by Roger Chappel & Len Mutton
We noted that the opening paragraph in Bill Cadmore’s
introduction in the April issue reflected a depressingly familiar story – rain
and cold temperatures. Last year (2012) the Spring period started unnaturally
well – by the beginning of May most of us were actually praying for rain. We needn’t
have bothered as we had nearly a year of it.
This year we have not even had what we could describe as a
spring yet. The conditions, we are reliably informed by our farming friends,
for sowing oil seed rape were so bad that farm vehicles couldn’t even get out
in to the fields. Those fields which did get seeds sown are showing little sign
of much happening as we enter May – out local farmer reported to me last week
that the shoots are around 3-4 inches high when they should be around 3ft. The
conclusion, we can assume, is that there isn’t going to be any oil seed rape in
any great quantity, certainly not around here. Farmers have, however, sown lots
of beans in a desperate attempt to compensate so there may be hope yet. As far
as the bees are concerned they do seem to be taking in quite a lot of pollen
from something – maybe daffodils, crocuses, willow……..but this won’t last long.
The warning is to keep your eye on their food supplies and keep feeding if necessary.
We have been feeding our bees with a thin (1:1) syrup for about 3 weeks now but
this is really only designed to simulate the nectar flow which should help to stimulate
the queen in to egg laying action. Since most crops and other nectar sources
are around a month behind already this year, be prepared to keep this syrup
available to the bees for a few weeks yet!
Healthy colonies should really start to make serious
progress this month and the brood nest will start to expand at an amazing rate.
Last week our main task was to clean up the hives after winter. We would
normally have this operation completed
by now but the weather has been so disappointing and warm days have been so
limited. Finally we managed to get all the hives tidied up and paid particular attention
to replacing the floors for that is where all the detritus falls giving a
perfect potential breeding ground for disease. The outer hive covers have all
been stored away in the old duck house which is conveniently standing nearby.
The worker bees have been out and about this week in large numbers and taking
heavy loads of pollen into the hive and this is always a good sign of a laying
queen. On further inspection all the queens were found and luckily they have
started to lay although slowly – we are hoping that the added input of syrup
will encourage the queens to lay more and we are generally happy that we are on
our way albeit a little late compared to previous years. What a good feeling it
is to get the hives tidied up and in ship shape and Bristol fashion. We have
noted that some old and dark frames will need replacing as soon as possible and
we will prepare for this operation on our next visit.
It is very important that all beekeepers keep in touch with
what is going on because this is the start of the swarming season and the last
thing you need is to lose your prime swarm – this can set the colony back
months. Supers can be added as soon as the brood frames are populated with bees
across 8 or 9 frames and the bees usually don’t take long to move up in to
these and start filling the cells with honey. Within 2 -3 weeks at this time of
year a super can be full and you need to be ready to add supers where it’s
appropriate. This provides the room the bees need and will repress any ideas
they may have to swarm, at least for a while anyway. In the brood box, ensure
that there are no old frames with old honey in them and try to replace them
with new foundation. It’s a good habit to do this with 3 or 4 frames every year
and this keeps the ‘wax builders’ busy. From now until the end of July it is necessary
to check every 7 – 10 days for possible signs of swarming – make sure accurate
and precise records are kept. Note the difference between proper queen cells
and ‘play cups’ – usually these are dry and empty of life but if you do spot a
white grub in one of these then action is needed. If you do spot queen cells
stay calm, close the hive up and refer to the many sheets of notes which detail
the procedures to be carried out.
The Darlington Beekeeping Association held their normal
final meeting of the Spring term at the beginning of April. It was a rare
evening when we opted not to invite a
visiting speaker and fronted ourselves. Len and I went through a variety of
routines and focussed on our latest design for the Observation Hive and a
summary of what had been learned at the Queen breeding workshop attended by two
of our members in March at Harrogate, organised by YBKA members Wendy Maslin
and Tony Jefferson. As a special treat we showed our well attended audience a
film show featuring a newly hatched queen hunting out and stinging another
(rival) queen which was about emerge from its cell. These phenomena may well
have been filmed before but personally I’ve never seen it and it wouldn’t
surprise me if this is a unique piece of filming which our apiary manager
(Derek Tweedy) and Len managed to film last year. It was certainly captivating
and our members were totally transfixed watching this fascinating activity.
