The Bees Calender

Exceptionally good weather during the second half of February may have encouraged our honeybee queens to lay, although maybe a little premature here in Kent. Larger colonies, in particular, may have a sizeab;e brood nest forming and these young will need to be fed on honey and pollen.

Most colonies should have provisions remaining in the hive but if there is any doubt, wait for a relatively good day, not when its raining and without a chilling wind. A round midd-day is a good time to smoke the bees but not after 2pm.

The brood box is inpected as quickly as possible. Whilst working through the combs, if there are some bees, they are gently shaken into the brood box, and this frame is leant against the side of the hive. Now there is a wide working space. Working towards the brood nest, it is essential to stop when the brood or eggs are seen. Ideally, during this process, one or two frames should be heavy with stored honey and pollen. The frames are closed and the end one replaced, not leaving the brood out of the hive for long.

Bee Hive Frame

This process is repeated but in cases where their needs intervention a syrup made from a litre of sugar using two parts in weight of sugar to one part of water (the strength is debatable) can be administered in the brood area and will not enter the honey crop. If there is prolonged bad weather then pollen patties may be needed.

I awoke this morning with eager anticipation. Cold, wet weather had prevented me from looking through my beehives to see how they had fared over winter. BY around 10 in the morning, in brilliant sunshine, I finally descended the sloping orchards of conference pear trees, just coming to bloom the contain some of my beehives. A windbreak of alder trees seperates the next orchard of cox’s orange pippin and jonagold apples, their buds swollen yet tightly closed. A chorus of bird calls fill the air and the scent of spring in the air is overwhelming. At the orchard’s end, protected by a hedgerow of sloe and damson, three of my beehives come into view.

Bees Fanning

I feel my heart racing a little, winter is a difficult time for bees and some colonies perish.

I need not be conserned, each hive is busy, their entrances milling with activity. Incoming bees, weighed queenalive and laying. The smoker is lit and downwith bright yellow balls of pollen on thier legs, confirm that, almostcertainly and a gentle puff of smoke into the entrance of the first hive before removing its roof and crown board. The beesare hardly aware of my prescence as I carefully inspect their home. There is plenty of honey and pollen stored and some of the waxcombs glisten with recently imported nectar. There is a young brood, curled up in their hexagonal wax cribs each floating on a bed of larval food.

After closing up the hives I walk back through the orchards feeling grateful, if not blessed, to have come across this wonderful pastime of beekeeping some 25 years ago. The bees posses a tangible, calming energy that resonates within me whenever I am near them.

The ‘Spring Build Up’ of beehive colonies is triggered by flowereing willow trees in March.

Bee and Pollen

it is March, the beginning of spring and the honeybeess have had a lean time during the winter months. If they had ventured out to find food there may have been very few flowers available.

But now the ‘Pussy Willows’ are beginning to bloom and there is nectar and pollen in abundance.

Nectar is converted into a dilute honey as the bees imbibe it.This is the bees’ source of energy.

The end of austerity alters the colony dynamic and as food is entering the hive in great quantities the queen is stimunlated to lay. Soon, as many as 1.500 eggs a day!

Pollen is high in protein; an essential food for bees’ bodies and to feed a ravenous queen.

The bees are now attempting to gather and store excess honey and pollen to enable them to swarm and divide their nest to form two independent colonies. It is their way of procreating. Come and see the bees, they are busy carrying out numerous different tasks and are a marvel to watch… see and learn a lot more.

So now it is April and here in Kent some honey bee colonies will be making preparations to swarm.

Just off centre in the photograph, shown in a white circle, is a queen cell (enlarged lower left). This houses the larva of a future queen. It will be completed within a day or so and this will signal the colony to swarm.

Queen Bee Larvae

A large proportion of the older bees will fly out with their current queen, briefly consolidating in a cluster near the hive before leaivng to find a new home.

In a week or so a virgin queen will emerge from the queen cell in the oringinal hive. She will often kill any rivals before taking a series of mating fllights outside. Shortly she will begin laying to ensure the continuation of her colony. if it is large the bees may allow more queens to emerge; there will form small swarms and seek their own new nest sites. if conditions are favourable, these small colonies may build sufficient strength to survive the following winter. otherwise they will perish.

Spring has finally ‘sprung’ and the bees are becoming very active.

Bees carrying pollen

They are feeding on nectar from flowers growing in the vicinity. These flowers also produce pollen far in excess of their own pollination requirements. Much of the extra sticks to the hairs on the bees’ bodies. they removed it by usinig a brushing action and pass the pollen grains towards their back legs. here, each hin leg possesses a corbicula or pollen basket, into which, or more accurately, around which the pollen is packed.

Once in tothe hive, pollen is eaten by younger adult bees that have not yet become of age to leave their nest. This results in the secretion of Royal Jelly which is fed to all the larvae during the early part of their development. The one exception is a queen larvae and it is fed solely on this substance until she pupates.

in the summer there could be 50,000 femail worker bees in a single colony. Each has the potential of becoming a queen and the outcome is determined by the consumption of Royal Jelly.

Honeycombe filling

The bees illustrated are ‘house bees’ andwill not leave the hive until they are a little more mature. They have taken honey from their older. ‘forager’, sisters who are making return trips from the hive. This follows successful food gathering journeys to flowers in the vicinity for nectar and pollen. By passing the honey to their younger sisters, the forager can come and go more quickly.

The interlocking, hexagonal comb is made from wax which is secreted from special glands in the bee’s abdomens. They produce thin flakes of wax that are then moulded into shape. The honey

shown is ‘watery’ and if the bees wish to store it the water content will need to be reduced. There are several ways of achieving this, in particular, wing fanning forms an air current which reduces the liquid content. Soon it will thicken and can then be stored without fermenting.

There is so much more to see and understand. Why not come and see the process for yourself? Bees could be flling their wax combs with honey for you and I could show you how, during a beekeeping lesson.