Yesterday (Tuesday) I saw all of my hives actively foraging for the first time this year. I realise that further South, conditions may have been favourable for some time, but today saw the start of this season’s activities here at The Sustainable Smallholding.
Monday saw bees having a clearing flight, but most of them were staying reasonably close to the hive, with some Spring cleaning taking place. Today I watched them foraging. Plants being worked were Crocus, Winter Aconite, Snowdrops, Winter Flowering Heather, and Christmas Box (Sarcococca). The latter surprised me as I’ve not seen it mentioned as a bee plant, and had only picked up a handful of plants the day before, having been tempted by the wonderful fragrance. As they are fairly easy to propagate from cuttings, I’ll be increasing my stock of them this year. My neighbour commented on how many bees were foraging on his bulbs, and that the garden was humming with the sound of my bees. His Pulmonaria was worked by my bees last year, but have suffered from the cold weather this Winter. It’s starting to flower now, so perhaps that will add a tiny amount of nectar. Once again, I didn’t spot a single bee working Hazel catkins, which is a bit sad, as not only is it producing pollen, but I’m planting quite a bit of it. Maybe another year. I didn’t notice much pollen going onto the hives, but was busy, so was only watching for a short time. Most of the sightings of my bees were made whilst out walking the dogs.
It’s not all good news though. The influx of pollen will ensure that the queens start to lay now, that’s assuming that they haven’t already started. My concern is the level of stores left in the hive. As all of my hives are different, it’s not possible to estimate how much food the bees have left. All of the species mentioned so far are primarily producers of pollen, so will not be doing much to help. Once the bees start to raise brood, they have to increase the temperature in the hive beyond that needed for overwintering, and so will start to use up food (fuel) more rapidly. I’m just hoping that there is a spell of decent flying weather coming, which will allow them to replenish their stocks. My willow (Salix daphnoides) is still not producing, but it cannot be far off. Having just checked last year’s posts, I took pictures of the bees foraging on Willow on the 11th March, so not long to go.
Many of the trees that I’m planting are good early sources of bee forage, but many of them will not be mature enough to do so for a while. My plan therefore, is to put in more bulbs, and flowering shrubs, which will produce some nectar at this time of year, and will supplement the trees once they start to produce. Sadly that works out quite expensive. I can produce some of these plants from cuttings/seed, but then they take longer before they are flowering. If I just kept bees for the honey, it would be cheaper to buy it in than to put in all of these plants.
The willow only takes two years before it flowers, although it takes a bit longer before it is big enough to give a significant amount of food. So I’m continuing to plant more. In an earlier post I mentioned that I was waiting for three new early flowering varieties to arrive. They came today, and I’ve planted the cuttings in a nursery bed, and will plant them out in the Autumn. If I keep them well fed, I may be able to take same extra cuttings at planting out time.
For the next few days I will be finishing off my tree planting. I was meant to start earlier in the week, but an accident with some mycorrhizal root dip, meant that I have had to wait for another batch of mycorrhizal fungi to arrive. OOPS.
Last week I spotted a Muntjac deer. I have had some willow eaten, which I had been blaming on rabbits, but now I think that the deer is responsible. Oh well, there’s plenty to go around, and if I can take some longer cuttings, I may be able to recycle some old(ish) four foot tree guards, that are probably not needed any more.
If you are a fellow beekeeper, I hope that your bees have all made it through the Winter, and that this season is a better one than the last couple have been. let me know how you’re getting along
All of the best