A beekeeper’s notes for May

bumble foraging

Today was sunny and warm for foraging. The garden was buzzing with honeybees, bumbles, solitary bees, and other pollinators. “Do damselflies buzz?” I wondered as a bright blue streak flew past.

Fairer weather had attracted cake-foraging beekeepers to the apiary with a small crowd sitting down for cream sponge and chocolate chip. I tried a slice of each and Jonesy told me his latest queen dramas. “I bought a new queen from Greece,” he said. “I’ve called her Olivia.”

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Pulling on our suits, Emily and I followed Jonesy past the overgrown apiary path to visit Olivia. She was still in a cage with the worker bees desperately crowded around her. We all hoped that they would greet the new queen kindly. We’ll have to wait and see.

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A bumble bee was slowly walking towards the hive reigned by Queen Pepper. Emily tried to discourage her from going inside, because Pepper’s lively ladies would probably nip off her hairs.

The Bailey comb change was interrupted on Pepper’s hive, because the colony was split in an artificial swarm about three weeks ago. This I feel is a possible disadvantage to doing a Bailey comb change later in the season, by becoming interrupted by the swarming instinct, but the wet weather at the start of spring made us wait.

Pepper wasn’t spotted in her hive, but Emily found eggs so the queen was there at least three days ago. The bees were content and doing well for stores and brood, and even have a super on top.

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The split colony was behaving well, but there was no sign of a new queen, eggs or much in the way of brood or stores. We’ll check again next week, as new queens can take their time to settle in, before deciding whether to re-combine the colonies.

Melissa’s hive had completed the Bailey comb change. I found eggs in the top brood box along with nicely even biscuit-coloured worker brood and plenty of stores. The honeycomb in the bottom brood box was almost emptied, but it was still full of bees. How to get them out? Shake the bees?

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We chose a gentler option that had worked in previous years. With the top brood box placed on the hive floor, we created a space above the colony using an empty brood box and put the bottom brood box above this. The cavity should encourage the bees to rob out any remaining stores and move downstairs, but it will be quite crowded. This is a strong colony. Another super will be needed to give the bees more space.

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At home it was peaceful to sit in the garden and let nature take care of itself. I got out my camera for the first time since the start of the year and captured the blue tits coming and going from their nesting box.

blue tit feeding blue tit flying

The mason bees are behind bars after I found strange sticks poking out of the bug hotel. It was suggested on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook Group that larger birds like magpies and crows might use sticks to poke out the bees. The cage seems to have deterred the birds, I’ve found no more strange sticks and the bees don’t mind it.

bees behind bars

The red leafy tree is yielding delicate tiny flowers beloved by honeybees and bumble bees. I could just about see a fat fuzzy bumble hanging off foliage in the branches above.

bumble in sun

All is well in the hives and garden for May – long may it last. Tomorrow rain is forecast, let’s hope it passes soon.

My next post will be in two weeks’ time, while I catch up with all of yours!

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28 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for May

  1. Fingers crossed for a spell of really nice weather once this new period of rain is over.the bees, the blue tits and us will all benefit from the warmth.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Yes, I noticed that too. Fingers crossed that the mason bees inside the nests are pupating and developing well – if I understand the cycle correctly? I’m a solitary bee newbie and hoping for leaf cutters later in the year.

      My dad helped to make the cage in front of the mason bee house after I noticed larger garden birds landing in the area next to it more frequently and then those sticks! It was funny because the masons are normally very shy and crawl back inside their tube when I look at them. This time though, two crawled to the front of their tubes and I could see their heads and forelegs poking out as my dad and I sat outside making the cage and fitting it. When it was on the two masons flew around it for a while and then went back inside. I guess it got their approval!

  2. Aren’t the mason bees great? I was going to put out more bamboo but am wondering if it’s too late. Must read up on that. Those blue tits are just beautiful. I imagine if they act like their chickadee cousins they’re fun to watch.

    • Would you get leafcutter bees later in the summer? I’m not totally sure but worth putting out bamboo to try. If not leafcutters then other insects might make use of them 🙂 Besides everything seems late this year, you might yet get masons. The blue tits are so fun to watch! At first they seemed very timid. When John and I stopped in the middle of the lawn one day to look at the box, a blue tit popped its head up, saw us and popped back down again. It was funny. Now I can sit in the garden, or work by the pond, or even walk past to refill the bird feeder and both blue tits come and go around me, they seem quite comfortable.

  3. Why has the queen bee been imported from Greece? We’ve been told here that local bees are best. I’m sure there must be a complicated reason. Also is the red-leaved tree Cotinus? I do not have any and I did not know the bees like it. Your blue tit photograph nesting is beautiful. I’ve never seen a blue tit with black markings over the white face mask. Is it only the one that is like that? Sorry about all the questions but thanks for such an interesting post. Amelia

    • I too prefer local bees and allowing the bees to make their own queen is best. Perhaps this is just to try something new – to see what the bees will be like from the Greek queen.

      Thank you for IDing our red tree – if it is Cotinus? – we simply call it the Bryan Tree for my step dad who saved it (another story).

      I’ve another picture of the blue tit with his/her head poking out and staring at me crossly. The black markings making him/her look crosser still. I’ve not noticed the partner or babies have quite the same marking but maybe I’m not looking closely enough.

      Thank you for all the interesting questions, it has made me think again!

  4. The blue tits sound so amazing. Very entertaining! I bet you can sit and watch them for hours if given the time. 🙂

  5. I really enjoy reading your blog as I too am a beekeeper (novice) and interested in all sorts of wildlife. I have a couple of comments about your bluetit nesting box, which I hope you will take as a helpful suggestion rather than a criticism. We have had problems in the past with woodpeckers trying to enlarge the hole and pull out the chicks. It was really horrible to watch. The RSPB recommends that you do not have a perch on a nest box and it is unnecessary and will only aid predators. You can also buy from the RSPB shop a small stainless steel plate with a 25mm hole (32mm also available) which screws to the front of the box over the access hole. It prevents predators enlarging the hole and also ensures that the hole is the ideal size for a blue tit. Some commercial boxes are sold with holes that are too large.

    This year our boxes have had 2 families of bluetits and one family of great tits, with no disasters as far as we can tell.

    Keep up the great work on the blog!

  6. Wonderful to read how the various colony of bee’s seem to work.. All new to me, so I am lapping up all your terminology One thing I didn’t know that Bee’s would ‘nip of the hairs’ of other bees.. Can you explain a little of what that would do to the bee.. if you have time Emma?.. as I love encouraging the bees in our garden.. and the grill on front of the bee hotel is a good idea, For I am introducing one I hope to make one with the help of hubby.. 🙂

    Lovely that you found time to relax in your garden.. the weather has been so good this week.. That is what I have been doing.. between maintaining the allotments.. 🙂

    Enjoy your weekend.. Hugs Sue xxx

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