First forays into beekeeping

After a swarm arrived in the garden this summer, we decided to give a home to another bee colony

Purple loosestrife is a good bee plantIn July I wrote about a swarm of bees that arrived in the garden one Sunday afternoon. A swarm collector, Steph Green, who was listed on the British Beekeepers Association website, came and took them to her apiary, which I visited shortly afterwards.

I stayed in touch with Steph, interested to learn more about the workings of an apiary and the life of honeybees (Apis mellifera) and how Steph works to help them thrive. She said she thought our garden would be a good place for bees - it’s full of suitable flowers and surrounded by other gardens. There is also a river nearby and adjoining water meadows with trees and flowers, such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), so full of bee forage. 

After some discussion, we agreed that Steph would lend us a colony and hive and help us to get it set up. If by spring we wanted to continue, we’d give her half the colony back and get our own hive.

The bees arrived at the end of July. It was exciting, though initially a little disconcerting, to have some 30,000 more bees so close, but they pretty much ignore us and the only time I've been stung was when a bee somehow got into my trousers.

These lively, dark bees don’t mind the rain and are out in all weathers and we've been surprised at the variety of colour in the pollen they bring back. Their movements around the hive door (click the photo to watch a video) are mesmerising, almost chaotic, and we occasionally spot a waggle dance where a bee is telling others the route to a good source of pollen and nectar.

Honeybee on ivy flowersThe hive has been inspected a few times to make sure plenty of stores are being put in place and that there is an active queen. They are extremely busy and needed an extra layer (called a ‘super’) adding to the hive as they had filled the main box.

From the weight of the frames, Steph thinks they have enough stores to carry them through the winter, but we’ll get together and check this in the next week or so and give them extra supplies if they need it. We’re also checking them for the damaging Varroa destructor mite and will treat them for it. A lively colony attracts honey-robbing wasps, so wasp traps have been placed nearby and are doing their job well. The bees are currently busy on nearby ivy flowers, which provide the last abundant supply of pollen and nectar this season. 

People have asked us when we’re going to take the honey. The answer is that we’re not, it belongs to the bees. Reading about the parlous state of wildlife in the UK, pollinators in particular, we want to give them a home, look after them and let them get on with being bees. In return they'll pollinate our fruit trees. Plus we get the pleasure of their company and the knowledge that here they will be untroubled by eviction or pesticides.

Useful links

Find out more about pollinator-friendly plants

Read about the Plants for Bugs project


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