Back in May 2019 we chose to begin playing our part in trying to increase the populations of several UK bee species that are struggling to maintain numbers as the environments around them change. With the support of beehive adoption, management and educational service organisation, Plan Bee, and through the recruitment of local beekeeper and Working 4 Wildlife employee, Andrew Bailey, we’re proud to report that we’re now caring for and managing 10 beehives at our Rough Close Works site in Derbyshire.

Applying years of beekeeping knowledge and expertise, Andrew has been fundamental to the scheme’s development and success. Updating us on the project process and with plenty of good news stories, here is his July account of how things are, down at the hives:

So much has happened since my June update. Cold, wet weather in late June left the bees confined to barracks for a while, however they were doing well – so well in fact that they were running out of space in the hive!

I decided to do what is known as a ‘split’, which involves dividing the colony into two, creating a new colony in a smaller hive, (a nucleus box) and inserting some new frames in the original hive to create more space.

New Queen

By the 10th of July, I’d seen early signs of a new Queen in the nucleus box (nuc box), as there were recently laid eggs in some of the cells.  Bees eggs are smaller than a grain of rice and when they are first laid by the Queen they stand upright. By day two they are positioned at around 45 degrees and on day three they lie flat – from that point they start to turn into bee brood. The eggs I saw were upright to flat, so I knew that the new queen had laid eggs for the last three days which is a good sign.

Splitting the hive

The original colony has an old, but previously prolific queen, however, I’d seen likely signs that that the colony was going to supersede her – a natural occurrence where the colony divides to guarantee succession.

In this instance I had artificially encouraged the division, by splitting the colony. However, bees sense when an older Queen is no longer as productive (if mated well, a Queen can experience two to three years of production), and so start to make superseder cells half way up the hive frame to produce a replacement.  These cells are different to the normal queen cells seen when the hive is preparing to swarm and usually appear on the side or bottom of a frame.

Producing honey

This month I can report that between my last inspection and this current inspection there has been a nectar flow, promoted by warm dry weather after the cold wet spell, and the summer flowers and weeds that are now in bloom, such as bramble and rosebay willow herb. These seasonal factors have encouraged the bees to pile nectar into the hive and convert it into honey.

It’s great news, however, also means that the Queen is running out of space to lay her eggs. So, to create more room, I put a honey super (a frame used to collect honey) on the hive. My hope is that the bees will transfer the honey into the super above them, leaving the queen with more space to lay her eggs.

Well, patience is the name of the game now. We have to wait and see if the old Queen is replaced with a successor and if the honey super is filled. I am also expecting to have to transfer the bees from the nuc box into a full-sized hive very soon.

Until next time….

Andy Bailey – Bee Keeper