We sow the seed, nature grows the seed, then we eat the seed

By | July 30, 2012

I’m 2 weeks into owning my own hive, and things are going great guns.
The weather turned nice virtually the day I received the small 5 frame nucleus, and the bees have been getting out on the warm, dry, still days and collecting pollen, and nectar.

At this time of year, the queen would normally be reducing her egg laying rate. At the beginning of spring and through summer she could lay up to 2,000 eggs / day, to increase the colony size and build a workforce able to forage. A hive in summer can reach around 50 – 60,000 bees, mostly out collecting nectar and pollen, saving stores and making honey for winter.

Nearing autumn, the queen will be reducing her lay rate, and there will be a natural attrition of bees. A female worker bee’s life expectancy is around 6 weeks in summer, so the colony shrinks to around 10,000 over winter – meaning less mouths to feed on honey over winter, when the bees stay inside the hive and don’t forage.

I’ve been feeding my colony alot of sugar, as they dont have enough foragers to collect stores before the onset of winter. A colony will need around 20-25 kg honey as an energy / carbohydrate source to survive through to spring. The colony needs pollen also though, as this is a vital protein source.

Varied pollen types stored in the frame

Varied pollen types stored in the frame

You can tell what kind of flowers the bees have been visiting, by the colour of the pollen. Bristol Beekeepers have a great pollen guide.

I think my bees have been visiting:

  • broom as I know its around the allotment, and from the orange coloured pollen in the cells,
  • likely also some buttercup, a lovely orange red colour,
  • possibly blackberries and raspberry from the grey colours, I also know wild berries are on the allotment
  • I know there are some poppies on the allotment, its also likely they are in the surrounding gardens, and would explain some very dark pollen present
  • the yellow is possibly elder, and wild honeysuckle, possibly some common beech also.


Looking closely, you may also see some white, c-shaped larvae in cells. Those are larvae getting fed on a brood food –  mix of pollen, nectar, royal jelly. With the variety of pollen in their frame, they will be dining well.

I’ve included some brood pattern photos, brood being the name for all development substages – eggs, larvae, and pupae (when a wax / pollen capping gives the pupae an enclosed cell to pupate).

A healthy, full frame of brood

A healthy, full frame of brood

One frame is just full of capped brood, from the centre of the nest. Good to see, its nice and healthy, and means there is a growing workforce which will hatch in around a weeks or two’s time. I’m keen to have a good strong population of bees going into winter, and I’m loading them up with sugar in preparation.

The other frame shows a very healthy pattern, nearer the edges of the nest – the brood nest is the shape of a spherical rugby ball, and this frame is from one of the pointy ends. There is capped brood in the middle of the frame, with the capped pupae a camel / beige colour. The capped brood is then surrounded by coloured pollen. It’s good to have the pollen close to the larvae / pupae cells, as the protein is important to feed for the growth of developing bees. Surrounding the pollen is honey, capped with a wax seal (the white cells at the top of the frame.

A healthy brood pattern, and surrounding food and pollen store

A healthy brood pattern, and surrounding food and pollen store

This white wax seal prevents water entering the cell of sugar / honey. While capped and of a very low (<20%) water content, honey can keep indefinitely – honey well kept never goes off, and so the honey comb you can buy has been freshly sealed, aromatic and tasty, delivered fresh right to your cake hole.

Why is the honey cap white, and the pupae cap beige? The honey cap is pure white wax, and does not allow air or moisture to pass through, otherwise the honey would increase in moisture content, and ferment making mead. The pupae cap is a mixture of wax and pollen, the pollen lending the colour. Pollen in the cap also allows air to pass through into the pupae cell otherwise the pupae would suffocate. It’s probably also a bit nicer to eat as the bee emerges, when eating through the wax / pollen lid to enter the world.


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