Diary of a beekeeper
There are so many benefits to keeping bees on the estate. They pollinate our crops and plants and provide us with a sound indication about the state of our environment.
Bees at Dudmaston
Dudmaston's beekeeper, Alison Wakeman, installed an apiary in the small enclosed paddock near the orchard in the winter of 2014/15. As well as being a safe distance from the viewing public, the area was also abundant with foraging material for the bees to make themselves at home.
In May 2015, Alison brought Dudmaston's first colony of over-wintered honey bees to their new hives, from her own apiary. Over the next few months the hives were filled up with happy, well tempered bees, and by July of that year all four hives were fully occupied.
" The summer of 2015 was one of the wettest and coldest of recent years, which meant it was one of the worst recording years for surplus honey yield. We don't keep bees purely for honey production so we made sure that their food larder (above the nest chamber) was full of honey to help them survive the winter. Hives with inadequate honey stores are fed a heavy solution of 2:1 sugar syrup. "
Surviving the winter
Preparations were made to ensure that the bees would survive over the winter. Metal strips with bee sized holes were placed across the entrances to the hives to stop mice getting in. Mice are unsurprisingly attracted to the warmth of the hives and also unprotected honey stores.
Honey bees do not hibernate in the winter like other native bees, instead they huddle together in a tight, warm ball called a 'cluster'. They vibrate their wings together as if shivering in order to maintain an internal warmth of around 34 degrees centigrade. This is why mankind has been able to exploit them for thousands of years as they create and store lots of yummy honey for their winter survival. Whilst bumblebees also create 'honey' they only need enough for their summer survival as only the queen bumblebee survives the winter by hibernating, hence surplus is not required.
" Our records show that during our routine visits in January – March we observed bees returning to the hive with pollen, which was both encouraging and worrying. Encouraging as they were functioning as normal and the queen might have been laying, which means that bees could have been born early in the year. This was worrying because last winter was unusually mild, and if were were to have had a sudden cold spell, the young bees might have suffered a chill or, worse, starvation."
All the hives survived last winter but sadly one was left without a queen. The queenless hive was given a frame of brood from one of the stronger hives, in the hope that the colony will raise a replacement queen from the eggs present on the frame. Alison is carefully observing this hive to ensure that a new queen emerges.
Summer time is the busiest time of year for a beekeeper. Alison will be at Dudmaston checking the hives every 7-10 days in the season, in order to control their natural instinct to swarm and therefore reproduce. Artificial swarm controls are carried out, then once this period has passed (after July), we can either use the split colonies to increase the apiary size, or unite the splits to make colonies stronger ready for the main nectar flow.
Meet the beekeper, Sunday 4 September
If you'd like the chance to meet Alison and hear about her amazing knowledge of bees and how they benefit our environment, then drop in to Dudmaston on Sunday 4 September from 11am. She'll be able to show you where we keep our bees and tell you more about these amazing creatures.