One of the great pleasures of keeping our bees at the
riverbank apiary is the fact that it is situated out in the countryside down a
farm lane .The hives are surrounded by a small riverside wood which allows all
sorts of wild life and we can enjoy all these creatures whilst we attend to our
bees. We noticed only last week that we seem to have some woodpeckers taking up
residence and they were spotted jumping around the trees looking for food. The
lane is regularly used as a horse trail for a local riding school and that in
itself gives added interest. We have also noted increased activity in the
bumble bee world and are preparing to place a few suitable nests around the
site to complement our honey bee hives. We have collected together some
information about bumble bees for your interest and include them below.
The Bumble Bee
The bumble bee is an amazing creature and experts are still
debating how it can manage to fly at all with its large non aerodynamic body
lifting off into the air like a Chinook helicopter.
Bumblebees that live in the UK are on a one year cycle with
all the bees from the colony dying out at the onset of autumn except for a
small number of Queens from the hive which have been mated in late summer. The
queens need a winter home free of frost which is warm and dry and a favourite
bolt hole is a mouse nest. They chase out resident mice and hibernate in their
holes right through the dark winter months. To prepare for this she eats as
much as she can to build up her body fat – her nutritional store is gradually
used up whilst in hibernation.
The queens emerge in early spring and look for a suitable
place to begin a new colony of their own. Favourite places to nest are under sheds,
compost heaps, and on many occasions bird boxes mounted on sheds and garden
fences. During this period you will find them slowly hovering around any dark
holes and corners ignoring flowers as the first priority is to find a home.
As soon as she finds a suitable place for her nest she
builds a wax honey pot and fills it with regurgitated nectar (similar to
honey). This is built with wax which she exudes from glands between the
segments of the abdomen. The queen also builds up a store of pollen some of
which she eats and the rest she forms into a ball moistened with nectar – this
is sometimes called the bee bread. The store will enable the queen to survive
for a day or two of cold wet weather without foraging. If you see a queen carrying
pollen in her pollen baskets she has already found a suitable nest site.
The pollen stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs which the
queen lays in batches of 4 to 16 on the ball of pollen, this is then covered
with wax. The eggs are pearly white and slightly curved and are placed within
easy reach of the honey pot so that the queen can brood the eggs and feed at
the same time. Birds and queen bumble bees brood their eggs in the same way to
keep them warm. Bumblebees are quite hairy but the underside of the abdomen has
a bare patch so that she can pass her body heat directly onto the clump of wax covered
eggs and during this period the queen rarely leaves the eggs for long keeping
them warm at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. After the emergence of the
first or second batch of workers they take over the task of foraging, leaving
the queen to spend more of her time laying eggs and caring for the larvae. This
allows the colony to grow progressively larger. New queens are produced later
in the life of the colony and they eventually leave to get mated. In due course
the cycle starts all over again the following year. The old colony
disintegrates at the end of summer and the old Queen and her workers and males
1. Sting – The bumble bee rarely stings unless threatened
but because the stinger is not barbed she will not die like a honey bee.
2. Bumblebees do not have ears however they can feel the
vibrations of sounds through nearby materials.
3. Wings – Bumblebees have two pairs of wings though it
looks like they have just one pair as the wings operate together in flight and
are held together by a series of hooks.
4. Bumblebees are very important pollinators of crops and
wildflowers and should be treasured.
5. Buzz – a common yet incorrect assumption is that the
buzzing sound of bees is caused by the beating of their wings. The sound is
actually the result of the bee vibrating its flight muscles.
6. As is the case with most adult insects the bumblebee has
three pairs of legs. Queens and worker bumblebee legs are specialized for gathering