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May in the Beehive

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

May is a magical month! The world transforms from grey to green. Warm sunshine, blooming flowers with their abundance of nectar and pollen, and good-humoured bees. That's right...honeybees have a mood and in the spring that mood is gentle and easy-going, making them very easy to work with.


Dandelions and Bees

Why are the bees in such a good mood? The weather is warm and the bees are busy bringing in an abundance of nectar from the spring flowers...especially dandelions which blanket Ottawa with yellow.


The honeybees bring in so much dandelion nectar that they can easily fill up all the honeycomb. We often need to add honey supers (the beekeeper term for the top boxes where the bees store honey)


Bees are crucial to our Fruit Trees


At Gees Bees, the bees are also visiting and pollinating our apple and plum trees. Fruit trees across Ontario depend on honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinators to ensure an ample harvest.


I took the picture below - this is a honeybee drinking from an apple blossom. She sticks her tongue down in the flower to drink the nectar. Can you see the yellow pollen on her back legs? Those are her pollen baskets. Honeybees pack pollen on to their back legs to carry it back to the hive. Pollen is their source of protein - they eat it and feed it to developing larva.

Honeybee drinking nectar from an apple blossom at Gees Bees Honey Company in Ottawa, Ontario
One of honeybees pollinating our apple trees

As the bees fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollen, some of the pollen sprinkles off. By transferring pollen from flower to flower, the bees pollinate the flower, allowing the trees flowers' to develop into delicious fruit. There is nothing quite a wonderful as an apple tree filled with buzzing bees.



Inside the Hive


All these spring flowers mean lots of resources for the bees - nectar for honey-making and pollen for "brood rearing." Brood is the beekeeper's term for the developing larva. As the foraging bees bring back legs full of pollen, the queen ramps up egg production. By the end of May, the queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs a day!


As the queen lays more and more eggs and as the bees pack the honeycomb cells full of dandelion pollen and nectar, the beehive can fill up quickly. It's at this time of the year that we start putting 'honey supers' on the beehives - the top boxes that the bees will fill with excess honey that we can later harvest. This helps ensure the hive has lots of room for the developing brood and honey storage. Without the extra space, the hive can become very crowded and trigger a swarm.


A Swarm in May


In our region, honeybee swarm season typically begins around the end of May and is the way that honeybees reproduce in nature. With an abundance of dandelion nectar, the population of bees grows quickly. If the queen runs out of space to lay eggs and the hive becomes too crowded with bees, the queen will leave with half of the colony to start a new colony somewhere else. The swarm will leave the hive in a swirling cloud of bees and land in a ball to rest on a nearby tree.


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