The Beekeeping season is now in full swing. The streets are alive with blossom and the nasty cold snap in early April is hopefully not going to be repeated.
I hadn’t realized until I started beekeeping that large trees like the sycamore, chestnut and lime are prolific sources of pollen and nectar for bees. While lots of attention has been given to encouraging the planting of wildflowers to sustain pollinators, a great many shrubs and trees, with what look like insignificant flowers, are very good sources of nectar and pollen. I was once called out to a ‘swarm’ of bees only to find the cotoneaster at the door covered with buzzing bees - both honey and bumble bees. The flowers on this shrub were barely visible, but clearly had a great interest for the bees. Other shrubs like the Skmimmia and Hebes also attract bees in great numbers and provide attractive additions to a garden. While many of these trees and shrubs are not indigenous they have been shown to ‘help the bees’!
May and June are prime months for swarms. It is important to remember that swarming is a positive activity for bees - this is how they reproduce, and our job as beekeepers is to help them do this in a way that does not make a nuisance for the people near our hives. We have chosen to position our hives around people and therefore we have a responsibility to try to manage this natural process in a way which causes least bother and inconvenience to the public.
With this in mind, at our next meeting the Association will show a video on swarm control and we are encouraging local beekeepers to come along to discuss their own challenges with swarm control and management. My experience is that there is always something new to learn, or try out, based on what others have discovered in their beekeeping journey. Our next Apiary meeting will also feature swarm control.
Gerry Collins, in his informative talk to the Rugby Beekeepers last month, reminded us of the importance of observing closely what is going on in our hives and he stressed trying as best we can to understand what we see, smell and hear - all important clues to the health and progress in the hive. The more you try to hone your skills of observation the better beekeeper you will become.
Drones are an important part of the reproductive process of swarming and seeing the first drones emerge is a good signal for us as beekeepers that we need to be looking out for other signs of possible swarming in the weeks ahead. This is where knowing the development phases of the drone becomes important. It takes 24 days for the drone to develop from egg to emergence and then another 10 - 12 days before they are mature enough to go on their mating flight, and of course virgin queens have a much shorter development phase, 16 days from egg to emergence and then another week before they are mature enough to take the first of several mating flights.
When thinking about doing a pre-emptive swarm control, like splitting a colony, it is important to have these timings in mind.
I came across some research recently that showed that drone’s seminal fluid had the effect of reducing the virgin Queen’s eyesight. (Joanito Liberti 2019 eLife 2019;8:e45009) Apparently this is a means of ensuring the first drone to mate’s genetic predominance. I am not sure how useful it is to know this, apart from reminding us as beekeepers that we should not keep aggressive colonies because by doing so we allow their drones' genetics to be produced and spread in the bee population.
Regards, and stay safe and well.