It may be a busy time of year for us running around buying presents, getting food together for family and friends and over indulging but for the bees the cold weather means huddling together in a ball to keep warm and staying cosy in the hives. Only when the sun comes out and the temperature rises a bit do they venture out for a brief sortie and toilet trip – bees are fastidious about their toilet habits, no inside toilets for them. The gardens of the world are where they relieve themselves.
Yesterday was one such day. Their tiny entrance was chokablock with bees coming and going grateful for the sunshine and the chance to get out and stretch their wings. They are so cute to watch. Out they come, have a little look around, a sniff and possibly a chat with their sisters and then when they are ready push themselves off the hive, fly up and away to do their business in the gardens of urban London. It isn’t possible to tell how long they are away from the hive – we haven’t captured and marked the bees as yet – but since the temperature is around 10C degrees we suspect they are only flying a short distance maybe a garden or two away.
We did notice that today 30th Dec some of the bees were coming back with pollen. No idea from which flower but it was a light yellow colour. Does this mean the queen is laying?
We took the opportunity to weigh the hive. Well not exactly weigh the whole hive but we attached a spring scale to one side of the hive stand and lifted until the legs came off the floor. The scale read 15 kilos. In itself this measurement doesn’t tell me much but when we repeat the exercise we will be able to deduce how much food is being consumed by the colony and then be in a position to take action if we feel their food supplies are getting short.
Hefting the hive
On the ground below the entrance there are a couple of dozen dead bees in various stages of decomposition. This rather callous resting place just outside the front door is where the bees dump their deceased though I have seen on occasion the bees transporting their dead a little further away in our garden. The bees seem to be happy not to dispose of their dead in any other way than an unceremonious kick out the front door. Slightly strange perhaps since their lives are spent as a close knit tight sisterhood where each and everyone play an important role, always working as a team and in constant communication with each other, ready to kill and die for the hive, their queen and each other if danger was ever in their way. But when one of their own die, it’s a kick out the door and if by chance the corpse had some honey on it they would happily suck up that honey seemingly without noticing that the honey is on their dead sister. Maurice Maeterlinck, 1901 writes in his renowned The Life of the Bee; “In the midst of the marvels of their industry, their policy, their sacrifice, one thing exists that must always check and weaken our admiration; and this is the indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of their comrades”
This may be a little harsh since we can’t know what the bees are thinking and how they deal with death but they at least dispose of their dead outside the hive.
Soon it will be January and the queen is known to start her laying again even though the winter is still with us. Our urban bees have the advantage of the urban heat island effect keeping the cities warmer than the surrounding country and hence making the winters shorter. Hope she has enough room and stores in her home so her young can grow strong and healthy.