It was a beautiful, sunny, breezy day yesterday, perfect for the delivery of the Thermosolar hives from Devon to the solar farm at Berwick by Nick Oldridge, from The Naturesave Trust. Tom Worsley of Thermosolar came along to set them up and give me a quick run through on their operation and management. Sarah and Alister from Cuckmere Community Solar were also there, with Clare, an ecologist working with Next Energy.
The hives are to be sited near the community area – which is now flooded with wildflowers – so as to be an integral part of the local involvement aspect of the project. We chose a site on a grassy area for the two hives, facing east-south-east so that we can harness the solar energy effectively for the biannual mite treatment.
The hives are a different design to the ones most familiar to us here in the UK – they are made in the Czech Republic – but take 9 British National deep frames in the brood box, and regular super frames upstairs. The glazed panel at the front is to keep the hive warm, and a dummy board is placed in front of this to diffuse the heat:
The slatted floor is to allow the bees room underneath as often the swarming impulse is triggered by the bees feeling cramped, and this space beneath the brood area helps to alleviate this. You can see the mesh floor too for the all important varroa count. Mites drop from the bees through the mesh floor, ready to be counted and then disposed of. Monitoring the floor for mites and other signs is good practise in whatever hive you have as you can tell a lot from the deposits on the inspection board.
The insides of the hive are coated with black aluminium to maintain the warmth, and the walls themselves are not only thicker than an average hive, but also filled with two types of insulating material so the bees won’t have to work so hard to keep their core temperature stable, which they endeavour to do throughout the year. Honestly – I think I might go and live in one in the winter…
I have some bees ready who are currently in a nuc, and I will take them down to the farm and pop them in to their new home in the next week or so. We will be using the bees to engage the public and encourage good husbandry in the fields and gardens surrounding the solar farm. The colony will only thrive if there is good forage available for them, and successful honeybees are a good indicator that there is a decent amount of food on offer. Clare, the ecologist, is keen to promote other biodiversity initiatives, and these will coordinate with the sustainability achievements of Cuckmere Community Solar.
In the evening, we had a talk from Tom about the hives and how they control varroa, and then Alister and Ollie told us about the wider implications of the solar farm, between which I chipped in with my thoughts and ideas for the bee side of things. Rather than relying on honey sales – always a lottery with our British summers! – we will use the bees to promote pollinator-friendly plant sales, seed swaps, workshops, talks and some honey tasting at some point. Once the colony is in situ, I would like to show people what to look for at the hive, such as amount and type of pollen going in, orientation flights, looking out for drones and workers, and generally introduce the bees to the community; knowing what’s “normal” is extremely valuable as none of us live on the site itself.
We will be collecting data from the hive to see how it compares with other Solar Bee projects, and updates about the bees will be circulated so everyone is kept in the loop. Anyone interested in finding out more, do get in touch.