It still feels like we’re in the middle of winter but inside the bee hives things are beginning to gear up for the Spring. With the lengthening days the Queen is starting to lay again and by the end of the month she could be laying as many as 3,000 eggs/day. It takes 24 days to go from egg to hatched worked bee and then another couple of weeks before the worker is ready to go out and forage for pollen and nectar so the colony is doing some forward planning to make sure that when Spring plants star to emerge in late April they have the resources ready to deal with them.
It’s still too cold to open the hives up to check on them but if we were to take a look we would see a tiny egg about the diameter of a pin in each hexagonal cell. We’ll know when they hatch into larvae because we’ll see pollen being take into the hive into the hive. If you look carefully at the entrance you can see the pollen baskets of returning bees full of brightly coloured pollen – different colours from different plants. Bee larvae need pollen as it’s their source of protein – needed for growing bodies – and they grow very fast. If an eight pound baby grew as fast as a bee larva it would weigh as much as an adult elephant in just three weeks.
Some beekeepers use a special grid which can be fastened to the front of the hive which effectively scratches off some of the pollen of returning bees and which is then sold as a health supplement. A bit cruel really.
Outside the beehive there will be lots of adult queen bumblebees emerging from hibernation and looking for a nest site. If you’ve got an old bird box full of old nest materials then some species will be very happy with that. Others prefer an old mouse hole and some long tussocky grass. Check your compost heap to make sure there are no bumblebee colonies before you start to move it.
And if you haven’t seen them already the first butterflies will be on the wing – the first being the distinctive Brimstone which has a sort of anti-freeze in its blood that enables it to withstand quite severe frosts.