What’s happening in the apiary

May has been a very busy month as the bees are building up very quickly – up to 3 times increase in population in 3 weeks! This means the colonies need careful management to ensure they don’t swarm. It’s also a busy and ideal time to rear new queen Bees to replace the colonies lost over the winter and to populate our new Apiaries.

We are giving the colonies plenty of space by taking frames of brood and bees from the brood area to give the Queen space to lay and adding supers so they have room to process nectar and store honey. This reduces the urge to swarm which is important as we don’t want to lose some of our bees or distract them from collecting pollen and nectar.

We are also checking hives for signs that they are trying to swarm. If they are we remove the Queen with some bees and set up a new hive. This makes the bees think they have swarmed and they raise a new queen and stops them swarming.

Finally the frames of bees are used to make up new hives for raising queens. Every week we take larvae that are one day old and destined to be worker Bees and transfer them into artificial Queen cells. These are introduced into the colonies we have made up without a Queen and the bees convert these into new queens. When ready the Queen cells are given a frame of bees (10% of a full hive) and left to emerge from their sealed cell and go out to mate. This is a process which has around a 20% failure rate at every stage so if we start with 20 transfers, the Bees will reject 4. Of the remaining 16 – 3 will not emerge leaving 13. Of these 3 won’t mate successfully leaving 50% success – hopefully!

We are spending most Saturdays breeding more queens to support a project to reintroduce the native British Honey Bee into the area, working with 10 volunteer Beekeepers. We are currently waiting for 20 new queens to mate. Also we are waiting to hear about how well our bid for funds through a Tesco Groundworks bid for the project £1K, £2K, or £4K. This will enable us to increase the number of new colonies created.

Every other Sunday is spent teaching beginners at the West Suffolk Beekeepers Association Apiary – getting the next generation of Beekeepers off to a good start.

In amongst this we need to extract the spring honey as this needs to be taken before it crystallises in the comb. This produces the fine granulation we have in our soft set honey and is caused by a higher glucose content in the honey. Our summer honey which has a lot of Blackberry in it is much more runny and we hope the weather continues to help the Bees produce lots of honey.

March Beekeeping like other forms of agriculture is weather dependent. The weather affects what plants are available to feed on and whether the bees are able to fly to take advantage. It’s been an interesting month with two lots of snow to contend with. Other than that the temperatures and rain have been average for the year and the bees are starting to build up.

The first generation of spring Bees will emerge at the end of March and it seems like spring has been delayed with early blossom just coming out – ornamental cherry and some crab apples.

The bees are still bringing in Crocus pollen and on the days when they can fly bringing lots in to feed the new brood in increasing amounts.

Once the first generation have emerged the bees are able to increase the brood area rapidly and the population will grow exponentially in the next few months.

The bees born in the autumn will have put all their energy into keeping the nest warm in the winter and to raising the new Bees for the spring. They will be starting to die, their job done and be replaced by young bees.

This is the most dangerous period for the bees as the old Bees could die off before the young bees emerge.

It’s still too cold for the beekeeper to do too much in the hive at the moment so we are still preparing equipment and putting wax foundation into frames as more hives and Honey supers will be needed faster than we can make very soon.

We have been able to check on most of the hives and of the 57 that went into winter it looks like 51 are OK, four have died and two have Bees but no queen. One didn’t mate in the autumn and one seems to have died. Overall, while it is sad to lose any colony, that’s an acceptable loss rate.

It looks like April will have moderate temperatures so the bees should continue to build to the point where they should be ready to store Honey in May. Fingers crossed.


FebruaryThis is still a quiet time for the bees but they have started to collect some pollen – Willow, Hazel, Snowdrop, Hellebores and Crocus. There is very little if any nectar around yet so they are relying on their stores. They are very thirsty as they need to dilute the stored honey with water to increase the water content from 17% to 50% in order to be able to eat.

In the hive the queen has started to lay eggs which will develop into young bees within 21 days and the new bees will raise more and more bees. The population can increase 3 fold in just 3 weeks in ideal conditions (enough food). Three weeks after emerging as young bees will join the foraging bees and bring in increasing amounts of pollen and nectar to build the population.

Even though the bees are relatively quiet and it’s too cold to open the hives, there is still a lot to do for the beekeeper. This week we’ve been to visit the hives and checked their stores. We do this by weighing one side of the hive, double the result and deduct the weight of the hive and bees. What is left is the weight of honey left. When this gets low we supplement this by adding bakers fondant to tide them over.

When not visiting the bees (or bottling honey for our customers), we are in the workshop making equipment for the new season. We still have 80 brood and honey boxes (honey supers) to make and 900 frames to go in them!

We are excitedly waiting for new equipment to be delivered for the honey kitchen, a 20 frame electric extractor and an apimelter. The extractor increases the speed and capacity while the apimelter will help speed up the uncapping of the frames of honey and enable us to collect more honey from the cappings. When drained the wax can be melted and recovered for our beeswax cosmetics. The cappings produce the nicest wax for cosmetics.

We are very much looking forward to the new season with lots of plans to improve our husbandry of our bees. Also looking forward to breeding lots of new queen bees to increase and improve our stocks. We are looking to increase the number of hives from the current 56 to 100 this year to meet the increasing demand for our honey.


January is a quiet time for honey bees. At this time of year there will be a reduced number of bees – around 10,000 and after a period of broodless the queen will start to lay small patches of eggs to build up for the spring. When the temperature drops below 8 degrees centigrade the bees cluster tightly together to keep warm. In the middle of the cluster the bees are keeping brood warm at 35 centigrade! They do this by consuming honey for energy and vibrating their flight muscles to generate heat.

For the Beekeeper the key activity is to keep a check on the stores and make sure there is no damage to the hives from weather or animals. We use luggage scales to weigh the hives on one side. We double the figure and deduct the net weight of the equipment. The difference is the weight of stores and bees, 10,000 bees weigh around 2lbs. We can fairly accurately work out the weight of honey left in the hive and if too low we will top up with bakers fondant.

The rest of the time is spent cleaning equipment and making new equipment. We have 90 supers – where the bees store their honey – and 900 frames to make ready for the spring.

Next month we are looking forward to the delivery of new equipment for the honey room. An electric honey extractor which takes 20 frames at a time and an apimelter (a machine which melts wax cappings when extracting and separates melted wax from honey) should help us extract the larger volumes expected in the spring more efficiently.