With spring almost here, I thought you might like to know how Betty and her family (our resident colony of honey bees) have been doing since the autumn when they were fully stocked with around 40lb of honey stores. Most of this store was made up with thick sugar syrup made up with 2lb of white sugar to 1 pint water as the girls were a new colony and hadn’t grown in size to have a large enough workforce to gather as much as they needed for overwintering.
During this time, all the summer bees will have died with new emerging winter bees. These bees are very different as they can survive up to 6 months compared to those living in the summer who literally work themselves to death after 6 weeks after loyally bringing back pollen and nectar in order for the colony to carry on.
It’s still too early to open up the hive for the first time this year, but on occasional days when the temperature is warmer, you can see the bees flying out on cleansing flights. If any of the scout bees have spotted a source of pollen (protein) then the foragers will be out in force gathering their bounty. It’s also this time of year, again when the weather is warm, that the young 3 week old bees will be venturing out of the hive for the very first time to learn their way around. These are known as orientation flights and can be easily spotted as the youngsters fly out, circle around the hive to get their bearings getting wider and wider as they familiarise themselves. They also hover in front of the entrance before going back in.
So what’s going on inside the hive right now? While the weather remains cold, the colony will be in a cluster inside the hive just below the honey store. They will be taking it in turns to move into the centre of the cluster to keep warm and they will be fanning their wings to help control the temperature inside. Fanning also helps reduce the amount of moisture that builds up when the bees are unable to get out.
In March, Betty will start laying again and the colony will start to increase as they begin to build up their numbers to a 50,000 strong workforce in time for the nectar flow in the summer.
On your walks around the Sanctuary, look around and see what the bees might be gathering in their pollen baskets - a good source being the trees that are around the walkways. Catkins are in the hedgerows at the moment and the girls can be seen bringing back yellow pollen from these.