We have been planning to increase the tree cover at the Marsh, to provide both shelter from the wind and better foraging opportunities for our small colony of honeybees. The black poplars were the first to go in, and all six seem to have rooted and survived the worst of the winter:
The mulch seems to have kept the weeds down and protected the base of the trees, and all have healthy buds so we are looking forward to seeing how they get on in the coming season.
The bees seem very low on stores but the weather is good at the moment and we are keen to see if there is sufficient forage for them. This might seem a bit cruel – many people would feed them – but if we are going to bring in more bees and keep them in a low-intervention system, we need to make sure there is enough food for them, and the colony that is currently there knows the area and there are lots of gardens within reach of the hive, and the blackthorn is starting to flower. Hazel and alder catkins are full of pollen but the bees need nectar too and there is not a great deal around at the moment. Unfortunately we arrived too late to see them foraging but the inspection window showed activity amongst the combs:
We are hoping to remove a feral honeybee colony from a derelict cottage in Winchelsea belonging to the National Trust and relocate them to the Marsh. I went to establish the accessibility of the bees in the building, and collect some willow cuttings to plant down at the West Rise apiary.
The feral bees will be tackled at the beginning of March, but the willows will love being at the site as there is standing water at the moment and they should root really quickly. We lay them on top of the wet ground behind the beehive windbreak and various other spots, and mulched them with hay:
These are probably crack willow, but we have some goat willows growing on the site which seem to be ready to flower, although in such an exposed setting, they are always going to be a bit delayed. It would be good to take some cuttings of these early-flowering varieties to support the pollinators when they first emerge.
We will be back in a few weeks to check on the colony and the trees.