Sunday 10 July 2016

Lambs, Lavender and Robber Bees

The new lawnmowers have arrived! I haven't named them yet, so they're still known as 'the lambs'. They settled into the flock at once and have already guessed that I mean food (they've been getting treats). They're always getting separated and will call for ages across the field, until they work out how to reach each other again.

We have a mix of ages now in the flock, from our ancient sheep (a stiff and ambling fourteen years) to these new lambs (just over four months). But it's not the sheep but the bees that are preoccupying me at the moment, because I suspect that one colony is robbing the other. Why do I think this? Because I've been watching my two hives closely and observed a few key signs. Firstly, that one hive doesn't have much food - even though there is a healthy, foraging colony in there - while the colony next to it is doing very well. This colony has always been strong and brought in plenty of food, but I believe they've been topping up their stores with stolen honey from raids next door.

The main clue that robbing is going on is from my observations of the 'robbed' colony. The 'home' bees are flying directly in to the entrance unchallenged, but there are also bees that are flying in a sort of zigzag motion before the hive. These are the robbers looking for an opportunity to get by the guard bees at the entrance. Sometimes they'll get caught and a fight will follow, but often they're getting through the defences and into the hive.

So what can I do? It's very difficult to stop robbing once a colony gets the habit and I wonder whether this began when the 'robbed' hive was knocked over in the spring and their stores were exposed. I have to do something, anyway, otherwise the 'robbed' colony could eventually lose heart, give up and decline. So I'm going to begin by reducing the entrance of the 'robbed' hive to one bee space, which means it'll be more easy to defend. I'm also going to try something I've only just read about, which is to cover the hive with a wet sheet. Apparently, the 'home' bees will find a way in under the sheet, but the robber bees are put off by it.  I hope it works, because not only are these poor bees facing robber bees, but before the month is out, they'll have to contend with aggressive wasps, too.

When all my bees are foraging beyond the apiary, they're finding the lavender we have in the garden. Last year we planted lots of both butterfly and English lavender before the house so that the bees can forage on the butterfly lavender in May and June - and then they can move onto the English lavender in July and August. Lavender is one of the best bee plants - it's great for honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees.

Other insects love lavender too, such as this painted lady butterfly

Some of the birds are also interested in it. They're welcome there - as long as they don't destroy the plants!

I also spotted these new visitors by the lavender bushes last week. I don't know where they've come from but it can't have been far because the ducklings are so small.

They were last seen wandering along the lane towards next door's orchard, where there's lots of long grass that should give them plenty of cover and, hopefully, keep them safe.