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Beekeeper’s Notes: Critical Time For Bees

Published on: 1 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 30 Jan, 2021

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

It is a quiet time of the year for bees and beekeepers. The current talk is about how our colonies are doing in the winter but also the ‘thin end of the wedge’ concern that the government is allowing the use of neonicitinoid pesticide as an emergency treatment for the sugar beet crop.

Honey bee colonies are approaching their lowest population at this time of year. The queen will be starting to lay again after her winter rest. She starts slowly at first, presumably to match the amount of pollen protein that the workers can provide to nurture the larvae. She is starting to replace the worker bees that naturally die over the winter.

Average bee colony population against queen laying (from Beekeeping Study Notes by JD & BD Yates).

The workers live around six weeks of productive life but those that are born just before the winter can live for four months or more.

It is suggested that they last longer because they don’t have to work as hard. The can’t forage as much so they don’t have the punishing workload of flying up to five miles and back with a shopping bag of nectar or pollen on their back legs.

So now is a critical time for the colony. I know that one of my colonies hasn’t made it. Fingers crossed for the other four.

The other issue has been the government’s decision to allow emergency use of the banned neonicitinoid pesticide. It was banned by the EU in 2018 because of its harmful affect on bees. The beekeeper’s magazine, BBKA news, say that it has been allowed as an emergency measure 21 times in Europe in 2020.

It is complicated. Farmers are reported to be relieved after suffering a “devastating season”. But with insects numbers plummeting, is it right?

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