Thursday, 13 October 2016

Bees in the Polytunnel - Part 1

I know with Halloween approaching "Bats in the Belfry" might be a more topical post title but to be honest, I don't have a belfry, although I did see a couple of bats when I went to collect older boy from athletics last night ... and one was huge!  But I digress as this is a post about weird goings on in the polytunnel at Eco-Gites of Lenault.

A few days ago I went up to the polytunnel, probably to get something for lunch or dinner as I still have tomatoes, peppers, chillies and greens of various sorts cropping well.  I was about half way along the tunnel when I realised I could hear buzzing.  A LOT of buzzing.   I turned round and saw what, at first thought, appeared to be wasps all gathered around the door,  probably about 200-300 of them.  However on very careful closer inspections I realised they were bees - honey bees I thought.

It is October.
We have had frosts.
There were more bees here than I have ever seen in summer but not enough to constitute a swarm and anyway bees do not swarm in October.  And even if this was a swarm, they would be gathered around the queen rather than flying into the plastic trying to escape as these were doing.
It is a bee mystery.

I asked a friend who has been doing a bit of bee keeping if she had any ideas so she popped  up for a look.  She thought that maybe because of the unseasonally warm weather (in the day at least) a queen had decided to swarm with a small number of her hive but somehow she died leaving the bees with no leader.  In that case the bees would be female worker bees.  In the summer, these hard working bees live for about 40 days but those hatched in the autumn will overwinter.  However with no queen they will die.  A hive also contains drones, male bees who do no work and whose sole purpose is to feed and mate with the queen.  In Autumn the worker bees will kick the drones out of the hive so it is also possible these are male drones, in which case they will die sometime soon.  But why so many in my polytunnel?

On closer inspection of the bees we also decided that they were more striped than normal honey bees.  We do not know if they are another species or not but we are trying to find out.  

Two other points:

At first I though the bees were unable to get out of the polytunnel as most of them are gathered either around the plastic above the door or behind the cold frame.  However when I stood and watched for a while in the heat of a warm October afternoon a lot were also flying in and out of the door.

Second, there was what I suspect was an Asian hornet in the polytunnel on the first day I saw the bees.  This species of hornet is not native to France but was introduced in a cargo from China to Bordeaux a few years ago and has since spread throughout France and now into the UK.  It is generally less aggressive to humans but will prey voraciously on bees.  It is smaller than the native hornet and more velvety brown in colour.   I wonder if it had anything to do with the arrival of these bees.

So all in all it is a mystery why I have a few hundred bees in my polytunnel in October.   If any beekeepers out there can shed any light on this I would be very interested to hear from you.  All I do know is that the life cycle of bees is quite complicated but without a hive these bees will die soon and there is nothing I can do to stop that.

Update - for more information on these bees read Bees in the Polytunnel - Part 2.

In other weird October news the warm weather has obviously confused my strawberries, a few of which are still flowering and fruiting.  They are so sweet and such a treat for this time of year! 

Linking up with Annie over at Mammasurus and her lovely How Does Your Garden Grow linky.