May normally sees oilseed rape in flower, but it is always quite variable due to planting dates, weather, pigeon damage etc. Apple blossom gives a much more reliable marker for early or late seasons.

The main jobs in May are to give adequate room for both honey storage and population expansion. Supers are not there just for honey storage. Ensure queen excluders are sound so the queen stays in the brood box, although ‘slim’ queens can sometimes slip through. If no brood is found below the queen excluder, supers should always be inspected.

Swarm control is the other major job for the beekeeper. If room is provided in the form of supers this helps to alleviate congestion. Colonies can build up rapidly during this month, regular inspection will allow early detection of swarming. Splitting the colony (Pagden method) can be done to control swarming; if extra colonies are not wanted they can be reunited later in the season, keeping the new queen.

Clipping the queen bee’s wings on one side by about 25% helps to delay swarming. If a swarm issues from a hive the queen may be lost, but the workforce returns to the hive, giving the beekeeper more time to remove queen cells before they emerge. The queen may be lost but the workers and honey are kept. If the queen is seen on the ground, she can be put back through the entrance. If lost, destroy all queen cells and leave for a few days, then go back through the colony leaving the best looking queen cell. Leave the colony for three weeks to allow a virgin queen to be mated, then continue normal inspections. Never clip a virgin queen, for obvious reasons.

A super frame can now be inserted into the brood as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) varroa control, bees tend to build drone cells below the bottom bar. When these are sealed, they can be removed with the mites they contain. This can be repeated through the season. The drone brood can be destroyed or fed to chickens, checking before disposal to get an idea of varroa mite numbers in the brood. Regular checks with an uncapping fork are an excellent way of testing to see if mites are present in any great number. Swarms, once hived and settled for a few days, can be “dusted” with icing sugar to remove a good percentage of varroa mites.

Stocks that are lagging behind should be requeened. Rearing one’s own queens is both satisfying and part of good beekeeping.