Having recently started our very own Orchard and Vegetable Garden here at Pen Y Bryn we have been doing lots of learning and become very interested in getting the best from our crops. We do our best to try and keep things Organic and as natural as possible. We’ve started making our own manure with the help of our Pigs and Pygmy Goats to give our veggies plenty of naturally made nutrients. This week we have been making Bee friendly bug sprays from essential oils to keep the pests off our Marigolds and Strawberry plants, which are attracting White fly and Green fly. Now that our trees are in blossom, we thought we would give them an extra boost by introducing some honey Bees to our gardens to help pollinate our plants and hopefully provide us with plenty of fruit and veggies for us and the Pigs, Goats and the Sheep to eat and maybe even a little honey to.
We have never kept Bees before, we have done lots of reading but there is so much to learn. Luckily, we have the help of a local Expert Bee Keeper who has agreed to use Pen y Bryn as an Apiary site for his hives and in return he will be teaching us all about Bee keeping. Our Bee Keeper is very experienced and works with the local community including a number of local schools to teach them about the importance of Bees and Bee keeping. The first three hives arrived a little under three weeks ago and the fourth a day or two later. We placed them inside our old unused chicken run that sits at the far side of our Duck pond and left them to settle in. We have checked on the Bees each day, walking by to see how they are but today we got our first chance to take a look inside the hives and meet the Bees close up.
We had to wait for a nice day, Bees don’t like to have their hives opened if they can sense bad weather. So today was perfect, the sun was shining and the Bees were happily buzzing about their business allowing us to get up close and look at the hive.
Equipped with our Bee Suits and veils, a smoker and some hive separating tools we took our first steps inside the run since the Bees arrived. Already we could see the number of bees around the hive entrance had increased since their arrival. At this time of year, a hive starts to grow rapidly because the weather warms up and there are lots of areas for the bees to forage and collect food to feed the hive. The Bees live for about 6 weeks at this time of year, apart from the Queen Bee who is busy working to replace them all and produce a bigger hive, She usually lives a few years. The Bees were all happily buzzing away, they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our arrival but we gave them a little squirt with the smoker anyway just to warn them we were coming. Smoke is used because calms the Bees. When the top came off the first hive I half expected them all to fly out and cover us but they didn’t really react at all, they kept going on about their business, like busy little Bees.
Inside the box there were 10 suspended frames. All buzzing with action, The Bees start from the middle and work outwards to fill these with baby Bees known as brood and Stores of Honey to feed them all. When they first arrived, they had filled the first two or three frames but today already it has almost doubled in some of the hives. This is partly due to all the forage available for them here at Pen y Bryn. When you look at the cells in the hive you can see pollen of many different shades of yellows and oranges and browns, this is because the Bees are collecting it from lots of different species of plants. If you are very clever you can look the colours up on a chart and this should give you a good idea of exactly which plants the Bees are visiting. At this time of year they have so much choice with all the plants trees and hedgerows blooming with colour and life.
Working our way through the frames we could see lots of worker Bees at different stages of growth, many were coming back to the hive loaded with pollen, while others were busy attending to the Bee Larvae in the nursery, we spotted a baby Bee hatching from it’s cell, Its little legs trying to push through as it chewed at the wax cap. We saw lots of bee larvae at different stages of growth, These will become worker Bees in the future. We also saw Drone cells and even a few Drone Bees. Drones are the male Bees, they are quite a bit larger than the female worker bees, they do not have a stinger and their only purpose is to mate with other queen Bees. The hive work hard to produce and feed the drone Bees and they make a special kind of cell for them to grow in, it looks different to the worker bee cells, its more raised and bubbly it looks a bit like cinder toffee.
We even saw some Queen Bee cells, one of the hives had started to produce. This could have been a sign that the Queen bee was missing from the hive but we could also see Bee larvae that had recently been laid so we also saw signs that the queen was still around. Because of this unusual development we will have to keep a close eye on this hive and its behaviour over the next few weeks to make sure that the queen is ok. We look forward to seeing the bees again soon and will keep you updated on their progress over the following months so you can watch the hives grow with us.