Have our bees survived winter?

Winter can be a risky time for bees but they can cope with severe cold. In spring the queen starts laying again - up to 2000 eggs a day.

Winter can be a risky time for bees but they can cope with severe cold. Starvation, moisture and animals such as woodpeckers, badgers, mice or bears are the real threats. Spring flowers are a valuable form of forage as the colony increases to its larger summer size.

A diet of spring flowers, blossom and weeds

When it is cold, bees cluster with bees at the outside of the group generating heat. Winter sun can increase temperatures and bees will venture out for cleansing flights and even to forage on ivy late in the year or snowdrops and early flowers nearer the beginning. Local oil seed rape or lawn dandelions are favourite forage.

Bumble bees look for new homes

Only the mated female bumble bee lives through winter ready to reproduce when spring arrives. From February they bumble around low piles of stones looking for a suitable home. Some live in small colonies but there are varieties of cuckoo bumble bees. they lay their eggs where other species will be tricked into raising them as their own.

A growing colony can be at greater risk of starvation

If bees are tempted out on warm winter days, they use more energy and need more food. Unfortunately beekeepers steal most of their emergency supplies in August. In a sustained cold winter they remain tightly in a cluster and may consume less honey. As the colony increases in spring the demand for food is greater so even those who have survived winter can die in spring from starvation.

Disraeli and bees

It was common for Victorian households to have bees to provide honey and help increase yield of garden crops and some of Disraeli's quotes suggest he studied bees.

Have they survived winter?

Looking in the hive during cold weather would just increase problems for the bees so as spring arrives we anxiously look for signs of foraging flights on warmer days. It needs to be ten degrees for the bees to venture out. Bumble bees, with their extra fur, can venture out in slightly lower temperatures. It is only the mated queen bumblebee that lives through winter and in February or March she starts to find a suitable place to lay her eggs

Meet the Hughenden beekeepers

If you follow the walks that showcase the spring flowers, you may spot our foraging bees. If you look closely you can sometimes see the colour of the pollen they carry and work out which plants they have visited. As the new beekeeping year begins, we start to hold our Meet the Beekeeper events where visitors can gain see model hives close up and interact with equipment such as honey extractors and smokers. Younger visitors may like to try on beekeeping equipment, make a bee mask or follow a bee trail. We usually have hive products such as beeswax candles or honey in exchange for a donation which helps the project continue.  We are able to come and talk to local groups who wish to learn more.

Snowdrops at Hughenden, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire

How many spring flowers can you spot at Hughenden?

Queen Victoria often sent Disraeli simple spring flowers and his letters of thanks for these gifts were effusive

" The nation, in a state of anarchy and dissolution, then becomes a people; and after experiencing all the consequent misery, like a company of bees spoiled of their queen and rifled of their hive, they set to again and establish themselves into a society."
- Benjamin Disraeli