Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April with the Bees

Our honey bees are waiting for Spring with even more eager anticipation than I am. It's been a long winter for them. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do but try to stay warm.

No, those bees haven't been sleeping during the winter. They've been keeping the queen warm and slowly using up the food they stored last Fall. Will it last long enough, or won't it? If the food runs out before the early flowers bloom, they die.

April will bring those first few warm days when honey bee workers at last venture out again. Foragers will begin to explore the area around the hive, up to a kilometre or two away. They're desperate to find those early flowers - and they'll soon succeed. Pussy willow catkins are among the first, and then the maples. By the time dandelions appear and fruit trees start blooming, near the end of the month, the bees' food supply is assured.

The queen will start laying again in April and the hive will rapidly need loads of pollen for the hungry mouths of developing brood. No-one will be making much honey yet, but the hive will come alive and begin to thrive.

We beekeepers have to keep a close watch on events. We'll start by removing the winter wraps that protected the overwintering hive from chilling north winds. We'll clean out detritus from the bottom board, dry up any accumulated moisture and scrape out any mould that may have appeared.

We may have to supply some food in the early days, before the natural sources kick in. We'll also have to make sure the queen is laying well and that there is plenty of room for expansion of the colony. And we have to be vigilant for any sign that the parasitic Varroa mite may be increasing in numbers.

This beekeeper is especially interested in pollination, and will also be keeping an eye on native pollinators. The honey bees will be joined on April flowers by early species of solitary bees. Carpenter bees will be patrolling and cellophane bees will fly in feverish activity around their clusters of burrows in sandy ground.

No need to look after native bees. They can take very good care of themselves, thank you. But we do have to ensure there is lots of the natural habitat pollinators need to survive - flowering trees, shrubs and garden plants. Leave the old stalks and canes to overwinter in the garden. And do walk on the grass - those bare spots make great sites for burrows.

April is the month when a beekeeper's faith is restored. The bees resume their keystone role in our environment. And if we look after their needs, they will once again offer us a season of plenty.

[This article appeared first in the Carrot Green Roof April Newsletter]

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