Viv and I started beekeeping seven years ago, mentored by former Brightwell beekeeper Viola Crowe. Our hive numbers have grown from just a single colony in 2006 to a current hive count of over seventy. We keep our honey bees in the villages around Brightwell, the hives are in groups of about six, typically located in large gardens, although we also have hives at the Earth Trust and Withy Mead nature reserves.
In defiance of the never ending cold wet weather, our bees came through the winter really well; it is amazing that a winter colony of about 10,000 honey bees can survive the rigours of a harsh UK winter – but of course, they have a wonderful food to sustain them – honey. Unbelievably, a single hive will consume about 25kg of honey stores between November and April – bees have a very healthy appetite!
During the spring, the queen honey bee will normally lay up to one thousand eggs each day, to take worker bee numbers up to an enormous headcount of around 40,000 by late spring. However, the persistent icy winds , which lashed the hives throughout March and April , have taken their toll, causing the spring growth in bee numbers to be slow. By vibrating their wing muscles to generate warmth, the bees maintain the temperature of their nest area at a constant 35°C whatever the weather outside. With such prolonged cold spring weather, the poor bees simply could not heat enough of the nest area to incubate a full contingent of baby bees, so throughout early spring, our bees have been about 3-4 weeks behind compared to a normal year. The good news is that much of the spring blossom has also been nearly a month late, so the bees have been able to forage on a full range of spring flowers, albeit significantly later than usual.
Friends in the village often ask us the question “What can I do to help bees?”Contrary to the recent media frenzy, it is not pesticides which are threatening our bees –it is lack of habitat. We can all help by planting bee friendly plants in the garden, summer and early autumn flowering plants being preferable, as in spring there is an abundance of hedgerow and tree blossom. Marjoram, thyme, geraniums, sedum and aster to name but a few, and if I were to select just one plant it would have to be lavender; all bees adore it. Preserving wild areas is another very important way in which we can help all species of bees. The “big three” sources of nectar and pollen for bees in late summer and autumn are bramble, rose bay willow herb and ivy. These plants are life savers for bees …. regrettably, they are often top of the slash and burn hit list for gardeners. Fortunately, all these plants are abundant in our village – this coupled with so many beautiful gardens is perhaps why we are blessed with an abundance of bees in Brightwell cum Sotwell.
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