We were lucky enough over the summer holidays to have world-famous musician Loyle-Carner visit our gardens, and he was so excited about our bee hive that Chef Tom invited him to put on a bee suit and see inside the hive – he was even allowed to hold a frame of bees!
The beginning of this term has seen a flurry of activity in the HSoF’s apiary, as the colony winds down from the busy summer months of gathering nectar and converting it to honey to store inside the hive. This happens in frames of ‘comb’ which are lots of little cells next to each other and gives the classic hexagonal shape we associate with bees.
The colony is beginning to shrink down to a smaller winter size, as there are fewer flowers to visit, so there are fewer bees needed to gather food. At this stage, all of the male ‘drone’ bees are kicked out as they don’t do any work in the hive or collect nectar and the workers need all the food they can save to survive the winter.
Worker bees that hatch in the coming weeks will be the longest-lived at about 4-6 months, whilst summer worker bees only live for about 6 weeks. (The queen can live for up to 5 years!)
As the colony gets smaller, and the weather gets colder they begin to huddle together in a cluster to keep the hive at a constant 35°c, with the queen right at the centre to protect her.
As beekeepers, we need to make sure that the bees have collected enough honey & pollen to feed themselves throughout the Winter until the warmer days return. We check the amount of food they have collected, and if we think there is enough then we can then take the extras to be extracted.
The hive has two main areas:
- The brood box is where the colony lives, and most importantly where the queen lays her eggs.
- Supers are extra boxes on top of the brood box, where the queen cannot get to, but where worker bees can store honey. Think of these as like an attic on your house.
We need to make sure that no bees get taken away from the colony in this process so over the last few weeks Tom and the Bee Team have been clearing the supers of worker bees using special one-way doors in the roof of the hive called ‘bee porters’, so that the whole colony is now in the brood box and the super is empty of bees. We now have 8 frames of capped honeycomb ready for harvesting, which is roughly 5 kilograms!
The next stage of the process is to place the frames in a honey extractor, which spins the frames around very quickly inside a metal tube, so the honey is flung out and drips down the sides to the bottom, where there is a tap so we can fill up jars, and then reuse the now empty frames next year.
We are hoping to invite some lucky children from across the Federation to take part in the extraction process and be the first taste the produce of our hard-working bees.
Apiary – location of the bee hives in the garden
Nectar – sweet, sticky liquid made by plants to attract pollinators – turned into honey by bees to feed the adults
Pollen – powder made by plants to help produce seeds & fruits – given to baby bees as food
Frames – wax filled rectangles, which the bees use to make cells in which they store honey and pollen or lay eggs
Capping – the wax top of the cells to protect the honey