First flights

It was a positively balmy 10˚C this morning, and returning home from running errands, I noticed the snowdrops are also out in number, and the crocuses are endeavouring to get their heads up and catch some of the fleeting sunshine. Tiny hazel flowers hold enough nectar to tempt an insect in need of sustenance.

I also became aware of a quiet buzzing from the hive in the garden, and to my delight, the bees were enjoying the first proper flight I’ve seen this year:

They didn’t seem to have any pollen coming in, from the short time that I watched them, so it seemed to be more of a cleansing flight than serious foraging. However, as mentioned, the hazel flowers and catkins are now out, as are the bulbs. You can see how wet the hive is but as this is a WBC, the boxes where the bees live are not in contact with all that as it is a double-walled hive; bees do well in them for this reason.

I thought I’d go and have a quick look at the hives in the apiary to see if they too were taking advantage of the brief injection of spring. They were:

This is a National, and you can see how dark the wood is from all the rain. This is a long-established colony though, and the inside of that hive will be well propolised, and therefore waterproof.

I have two other WBCs, and the other National has the Squash Court bees. They were looking extremely bonny:

I don’t feed my bees, and trust that they will gather enough nectar and pollen to keep them going, but this is easier to mentally accommodate as I don’t take any honey from the super immediately above the nest, and leave them alone to do their thing from August onwards. The difficulty with the question of “How much by way of stores do bees need to overwinter?” is: it depends.

A small colony will need less than a large colony, and if we think our bees are getting low and feed them, we don’t get to know how much they actually need. This is contentious of course: we mustn’t let our bees starve, but most of the data given in bee-care literature is based on the situation where the bees have had their honey removed, and are often from a vigorous strain of bee which is from a genetic line focussed on production rather than survival. Sugar syrup is not the same as honey, and I’m sure different honeys have different nutritional properties.

Bees are meant to slow down and have a rest over the winter. Our warm mild climate can mean that they get through their stores more quickly as they are active, but temperature isn’t the only governing factor in colony activity. Day length and availability of forage will also dictate whether the bees start gearing up or not. If we feed them, or give them pollen substitute, we are messing with their internal clock and stimulating them in to becoming active before it’s necessary.

The same goes for feeding in early spring – it might get the bees ready for early foraging but do you definitely have early forage? And even if there is, should we be encouraging honeybees out to eat what is actually the food for species which naturally emerge earlier?

I am scrutinising the willow trees near me to see when their all-important pollen becomes available. Once that starts getting hauled in to the hive, I will know things are really starting to happen inside…

10 Replies to “First flights”

  1. Thanks for letting me know that your bees were flying so we could rush down and discover that ours were too! And thanks for answering my question in this post. The pressure to feed (from other beekeepers who do so) is real… 🙂

  2. Hi Jen. I really enjoyed this blog post! I love the videos and hearing the rooster crowing in the background. You seem to have a very keen mind for observation that I find…refreshing 🙂 Not all beekeepers appreciate the flower-side of a bee’s life but I do. Thanks for including your observations on hazel, and crocus and even willow. Here in Florida, willow is in full bloom. My bees in Georgia should be getting willow in about a month. Once again, thank you,


    1. Ah, thank you, that’s a really nice thing to hear! And it’s really interesting to hear what your bees are up to 🙂

  3. Great article!!! Isn’t it funny how when you start beekeeping you notice everything start blooming? For some reason, the farmers around me decided to get a variety of peaches from Florida, so they started blooming a week ago, but there was a hard freeze, so everything that had bloomed died. I’m at Ward Bros. Honey Co. if you want to look me up.

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