By the time April arrives the beekeeper will know if their bees have survived the winter. I have to say that this winter has been extraordinary. Bees were seen to be bringing in pollen in January, when they should have been clustered in the hive and now that spring has technically arrived they are largely sheltering from the wind, rain and cold temperatures.
When we do get a warm day it is wonderful to see the bees flying, bringing in much needed pollen and nectar to feed themselves and the rapidly expanding brood nest. They carry the pollen in “pollen baskets” on their back legs (see photo). The beekeeper can take advantage of the occasional warmer day to have a quick hive inspection. This is done to check that the colony has come through the winter successfully, that the queen is still in residence and laying, that she has enough space to lay and that there is enough food.
The books say that inspections should only be done when the weather is warm enough to be comfortable in a T shirt. It will take the colony several hours to build up the heat lost during an inspection so you have to be pretty quick and not leave it too late in the day as the temperatures drop quite quickly at night this early in the year.
It is great to see the oil seed rape coming into flower. The bees absolutely love the nectar and pollen provided by this crop. You can always tell if they are working a rape crop as most of them return to the hive looking like they have used a yellow powder puff. The pollen is off-loaded and packed into honeycomb cells where it is stored in preparation to be fed to young larvae. Pollen provides the protein in the honey bee diet and honey the carbohydrate.
If the weather is good and coincides with the oil seed rape crop being in flower then we can expect an abundance of honey. So it’s fingers crossed for 2016.
For more information about beekeeping please visit newburybeekeepers.org.uk
Newbury Beekeepers Association