Checking in on our bees

April 2023

 

In the Spring of 2022, we installed two beehives as part of our biodiversity program at The Hayes. At the end of last year, we had 3 colonies. Each hive can hold up to 40,000 bees during the summer. Our dedicated beekeeper is keeping a close eye on them after the cold winter months.

What happens to them during the cold months?

During the winter months they stay in a big cluster within their colony, vibrating to keep warm and consuming pollen and nectar they stored up over the Summer. There is no pollen and nectar for them to collect until Snowdrops, Catkins, and Pussy Willows appear. They stay tucked away in the lower brood box between the end of October and February.

What’s the upkeep process?

The bees were checked on in early March to make sure they were healthy and were given some sugar fondant to boost their energy. They are now up and about collecting pollen from spring flowers and tree blossoms to feed the growing colony. The queen bees are laying eggs and as the colony expands, winter bees will gradually die off. New bees replace them ready for the working spring and summer seasons.

It is important for Beekeepers to monitor hive space, bee health, and queen laying rates to ensure the overall well-being of the colony, as well as reduce the risk of swarming. Swarming season is during the growth periods (April and May), and this happens when there isn’t enough space to lay eggs or if the hive decides to replace the queen.

This is a swarm from last year.

What is the expected growth of the hives this year?

We ended last year with 3 colonies but unfortunately lost one over the winter. The remaining 2 are doing very well and we are likely to see a total of 3 colonies again this year. We will give both the current colonies extra brood space in the coming weeks to reduce the risk of swarms and to enable the bees to forage for honey-making.

What are the different types of bees?

In each hive, there is one queen bee, thousands of female worker bees and, in the summer, hundreds of male drones. The queen bee is the largest bee in the colony and carries the fertility genes. She can live for 2-4 years if she continues to lay eggs and has the space to do so.

The queen bee surrounded by her workers.

Female worker bees are not fertile but complete a wide variety of jobs. There are nurse bees, housekeeping bees, feeders of the queen, wax makers for the frames that store nectar and pollen, guard bees that protect the hive from imposters, and flying bees that collect the goods. Workers live around 6 weeks during the summer and up to 6 months over the winter.

Male drone bees are there to fertilise new queens and bring hormonal balance to the hive. They don’t perform any housekeeping roles and cannot feed themselves, so need to be looked after. During the winter months, the male bees have no use and so are evicted from the hive. They live for about 6 weeks.

Can you explain the honey-making process?

Honey is made from nectar which is collected by the bees. Nectar is a sweet liquid found in the glands of flowers. They deposit nectar into the hexagonal cells inside their hive and the young bees that cannot fly yet fan their wings which causes evaporation. Once most of the moisture has evaporated, they seal it with beeswax to protect and store it. The Beekeeper pulls the frames from the hive and extracts the honey using a spinning system. After filtering it, the honey is ready to be stored in jars and eaten!

The honey produced by our bees is served at breakfast and sold in our gift shop.

We’re always seeking to improve our ecological footprint and help nature to thrive. You can read more about our sustainability here.

 
 
 
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