On sunny days recently I’ve been going into the garden to check for bee activity at the hive. For many weeks now the only way to gauge if they were still there has been to look at the debris beneath the hive or press an ear to the outside and listen to the faint buzzing from within. It was with great pleasure that I looked again this last Saturday (February 3) and saw bees coming and going. There weren’t many of them, only ten at the most, but it was encouraging to see them.
First bee sighting of the year – early in the year but bringing in pollen
Yesterday, February 7, is another sunny day so I looked again and was delighted to see dozens of bees milling about on the outside of the hive and many coming in with pollen.
Their first big outing of the year
Pollen is in short supply in February, but the bees clearly know where to find it. The pollen the bees were carrying was in varying shades of yellow and orange and looking at a pollen colour chart suggests that blue and yellow crocus, willow and snowdrop (Galanthus spp) flowers are the most likely to have been foraged.
Spot the pollen
Willow (Salix alba) grows along the banks of the nearby river Windrush and flowers early in the year, providing a useful source of early pollen and nectar. Snowdrops and crocuses are both common in local gardens and I’ve put in quite a few more since we’ve lived here. The large-flowered snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii flowers two weeks earlier in this garden than the more common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, giving the bees a longer season of foraging those flowers.
You can just see a bee in this Galanthus elwesii flower
Looking at the bees themselves, I was pleased to see shiny bodies and wings with no signs of deformity, which would indicate a problem with varroa mites. It’s hard to avoid these mites completely, but they do need controlling. I’d taken quite a lot of pictures of the activity on the hive and in a closer examination of the photos, I spotted something reddish-brown on one bee’s thorax, a varroa mite. I’ve looked very closely at all the other pictures, but haven’t seen any more.
The bee in the centre has a varroa mite on her thorax – look for the shiny, red-brown disc
Our bee-friend, Steph, the one who came to collect the swarm last summer, gave us a device to put in the bottom of the hive. It’s a Bee Gym, and it helps the bees to scrape off the mites by themselves as they rub against the wires and ‘flippers’. You can see a Bee Gym being used here.
A Bee Gym
The reviews I’ve seen look positive, so it went straight into the hive and we’ve also put in a varroa board so we can count the number of mites that drop off. They’ll be prevented from crawling back into the hive by Vaseline (petroleum jelly) smeared on the board, which they’ll stick to.
Home made varroa board smeared with Vaseline
There was a great deal of bee activity yesterday and it wasn’t easy to track the bee’s movements, but I did notice some gathered in small groups, as if gossiping, and what may have been grooming behaviour. Grooming amongst bees isn’t something I’ve seen before, so I’ll keep a look out for it. On the ground in front of the hive, I noticed three dead bees – alarming, but it’s natural for some of the bees to die over winter and some beekeepers report finding dozens or even hundreds of corpses in late winter, so there’s no reason to be concerned. On the hive itself are small streaks on the wood near the entrance, evidence of the bees answering the ‘call of nature’.
All in all, barring unavoidable calamity, it looks like a good start to the bee year.