emerging brood from a hive that has got swarm cells and transferring it to a smaller hive to boost it (make sure the queen is not on that frame). I will shake bees off the frame and just transfer the brood, placing it right next to the brood frame in the weaker colony. To replace the frame in the stronger hive, I’ll add foundation.
May is a very good month to collect some pollen from the bees for human consumption. Watch my latest video to learn how to install a pollen trap on your hive. The pollen trap we are using does allow bees to enter the hive with smaller pollen baskets so the hive still has got a supply of pollen. The elastin stainless steel wire entry does not damage the bees while collecting pollen.
Pollen traps have to be emptied every day to stop pollen from going mouldy. Fresh pollen contains quite a lot of water so in order to be stored it has to be dried. Ideally, pollen should be dried at 30°C and kept in the dark. A food dehydrator will be good for drying flower pollen.
Pollen cannot be collected all the time. I will be collecting pollen from one hive for 2 to 4 days and then I will take the pollen trap off for a week or so to make sure bees do have enough pollen.
What can you do with bee pollen?
Flower pollen has plenty of health benefits, it’s an antioxidant packed with vitamins and minerals so many people choose to consume bee pollen. The taste depends on the flower it is derived from, it can be slightly sweet or bitter. You can simply sprinkle it over your toast or yoghurts, blend it into your smoothies or add it to the tops of cakes and breakfast bars. (Make sure you’re not allergic and have properly prepared the pollen).
You can even feed dried ground pollen back to the bees in spring or late summer to boost the colonies when there is not much fresh pollen.
May Honey Recipe by Gill Meller:
Looking for a tasty new breakfast dish? Gill Meller shares another delicious recipe;
‘Whenever I eat goat’s cheese, I am transported back to summer holidays in the south of France, where the hot sun would stale the baguettes by mid-afternoon, and yet they would still seem perfect. I have an indelible image in my mind of an entire table of impeccably displayed, handmade goat’s cheeses. They were beautifully finished in flowers and herbs, ash, spice, leaves and seeds. It was the colour, contrast and care their maker had taken over the presentation that I loved so much. I use slices of rinded goat’s cheese in this recipe – you can find it anywhere. However, you might have to look a little harder for the wonderfully distinctive herb lovage. It’s unbelievably delicious with rhubarb, and works so well with the cheese.’
Goat’s cheese with rhubarb & lovage
- 2 or 3 rhubarb sticks
- 50g (1¾oz) golden caster sugar
- 4 or 5 lovage leaves, finely chopped, plus a few whole leaves to serve
- 4 teaspoons runny honey
- 4 slices malted bread
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 200g (7oz) fresh, soft goat’s cheese, sliced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Trim the papery bases from the rhubarb sticks, then gently wash the sticks. Cut each one into 3–4cm (1¼–1½in) pieces and place the pieces in a single layer, if possible, in a large heavy-based pan.
- Scatter the sugar and the lovage leaves over the rhubarb, then drizzle over 2 teaspoons of the honey and 2 tablespoons of water. Shake the pan and place on the hob over a low–medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cook for 3–4 minutes or until the rhubarb is just beginning to tenderize and the syrup is thickening slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
- Toast the bread slices on both sides, then place them on a grill pan and drizzle over the olive oil and the remaining honey. Top with an equal number of goat’s cheese slices and place the toast under a hot grill for about 4–6 minutes, until the cheese is lightly brown and bubbling. Carefully remove from the grill and place a slice of toast on each of four plates. Top each slice with some of the warm rhubarb mixture, dividing the mixture equally between each slice. Season with salt and pepper, then finish with a scattering of fresh lovage leaves to serve.
Order Gill’s Gather cookbook for more recipes or follow @gill.meller on Instagram.
Photography: Andrew Montgomery
Header image: Isabelle Johnson.