Six weeks ago, in mid-February, inbound pollen harvested from snowdrops and hazels stimulated the Queens to up their rate of egg-laying. These eggs located inside individual cells in the beeswax comb hatch into tiny grub-like larvae after three days and are fed by adult workers using special glands in their heads. After seven days, the cells are capped over, and the larvae inside create cocoons within which they metamorphose into adult worker bees hatching approximately 21 days after being laid as eggs.
Queen Honeybee surrounded by smaller worker bees
The new bees get straight to work cleaning out the cells ready for a fresh egg and other general housework duties, later feeding their larval sisters before starting to make initial orientation flights some three weeks later in early April. By now, the colonies have a large workforce timed and ready to forage for the volumes of nectar and pollen from flowers such as the humble Dandelion along with Blackthorn, Crab Apple, Plums, Wild Cherries, and Pears followed later by Hawthorn and Apples. The hive entrances are buzzing from dawn till dusk with bees leaving and returning with the food needed to sustain the rapidly growing hive and start laying down stores for the following winter.
Honeybee foraging from Plum Blossom
We wait for a warm, calm and dry day to perform our first inspection of the year. With around half the bees out foraging, the beeswax combs are relatively clear of bees apart from the brood areas covered by nurse bees keeping the larval cells warm.
We work through each of the brood combs in-turn, looking for plenty of stores on the outer frames and a good-sized workforce of calm bees supporting a busy Queen laying eggs in a rugby ball pattern in the centre of the hive. Any open cells are inspected to make sure that the larvae inside are plump, white and healthy. Any dead larvae left inside cells are signs of disease and need to be acted on rapidly, diagnosing the visual clues to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
If the Queen is the issue, we can remove her and merge that colony with another “Queen right” colony. Later in May, we can then split these larger colonies into two or three groups adding a newly bred Queen to each to create new colonies that will grow and develop during the rest of the season. We must put the effort in now to ensure that the bees get off to the best start for the rest of the year as every colony is precious to us.
Bee Good Honeybees bringing pollen into the hive
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