Honeybee Colonies Expanding Rapidly

Honey Bee : © National Education Network Gallery by Diane Earl

Church Crookham Apiary spring 2019 update.

The spring nectar flow started early this year with the Easter warm weather, then it came to a shuddering halt as the weather turned sharply cooler again – the nectar and pollen coming into the the hives has noticeable slowed. Our beekeepers are gradually moving some of their colones to the Apiary site – you may have noticed the number of hives increasing.

The honeybee colonies in the hives at the apiary are expanding rapidly. Having made it through the winter, the colonies started raising new bees much early this year compared with 2018, and because of this swarming in the area has started early – more on that later.

The queen bee in each colony is laying at probably close to her peak rate of about 2000 eggs per day. One tiny egg positioned neatly in the centre of the familiar hexagon shaped beeswax cell. On day 3 the egg hatches into a larvae and for 6 days the larvae is fed mostly on a diet of “bee bread” protein made from pollen (thanks for the flowers!). On day 9 the larvae spins a cocoon in it’s cell ready to pupate, and the the worker bees cover the cell with a wax cap to keep it safe. 12 days later, 21 days after the egg was laid, a new worker bee emerges ready to start her chores. You can see the maths: 21 days after she starts to lay and for every day thereafter 2000 new bees are added to the colony, until the queen slows down her eggs laying. Of course the older bees that made it through the winter die, and the nectar / pollen flows impact the rate of laying so the increase isn’t linear, but nevertheless each hive in the apiary goes from about 8-10,000 bees in February to about 25,000 by May, and will keep increasing to 40,000 plus by early July. A large pollination workforce on your doorstep.

This rapid population increase is something we as beekeepers have to manage – making sure the queen has room to lay, the increasing colony population has space to expand and somewhere to put the pollen and nectar coming into the hive. That’s why you’ll see us down at the hives weekly from April to mid summer with boxes and inspecting each hive – weather permitting.

Eggs are one thing, but they don’t directly help honeybees make new colonies. To do that a colony has to split; the old queen leaves with about half the bees – a swarm – leaving half behind to raise a new queen. We manipulate our colonies to prevent this happening or, if we see swarming preparations start, to “fool” the bees into thinking they’ve already swarmed. If you do see a swarm on the allotments, they can look quite intimidating – but they really aren’t if you leave them alone. The bees are not “attacking” anything, simply looking for a new home. The swarm may well not be from a colony on the CC apiary if I and my fellow beekeepers have done their job well. Go to the bbka website https://www.bbka.org.uk/swarm, and type in your postcode. You’ll be given a list of beekeepers to call, most of the local beekeepers listed will be FBKA members. Please remember we are volunteers many with full time jobs so may not be able to respond straight away.

I hope your allotments crops are all doing well, and if insect pollinated, our bees are helping – there’s certainly plenty of them next door now!

Graham Read
Beekeeper and FBKA Exec member

The Fleet & District Beekeeping Association (FBKA) was founded in 1918 to support beekeepers across North Hampshire and 100 years on we welcome new members wanting to learn this fascinating and ancient skill. We encourage, train and support local beekeepers to maintain healthy, docile and productive honey bees as well as advancing the education of the public in the importance of bees in the environment.

We have over 200 members in Aldershot, Ash Vale, Farnborough, Fleet, Church Crookham, Crookham, Dogmersfield, Hartley Wintney, Hook, Odiham and surrounding North Hampshire areas.FBKA is a member of the national body – the British Beekeepers Association. More information at www.fleetbeekeepers.com