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Beekeeping in May

Thank goodness the beekeeping season is finally under way.  After what was a long, cold and wet winter, followed by the “Beast from the East,” colony losses have been widespread.  When the weather traps bees within a hive and they can’t access pollen provided by early flowering plants and trees they face an uphill battle.  It is a very fine balancing act as older bees who have survived the winter naturally die off and brood rearing increases.

Still, we are now into May and enjoying warm sunny days.  The oilseed rape is in full flower and the bees are piling in the nectar.  Nectar has very high water content and the bees need to reduce the moisture until it becomes honey.

When a forager returns to the hive she unloads the nectar she has been carrying to a waiting house bee.  The house bees pass the nectar around, adding enzymes to it and reducing the moisture content.  Other bees switch on the hive ventilation system by fanning moist air out of the hive.  You can hear and smell this particularly well in the evenings as warm, sweet scents are wafted out of the hive entrance.  When the honey has reached the right viscosity and moisture content the cells in which it has been stored are capped with wax to preserve it.

Flowers and bees have evolved together over the millennia.  Flowers need to be pollinated and so have developed to attract insects.  The reward for pollination services is the nectar produced by the flower.  Flowers and bees work together.  There is no point in bees wasting energy on flowers that have already been pollinated.  Some flowers send out signals to show when they have been pollinated.  If you look at the centre of a forget-me-not flower there is a tiny yellow circle.  Once the flower has been pollinated the yellow circle turns white.  Chestnut tree flowers are a favourite for honey bees.  Once pollinated the stamens turn red.   The florets on white clover turn brown once pollinated. The pollen grains on a dandelion are the exact size to fit precisely in between the hairs (corbiculae) on the back legsof a honey bee.

All these little miracles of nature are happening around us every day.  No wonder beekeeping becomes an obsession!

Jan Doyle
Newbury and District Beekeepers Association

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