On Sunday, I looked at the observation hive in the community orchard.
I love watching the bees enter the hive with their pannier bags, (rear legs) loaded up with pollen. This is a sure sign that the weather is warming up. Indeed Sunday was 25.5C and the pollen on the bee entering the Right hand hole is almost certainly from Oil Seed Rape which according to farming today on Radio4 is flowering two weeks early this year. this means that as the bees bring in lots of nectar as well as pollen from this source swarming is likely to be early this year as well.
Some of this nectar and pollen will go to feeding the queen and the larvae which hatch from the eggs she is laying (up to two thousand a day!) The rest of the nectar will be turned into beeswax. While I don’t take anything out of the observation hive, I do take both honey and wax from my other hives and mix it with organic olive oil and essential oils to make a skin balm. As well as the properties of the essential oils, beeswax has a natural anti-fungal action which incidentally renders it useless for sealing logs after inoculating them for the production of edible fungi.
With some cells in the hive rapidly getting filled wither with eggs to produce more bees to take advantage of the food sources available at this time of year and other cells being filled with nectar and then being capped with wax once they are full and it has been turned into honey by the evaporation of water at night, often the bees run out of space which inevitably will lead them to swarm. (Some colonies will swarm every year even if the bee keeper adds further boxes to give them plenty of space.) This is how the colony as a super-organism reproduces. The old queen leaves the hive with between half and three quarters of the bees old enough to fly. They then usually settle somewhere and send scouts out to look for a new home.
This is the point at which the bee keeper can pick them up and save them some time!
I choose to do this rather than mess around with their natural instinct to swarm in order to collect a lot more honey. (Potentially over fifty Kg/hive instead of a maximum of about that from all six of my hives.)
However bees are useful for far more than just producing honey and wax. I love just watching them and learning more about how their society works. They are also responsible for a lot of what we eat. Most fruit is pollinated by bees of one sort or another, so are beans and many other vegetables. Without the bees survival may be possible but our diet would certainly be a lot more boring.
Without bees these cherries would not produce any fruit. However the bees need both pollen and nectar throughout the months when it is warm enough for them to fly in order to produce the surplus that enables them to survive the winter and in good years for the bee keeper to take some as well. So please make sure your gardens have flowering species throughout the year to support not only the honey bees but also the bumblebees which are also responsible for some of our crops.