Bees are on the rise!
Finally. After years of concern and declines which we struggled to fathom, bees may be making a comeback. The science may be divided on the causes for the decline of the honeybee (although we err on the side of a lack of biodiversity in the countryside and those pesky neonicotinides being largely responsible), but in goods news this week we are pleased to report that bee swarms are on the increase.
In London alone, the number of hives is reputed to doubled in the five years from 2008 to 2013, from around 1,677 to over 3,500. You wouldn't think cities would be the natural place for bees to thrive, but thrive they do, thanks to swelling ranks of amateur beekeepers and something else which is completely counter-intuitive. In cities, there are more flowers to be found than in the countryside. With the increase in intensive farming methods, bees often have to search far and wide for nectar in the country, while in towns and cities, there are residential gardens, parks and municipal flower collections to be found aplenty. Space may be lacking in the city, but residents simply pack more into a smaller space, resulting in greater density of flora for our little winged warriors.
Unfortunately, this has also led to a growth in swarming. Swarms are a natural occurrence and take place every spring, providing the hive is sufficiently healthy. It's the nature's way of helping the bees to multiply and spread. The worker bees decide it's time for a new queen, and feed royal jelly to some of the pupa growing in the honey store cells within the hive. These will then turn into queens, instead of worker bees or drones. The new queen, once she emerges, will either seek out the old queen for a duel to the death, or one of the two queens will leave the hive with a bunch of supporters and fans. This is a swarm, a relatively small number of bees and a queen, leaving one hive to go and form a new colony somewhere else.
In urban areas, this can be a problem and the growth in amateur beekeepers has seen an increase in swarms. Beekeepers need to keep an eye on their hives throughout spring and summer, adding supers (the layers of ready-formed cones that go on top of the hive, in which the bees can store their precious honey) and looking for queen bee cells as they go along. Any pupa that are developing into queens need to be removed from the hive before they grow into a queen and emerge ready to swarm. This also helps to ensure the hive remains strong and healthy, with the population not being reduced following successive swarms.
Of course, if you run out of supers to add to your hive, then the bees are out of storage space, as are you! In this situation you really ought to harvest the honey from the hive, leaving enough for the bees, keeping in mind this is their winter store.