Hives Alive, Alive-Oh!


Bee Poop equals Flying Bees

It has been a relatively mild winter here in the west of Scotland and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to see bees flying now and again through the winter, albeit only on the warmer, sunnier days. Bees are rather pristine wee creatures and they don’t like to poop in the hive; when they get a chance, then, they go on coyly named “cleansing flights”. And if that sunny early spring day happens to be the day you chose to hang out your freshly washed bed sheets then  – oops! Have you ever noticed yellow blobs (or splatter marks, if the bee happens to poop while flying at speed) on your laundry? Or on your car? And they’re rather difficult to get out.

No Guarantee

Seeing bees flying, however, is no guarantee that the colony as a whole is going to survive. Even if there are bees in late winter/early spring the colony can still collapse. Many colony deaths are caused by the failure of the queen; it could be she can no longer lay fertilised eggs (only undertaking a series of mating flights once in her life). So once the specialised over-wintering bees start to die off in spring, there are none to replace them and no eggs from which the bees can rear a new queen. Or possibly she just didn’t make it through the winter. Perhaps too few bees made it through the winter to keep new brood warm enough to be viable. Perhaps there aren’t enough stores and it’s too early for sufficient forage. Perhaps…. You get the idea.

When you start to see your flying bees bringing pollen back to the hive though, that at least is a very good sign – pollen means brood can start to be raised.

First Inspection of The Year

But finally the weather has warmed up enough that we can undertake a quick inspection to see whether all is well. We want to check numbers of bees, level of stores (food),, that there is brood – sealed brood, larvae and eggs – and that there is no sign of disease. We’ve been well warned NOT to take the time to look for the queen because the last thing we want to do is risk chilling the brood to indulge our own curiosity. Here are pictures of lovely frames – typical ball shaped pattern of worker brood surrounded by pollen then honey stores. Just what we wanted to see!

The Queens

As luck would have it, we even managed to spot the queen in both hives – Victoria in the larger hive on a double brood box, and Emma in a double nuc (smaller than the full size hive). Avid readers (just go with me here) will remember that Victoria is marked blue, blue being the colour of a 2020 queen. Emma isn’t marked yet but we hope to soon catch her and mark her white (2021).

However, it was beginning to cool down and the bees, although we have beautifully natured happy bees generally, were beginning to let us know inspection time was over.

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