Winter Bee Check at West Rise School Apiary

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A misty day on Langney Marsh for this month’s bee check. The children were engaged in Forest School when myself and Paul arrived, and we were given a quick masterclass in the workings of a storm kettle as they waited patiently for bubbles to appear in the water for their hot drinks.

We walked out over the Marsh, picking our way through the boggy areas and pools of standing water. Snipe criss-crossed in front of us as we flushed them, and small flocks of skylarks and pied wagtails flittered up and down over the vegetation, occasionally alighting on a fencepost before dropping down again in to the grass. The lake looked beautiful with the dead reeds and we noted that for the first time ever, there was not a breath of wind. Coots and wigeon were in abundance, and a heron flew laboriously up and away from the reedbed.

There doesn’t appear to be anything by way of forage for the bees in the vicinity of the apiary, or indeed the wider marsh area, but the surrounding gardens will hopefully provision the hive when it’s less cold and dank and the bees venture out. The hay bale windbreaks are brown and sodden but still providing protection from the elements.

It was with some trepidation that we took the observation window covers off the boxes – the sheep’s wool insulation was damp, and the wooden covers swollen and difficult to remove. No immediate sign of bees, and alarmingly unoccupied combs as we looked in, so we checked the lower box. Had there been piles of corpses, we would have known the bees had died but thankfully there were no more than a couple, and on closer inspection we saw a dark cluster tucked up among the combs towards the front of the hive, on the opposite side from the window.

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After half a minute, the bees clearly became curious as to this sudden influx of daylight and rattling of their home, and came over to investigate:

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It was good to see them! You can see the capped cells of honey in the upper portion of the combs, and where they have attached the wax to the glass. We have to trust that they have sufficient stores to get them through until spring, bar the odd foraging trip, and that there are enough bees to provide warmth within the winter cluster. Bees don’t hibernate, but they do gather up in to a ball across the combs to conserve energy and maintain a core temperature around the brood and queen of 35หšC even through the colder months, and there needs to be a critical mass of bees to do this. Small colonies like this can struggle.

We will keep our fingers crossed for them and follow up with a check in January.

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