Queen Bees at Rufford Old Hall

Volunteer beekeepers tending a hive

We have 3 beekeepers at Rufford Old Hall who are passionate about bees and conservation and they carefully manage the hives to ensure a healthy brood which in turn creates pollinators for the garden and will give us a good crop of honey and apples.

Bees are essential to a healthy environment and at Rufford Old Hall we have three hives with new queens, that are from our own stock of bees.

The queen is central to the hive and without the queen the colony would not survive.

You don’t always see the queen which is not surprising as she lives in a hive with up to 65,000 bees (in summer). Within the hive there are female worker bees and approximately 250 male drone bees that are bigger than the worker bees and wider than a queen.

A bee frame out of the hive at Rufford Old Hall
A bee frame out of the hive with smoke in the background
A bee frame out of the hive at Rufford Old Hall

Even though the queen is larger than the workers it is not always easy to find her even when she is restricted to the lower brood box with the use of a queen excluder.

To help the beekeeper keep track of the queen she is marked with a colour. There are five queen bee marking colours which are internationally recognized that denote the year and age the queen was born. Since queens do not live more than 5 years, the color code starts over in the sixth year. A common mnemonic used by beekeepers to remember the colours is "Will You Raise Good Bees".

The colour for queens born in years ending in a 3 or 8 is red so therefore this year’s queens are marked red.

Queen bee marked with red in the hive at Rufford Old Hall

Popular with our bees for nectar are the native Lime trees in the garden and shrubs such as Viburnum Opulus the Gluelder rose that are dotted throughout the site. A surprising nectar and pollen source that is not native to this country is the Parthenocissus Creeper that is on the wall in the courtyard. This creeper is not noted for its flowers but more so for its dramatic autumn colour which is not to be missed. Bees are also attracted to a late summer flowering shrub on the Squirrel Border, Hydrangea Paniculata Tardiva with its creamy white conical flower.

A bee frame full of healthy bees at Rufford Old Hall
A bee frame out of the hive at Rufford Old Hall
A bee frame full of healthy bees at Rufford Old Hall

Although classed as an invasive species and a suppresser of our native wild flora the Himalayan Balsam along the canal path to the north is probably one of the bee’s favorite plants to visit. You know when worker bees are bringing in nectar from the Himalayan Balsam as the top of the bees body is covered in light coloured pollen. The plant, a relative of the bedding plant Busy Lizzie, makes a tasty light honey with a slight caramel hint that you won’t get in the main supermarkets.