We've been enjoying beautiful weather here in North Cheshire in February so far. The skies have been clear, resulting in frosty nights and warm sunny days.
Any time now my honeybees should start emerging from the hive to collect nectar from crocuses and other early flowers, and the queens should start laying eggs again.
Bumblebees too will soon be emerging. You'll first notice a small number of huge fat bumblebees - these are the queens, the only bumblebees that survive the winter. Unlike honeyebees, they truly hibernate, and then emerge in February to feed on nectar and find a nesting site. In late February or early March you'll notice a new flush of much smaller bumblebees. This is the new brood and they're scrawny and undersized because the poor old queen has had to feed them herself, and it's tough to collect enough nectar at this time of year to feed them up properly, especially when there's only one bee to do it. But the skinny first brood will feed the second brood, who will feed the third brood, and so on. By the time summer arrives you'll see lots of full-sized bumblebees buzzing about.
Bumblebees are great. They're very docile - you really have to work at it to annoy one enough for it to sting you. They're great pollinators, and if they like your garden you'll get more flowers, fruit and vegetables as a result of the work they do for you. They're cuddly fluffy little guys and I love them. If you'd like to encourage bumblebees in your garden, www.bumblebee.org has instructions for building nest boxes for them.
(I know it would have made sense to illustrate this blog post with a picture of a bumblebee, but I wanted to share this painting of Van Gogh's sunflowers that Sam did. He's only 6 and I'm very proud.)