Bees


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General

Devon is one of the better places in the UK for bee keeping - so my 20 or so colonies of bees are quite fortunate. Despite this while some years, 1987 and 1999 come to mind, were great 'bee years' with lots of honey and few swarms, the weather in some recent years has not been as helpful, not having the warm or hot weather at flowering time that is need for a good 'honey flow'. So during summer 2001 and 2002 the crucial honey flow weeks of mid July saw poor weather. However, 2003 was better, and spring 2004 has produced a remarkable, and sustained, spring honey flow.

Swarm jpg Anyway, to the right these are active colonies of bees, with up to six 'supers' added - the boxes above the larger lowest box, called the brood box and which holds the vital queen - which were pictured during one of the long hot summers of the past. Each super can hold up to thirty pounds of honey, so these hives might have contained 150lb or more of honey (and perhaps 60 000 bees) a very good crop. Notice how the hives are protected from cold winds by a hedge and that they are raised Big hives
off the ground and thus away from damp. Above left is a medium sized swarm in a hedge. Such a swarm may contain 20 000 bees.

Inside a beehive

A colony of bees inside a hive form an roughly ball shaped mass, much bigger in the summer, when bees may fill several supers, than the winter. Movable honeycombs known as 'frames' divide the colony but the bees flow around them or use holes they make to go through it.

A frame of bees

Caste

There are three 'castes' of bee. The most numerous are those we think of as bees. These are in fact sterile female bees specially adapted to forage for food and collectively known as 'workers'. Male bees, only produced in the summer, are known as drones, they are larger than workers. Finally, but most importantly, there are queen bees. These are fertile female bees and each hive has one, and one only, all the other bees are her offspring.
The picture above show one summertime frame taken out of the brood box of a hive. It shows both workers and drones as well as a well formed queen cell.

The queen normally starts to lay eggs in the middle of a frame. These eggs hatch first so that sometimes, as in this case, the cells in the centre may appear empty but are in fact the bees have hatched and the cells are filled by eggs and grubs of the next generation.

The next picture below shows a freshly marked queen on the right, marked so as to be easier to find - note the retinue of attentive workers tending her. To the left both eggs and freshly hatched grubs may be seen. The background is of yellow pollen filled cells and some glistening honey filled cells, collected mostly from willow, though a few reddish cells may contain gorse pollen.



The close up below shows cells where worker bees have just hatched (red arrow) or in the process of hatching (blue arrow). House bees, young workers not yet able to fly and forage, soon clean these cells so that they look like any other empty cell. The bee arrowed green could be a just hatched worker, they look greyer and are more furry. Note the large drones, one is arrowed light blue. Lazy drone is, mostly, an apt description, since they spend a lot of time inside the beehive.

Bees close up Also on the right of the picture is a thumb shaped queen cell. Each of these special cells houses a new queen bee. Bees build these cells in the spring and early summer, up to perhaps ten at a time, either in preparation for swarming or occasionally to replace an ailing queen. These cells can either be hatched by the bee keeper in an incubator and used to head new colonies or, if left to hatch in the hive, the old queen will, given good weather, swarm before the new queen hatches. It is occasionally possible to find mother and daughter queens in a hive, sisters will either fly off with swarms or fight each other for control of the colony, the looser being the one fatally stung by the other.



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