Wild-living Honey Bees in January

I visited the Langstroth hives at Selmeston today as we have had some beautiful spring weather and I wondered if the bees were flying. Sure, enough, they were!

Their hive has completely sunken in to the ground so they are using this entrance which they opened last year. There is some very pale pollen going in – it’s almost white so maybe someone has some hellebores in flower. The propolis is phenomenal:

The other hive has really slumped forwards, but I’m presuming (hoping!) that the inertia of the heavy hive will keep it vaguely upright. I am loath to try and move it in case it completely disintegrates. They have created a lava flow of propolis either side of the block of wood we propped over the gaping hole in the side of the box, and it seems much grittier or grainier than the smooth, toffee-like propolis of the hive nextdoor. I wonder if they have used wood dust to make a cement.

These too were flying strongly and bringing in pollen.

I have provisioned the landowners (who inherited these hives when they purchased the property) with a new National, and today I baited it with lemongrass oil, feeling rather guilty at dislodging so many woodlice when I took the lid off. I dabbed a few drops of essential oil on to an oak leaf instead of my usual cotton bud! I am hoping that it may attract a swarm from these colonies. They rarely swarm in to a hive in their own territory, but they are known to move quite close by and in any case, if they settle somewhere accessible when they do swarm, we have a place to put them.

It’s amazing to see these bees adapting so brilliantly, using their whole toolkit of resources to create a workable environment. When I see or read about beekeepers feeding and treating and shook-swarming and Bailey-frame-changing and scraping propolis and disturbing the bees every single week during the summer I really do want to show just how capable and deeply, deeply skilled these insects are when given the opportunity to perform naturally. I have previously taken a small harvest of honey from these bees but the hive is now unsound and the boxes can’t be separated. So, before folk say “yes, but you don’t get any honey” that is because of the hive not a lack of production from the bees! Seeing these colonies is such a privilege and I love watching their behaviour as it really is a window in to what they do when living wild. What they do is incredibly impressive, and I am reminded again of why I love having the chance to interact with bees.

I have a full video of my visit on my Patreon.

2 Replies to “Wild-living Honey Bees in January”

  1. It was that whole regmen of task-heavy & frequent intervention that I was a bit wary about and was why I was so glad to discover the warre hive a few years back – it facilitated my entry into beekeeping. I love the more gentle approach. So interesting these two ‘wild’ colonies…. good on you for keeping an eye on them.

    1. Yes, I have always tried to champion the idea that you can keep bees gently in any hive – it shouldn’t dictate your methodology, and these two are a fabulous example of them making the space their own! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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