Bee Blog

Bees in January/February

On a sunny day, with the temperature about 9°C or 10°C, I walked across the meadow to check on my two beehives. Looking at the entrances of both hives, I could see that the bees were flying - a good sign, because it means the colonies are surviving the winter. I then did exactly the same thing with both hives. I peeled away the chicken wire (wrapped around the hives as protection against Green Woodpeckers) and lifted the roof. Both colonies are on a brood and a half and the bees were left with plenty of stores in the autumn (after being fed well in September). But in the months since, I haven’t wanted to look deep into the hives because I don’t want to break open the frames – the bees have carefully sealed these together against the cold with propolis. So instead I prepare to the ‘heft’ the hives i.e. lift them from one side. If they lift easily, then they’re probably light on stores.

My hives seem heavy enough, but I’ve decided to give them additional feed anyway, as I still don’t know exactly what’s going on in there and I can’t know what the weather is going to do over the next few weeks. I gave the bees their first winter feed shortly after New Year when I put a slab of Ambrosia Bee Paste on top of the frames. Unlike cheaper fondants, this doesn’t go hard, and sure enough, on this latest inspection, the bees were still nibbling happily away at this. There’s no need to give either of the colonies another slab of Bee Paste yet - but I’ll keep an eye on them over the next few weeks and see how hungry they are.

I watched the bees flying for a while and noticed that neither colony was bringing in pollen. The bees would have, instead, been making cleansing flights. The absence of pollen may mean that the queen isn’t laying yet because when she does start laying, the bees will want to source pollen to feed the brood and the young adult bees (the amount of pollen required to rear a single worker bee is estimated at least 125mg).

There’s little pollen available for the bees around my hives at the moment anyway, and it certainly isn’t like last year, when many early spring flowers were out by now (I remember that daffodils were blooming at Christmas last winter) But this year there’s no sign of my first spring flowers - the snowdrops - flowering yet. When they do, these will provide a source of fresh pollen for the bees. And they’ll also be a welcome sign that winter is passing.