One of the things keeping me busy over the last three weeks has been my bees. Despite my efforts to keep ahead of them, it looks like the warm dry start to the season has got them thinking about swarming early.
The first inkling that this might be an early year for swarming has been the forage plants. Normally there is a steady progression of trees producing nectar and pollen, whereas this year, everything seems to be overlapping. One example of this is hawthorn, some of which has been flowering here for two weeks. I also noticed a small sweet chestnut, which looked to be getting ready to flower. Today I saw honeybees working Hawthorn for the first time that I can remember. I’ve read that it is a sporadic producer, but that it produces well in some seasons. Hopefully this year will be one of those. It’s a bonus, because my bees do not seem to be bringing in much Rape nectar. For the third year in a row, a dry Spring seems to be reducing the nectar, forcing the bees to work trees, and other deep rooted plants. I noticed bees on dandelion for the first time today, as well. One plant that always has bees on it is my tree paeonie. I’m not sure what type it is, but it looks like Paeonia ludlowii.
Here is a picture of the shrub.
Here’s one of the flowers.
The flowers must produce a lot of nectar and pollen. Normally when a bee takes the last of the nectar from a flower, it leaves a scent mark to tell other bees not to bother. These flowers have bees in them all day. I have grown a dozen from seed, and they’re in their fourth year of growth, but I will have to wait for about another three years before they start to flower. I’m hoping that they will be just like the parent plant, which is obviously self fertile.
Whether it’s a reaction to the forage plants, or the fact that the fine weather has allowed uninterrupted foraging, there are definitely signs that the bees are preparing to swarm. I have had foragers checking out old hives in buildings a few days ago. Not in the same quantities as when a swarm has left home, but enough to show that it’s on their minds. Normally we reckon on swarming starting in May, with the bees here starting to swarm during the first week of the month.There’s a good chance that they’re my bees doing the scouting, as I’ve kept some of my hives restricted for space. Not a deliberate choice, just so much else going on. Not great beekeeping perhaps, but I’m not perfect.
I had to go into a hive to change them into a new box, and there were already queen cups in place, although I didn’t check for larvae, as the combs were being recycled. I did put out a bait hive a few days ago, but the scouting activity has reduced again. I suspect that when the current windier/cooler weather breaks, there will be swarms everywhere. I haven’t checked my trusty cardboard swarm box yet, to see if it will make do for a third season. I really should make something a bit more efficient. I quite like the idea of making a skep, but never seem to make the time.
My next job is to put together some more spare hives, and make a few more stands, as when they start to swarm, it gets frenetic.
Good Luck with your own preparations.