Winter forage

Bee on snowdrop. Click to enlarge

Honey bee with packed pollen baskets. Click to enlarge

After some frosty days, a warm sunny one yesterday and the bees were out harvesting any blossom.

Snowdrops provide a source of pollen, needed for early brood raising.

Today it’s chilly again and they’re all indoors. In winter, you take any opportunity you can.

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Calm bees

calm-beesPeople sometimes ask, how can I keep my bees calm? Particularly when I open a hive?

This post covers this aspect of beekeeping. The common theme is that the bees do not feel threatened.

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Spreading the Bee Buzz #10 – Surviving Winter

The latest in our series on beekeeping for a village magazine – written for non-beekeepers, and to suit the broad range of ages and knowledge among the readers.

Over winter insect life disappears from our gardens. The frosts have killed most, including the last of the hive-raiding wasps, but some insects hibernate, and below 8-10°C honey bees become slow, conserving energy, clustering together for warmth and eating through their honey stores. On a few days when it is sunny enough to warm their wing muscles, some will pop out on short toilet trips, often appearing just in front of a hive as a sudden cloud of bright darting sparks in the winter sunshine.

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Modelling a Beehive

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graph showing approximate hive population through a year

In the grey days between Christmas and the start of the New Year, I spent some time trying to develop a computer-model of a beehive. The first version had been very basic – it considered the egg-laying rate, the time that each bee spends in each stage of its life, and a death-rate. It gave an approximation of the population, but I understood that the processes in the hive were far more complex.

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“How many bees?”

Bees in an observation hive – but how many??

“How many bees do you have?”
“Just one hive.”
“But how many bees?”

It’s a question that I’m often asked, and one that I could never satisfactorily answer. I’ll usually explain that I don’t know exactly: “the population varies through the year – higher in summer when there’s a lot of work to do, and it falls in autumn so there are fewer mouths to feed through the winter”. The questioner often looks disappointed, as if I should count the bees out every morning, and count them home again each night.

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Open mating and genetics – Drones

Drones are as long as queens. Their huge eyes and stingless rear end give them a more rectangular shape than workers. Click for larger image.

Drones are as long as queens (though this queen has curled up in death). Their huge eyes and stingless rear end give them a more rectangular shape than workers. Click for larger image.

Conventional beekeepers aiming to maximise honey production suppress swarms, replace queens with ones from breeders, and cull drones as a “waste of resources”. This post covers some of the less discussed, subtle implications of drone genetics; and advantages of queens mating with multiple drones, colony control of supersedure or swarming, and allowing colonies to raise the number of drones they feel appropriate, as favoured by natural beekeepers – and bees. Continue reading

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Bees nest in a tree (not quite)

The picture shows an apple tree in the garden next door. Faith spotted the comb after the leaves came down in Autumn 2016. In between seeing it and taking this photo something has been munching the edges somewhat; it was originally a smooth shape. A beeline between this and our hives is about 20 metres. The builders at work next door last summer did mention bee activity around the loft conversion they built.

Following Will’s Headington colony in a tree this behaviour in Summertown shows some bees trying different tactics. They clearly failed this time but if it keeps getting warmer they may succeed in the future? Or, there were no tactics; it was a cock-up!

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