Below is a link to a video of a female hairy footed flower bee. Lesley rescued her as she was clinging onto a crocus flower, completely frozen, which is a scenario you may already have come across with you own honeybees. This hairy footed flower bee was taken into the warm and given some sugar syrup and as you can see it revived her.
How is it that she became so listless? Well it is because the nights are still very cold and the current wet weather has brought down the temperatures considerably.
So how is this relevant to all of us? The problem is that during February we have had some record warm temperatures and the bees have started to raise brood. Most of you will have noticed your bees bringing back pollen baskets crammed full of pollen, and this is a clear sign that your Queen has come back into lay.
Wonderful, of course.
Well is it so wonderful? Such unseasonal temperatures have tempted some of you to open up your hives. Not a good idea as if you crush your queen inadvertently now they will not be able to make a new queen. Or if they do, there is no chance of her getting mated! You will also be breaking the propolis seal and be setting the bees back which is an unwise thing to do so early in the year. Keith says that there is no point in looking so early on because if something has gone wrong with your hive there is nothing you can do about it anyway! Better to leave well alone!
Our bees have responded to the environment because early spring flowers have come into bloom and nighttime temperatures have been well above average. The consequence of this is that there will be brood in those hives. And that brood needs to be fed and to be kept warm. And that is a problem for us all.
Go to your hive and look at the uncappings below your open mesh floor. Watch your bees gathering water from your bird bath. What does this mean? Well, it means that they are using honey in order to keep the brood warm and in order to make new bees. The energy from the nectar last year is being converted into new life. So that, of course, is a danger if you did not feed your bees adequately last autumn because they could run out of food. March is that critical moment when new beekeepers do not realise what is happening and let their bees starve! That is why I always put fondant on in January.
What else should one be doing? I add a pollen pattie (neopoll). If the bees manage to get out and collect pollen (some of it they will store as bee bread) this may be a waste of my money, but if for a whole week they are incarcerated in their hive due to bad weather then my pollen pattie will be a lifeline for them. Given the current cold weather I am jolly glad I put on those patties! I hope you all have done so too.
So why my title? Because it is a chance to talk to other experienced beekeepers and work out what is going on and what you should be doing. I learn a lot and a lot of what I have set down here is information gathered at the February bee banter. As for the furry footed flower bee, it is just that I couldn’t resist sending you my video and the fact that she had got chilled was sort of relevant.
Look at the environment around you and try and read the signs. You will be a better bee keeper in consequence.
Malcolm Wilkie 4th March 2019