Beekeeping at Chartwell
Bees play a crucial role at Chartwell, pollinating the fruits, flowers and trees we grow in our gardens from the orchard to the Rose Garden. Discover how we look after them and how you can help them in your own gardens too.
The history of bees at Chartwell
Beekeeping was always a part of Churchill’s life at Chartwell. We have records of him purchasing beekeeping equipment and his hobby goes back from before the war.
Although beekeeping hasn’t always been continuous at Chartwell, as there were substantial breaks, it has always been brought back again. Our bees at Chartwell today are therefore not direct decedents of those that lived here in Churchill’s time.
Beekeeping forms a very important part of the Chartwell story. Due to the direct connection with Churchill, the beehives at Chartwell are owned and operated by the National Trust which is somewhat unusual for our organisation.
At Chartwell we have six beehives in the private orchard, as well as four replicas in the Walled Garden, so you can get an idea what our real beehives look like. The hives are most active in mid-summer when you can get up to 40,000 bees in each hive, whilst this drops down to around 10,000 in the winter.
Every Friday volunteers come and look after the bees. They are fully trained and required to take the beekeepers basic exam. They inspect the hives to ensure the comfort and health of the bees. On occasion they even get stung which, if you did wonder, does hurt!
Caring for bees
If you’d like to learn how to care for bees in your own garden, here’s a few helpful tips and suggestions from the team to get you started.
Honeybees are doing well overall due to an interest in beekeeping, whilst other species of bee are more vulnerable to habitat destruction and overuse of pesticides.
At Chartwell we also have some feral bee colonies living out in the woodland. Although not looked after us in the same way as our honeybees, we keep an eye on them and are thrilled to see they are showing more resilience against the varroa, an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on the honeybees which is unfortunately a threat to bees across the world.
One of the best ways to help your bees is to plant some bee friendly plant species. We would recommend ivy as it’s a great source of nectar in autumn. This then helps them get through the winter as well. Brambles can be a good choice for their nectar in the summer. Honeybees also need pollen for their protein; anything that has catkins in early spring will work.
Try to grow a range of plants that will provide a continuous flowering period from early spring all the way to September.
It’s easy to forget that many of the plants we consider weeds do support wildlife so try to leave certain areas of the garden undisturbed and relax the weeding a bit. Nature will take its course and provide our little friends with plenty of nutrition.
The harvesting of the honey takes place at the end of August. Our volunteers only take the surplus amount though, as the bees make too much for themselves.
First, the beekeepers remove all the capping – the beeswax that seals off the honey. Once uncapped, they place the frames into a honey extractor, which removes the honey through centrifugal force by spinning them around.
The honey our volunteers produce has won several awards from The British Beekeepers Association.
Record breaking honey in 2019
In 2019 our beekeepers harvested the highest amount of honey from the beehives at Chartwell since 2015. This is particularly impressive because 2019 was a struggle for many with unpredictable weather conditions including heavy rains, heat waves and frosts.
The beekeepers managed to collect an impressive amount of 139lbs of honey, much more then recent seasons of 36 - 95lbs. They have bucked the local trend!
The quality of the honey proves to be excellent with high sugar content. After tasting the honey, the beekeepers are suggesting that some of the colonies must have worked the lime trees hard! After the successful hours all they have got to figure out now is how to sell the delicious produce!
Why not visit Chartwell this autumn, on Friday 9 and 16 October between 2-4pm and get a chance to meet the beekeepers in their suits to find out how we did this year. They will have a stall in the Walled Garden which is filled with lots of colourful autumn interest at this time of the year.