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Beekeeper’s Notes April 2016: No Pensions For Bees

Published on: 1 Apr, 2016
Updated on: 5 Apr, 2016

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon and talks about the new beekeeeping season and the bees working until they drop in his monthly series.

My bees, thank goodness, look to have got through the winter.

The two hives in my garden are very active, especially the polystyrene hive which stands in a sunny spot.

Home poly hive, pollen coming in.

Busy hive entrance on a warm, sunny day in early March. Click on the photo to enlarge it. You can see pollen coming in on the bee’s back legs – a sign that the queen is likely to be laying.

Pollen has been coming in now on any days that the bees have been able to fly. That is a positive sign that the queen is doing her job and laying eggs for the next bee generation. Thank you queens.

On the allotment where I have three hives, it is quite shady and surrounded by active plots and gardens. So a different situation to the garden. Bees are woodland creatures so, even though it gets less sun, these cold- blooded creatures seem to do ok there.

Allotment apiary site, set up with a screen

Shady allotment apiary site but the bees like it. The screens encourage the bees to fly above head height when they leave the hive to go out foraging. They are less likely to annoy my lovely allotment neighbours than if they were buzzing along bumping into humans.

Two of my three hives look to be doing what they should be doing, active when the weather allows and bringing in plenty of pollen to feed the eggs that the queen is laying.

The fate of the third hive hangs in the balance. The queen is laying, but the numbers of bees in the colony is low after the winter. We shall see what happens.

It is a hard time for the bees who are reaching the end of their short lives now having survived the winter. Workers bees can live for months over the winter period but the older bees are dying off now.

Allotment hive, pollen coming in

Pollen coming into the hive. But one of the bees in the photo is dead. The bee carrying the yellow pollen got home but died before she could climb back in the hive.

The bee with the yellow pollen on her legs is dead. She had managed to get back to base but wasn’t quite able to get back into the hive. Bees work until they drop. No long life on a pension for bees.

The other bee next to her is carrying a grey-coloured pollen which could be maple or elm. The yellow-coloured pollen could be a number of plants including willow.

Not all colonies have survived the winter though.

My friend, who runs nine hives in various locations, has lost five of them. It is not clear why but it could be a combination of the bees running out of food at a crucial time or simply running out of a critical mass of bees as they die off over the winter.

Hard for the beekeeper but even harder for the bees.

Beekeeping is not all sad stories. It has its ups and downs. But I do get a thrill when I open up my hives for the first time in a season and get a first glimpse of a big, beautiful queen.

Willow catkins

Willow catkins

Another beekeeping year starts.

Dragon reader Harry Eve has sent these photos in and says:

“I have much appreciation for The Dragon and Hugh Coakley’s contributions.

“Determining the source of the pollen from its colour is particularly fascinating.

“Willow and Wych Elm have both been in flower in our borough over the last week or so. Here are a couple of photos taken at The Sheepleas.”

Harry Eve 1

Wych elm


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Responses to Beekeeper’s Notes April 2016: No Pensions For Bees

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    April 3, 2016 at 6:07 am

    I think the willow is Salix caprea but am happy to be corrected. Elm flowers are much less spectacular than the seeds they produce later.

    Mr Coakley’s fascinating article reminded me that, among the many non-social mining bees, there is one particular species that is very rare in Surrey and lives in the east of Guildford Borough. It collects from mainly one kind of wild flower and the pollen is salmon-pink in colour giving it a very distinctive appearance.

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