A quick guide to a year in the life of a Bee colony.
Much depends on where in France the colony is and what the weather conditions are.
Generally as winter starts to end the Queen will start to increase egg/brood production.
She will have stopped completely during very cold periods when the colony will have clustered together.
Brood production will increase rapidly as spring arrives with warmer days and the first flowering plants and trees. Generally sometime around the middle of April – end of May the colony population should be at full strength – what this is in numbers will depend on the specific genetics of the colony and how much space they have but could be 70,000 bees or even more. At this point it is likely that the colony will prepare for swarming and then usually on a warm day, often between 11am and 3pm, the existing Queen will leave the colony with about 50% of the colony, fly a short distance and form a cluster hanging on just about anything, a bush, a branch, a fence etc. Mostly this will be comprised of young bees that have filled up with enough honey to meet the needs of the coming 10 to 14 days while they find and start to construct a suitable “new home”.
In the original colony a new Virgin Queen will soon hatch and after a few days she will be ready to make her mating flights, usually two or three on different warm afternoons when she will quickly orientate the location of the colony, then fly high to where the Drones will be congregating waiting to mate. She can mate with as many as 25 Drones during those few flights storing their sperm and each of the Drones will die in the act as the process of insemination requires a lethally convulsive effort.
If she is successful she will have enough sperm to last 3, 4 or more years producing up to 6 million workers.
The new and old colonies will build back their numbers; both will have had a break in their brood cycle for a period of time with a corresponding reduction in population numbers. Once population numbers are sufficient they will be maintaining them whilst storing any honey that is excess to daily requirements to take them through the winter.
As the end of summer arrives and autumn approaches the Queen will reduce the number of eggs produced and the colony numbers will reduce for winter, Drones will no longer be produced, existing Drones may be denied access to colonies and die.
By the end of October there will be little, if any, forage available and the colony will become increasingly inactive as winter arrives.
European honey bee Apis mellifera Abeille domestique.
European Dark bee Apis mellifera mellifera L'abeille européenne or Abeille noire.
Italian honey bee Apis mellifera ligustica Abeille italienne.
Carniolan honey bee Apis mellifera carnica Abeille carniolienne.
Buckfast honey bee – Apis hybrid
It’s doubtful that there are many pure colonies of Apis mellifera mellifera in France although on L'Ile de Ouessant, Brittany there is the Association pour la Conservation, la sélection et le développement de l'Abeille Noire (écotype breton). Abeille noire Breton which is far enough from the mainland to maintain genetic purity. Link at base of page.
The other sub species, Italian, Carniolan and Buckfast are not originally native and are selectively bred for Bee keeping purposes in France. Although some pure first generations may be found "unmanaged" most feral honey bees are hybrids of varying genetic make up.
A new Queen will be required either to replace an old or unsatisfactory Queen, a Queen that has been killed or when the colony is preparing to swarm. The typical Queen cell is specially constructed to be much larger, and has a vertical orientation and will usually be hung at or near the base of a comb when for swarm preparation, however when a new Queen is urgently required they will produce emergency cells. These cells are made from a cell with an egg or very young larva and are usually near the middle of a comb having to protrude from the comb before bending towards the vertical. In all cases several Queen cells will be created, perhaps as many as 15 or more when swarming is about to take place.