Autumn Check at the School Apiary

We took a trip to Langney Marsh this afternoon to give the West Rise school bees a final check for the autumn. There was a lot of standing water, perfect for the snipe which zig-zagged up sharply as we passed, and we both heard and saw a number of reed buntings as well as the usual selection of gulls and starlings, and an authoritative heron perching on the fencepost.

The sheep appeared to be in the reptile zone (and apiary!) so we effectively, if not expertly, marshalled them out to where they needed to be. They had made quite an impression on the grass in the fenced-off area:

The hay bales we put up around the Warré have all but disintegrated, so we have cut some willow whips from the trees already in the apiary and stuck them around the hive. We did the same in front of the top bar. They will hopefully grow up and allow us to weave the branches to provide a natural wind break; we are trying to use as much as we can from the resources we have on site both to reduce cost and keep sustainability central to the project.

The top bar has very little by way of insulation, being made of fairly thin wood and housing a small colony of bees. Paul brought some sheep’s wool insulation which we lay on top of the bars, being mindful of the population of woodlice and flies currently sheltering inside, alongside the obligatory whopper of a Tegenaria spider who we had to transfer to the empty side of the box so she didn’t get squashed in the roof.

We also used a small piece of plant stalk to reduce the entrance. The bees are all over to one side of the hive so this will stop the draught, and we moved the divider nearer to the combs so they have less space to try and keep warm.

The bees in the Warré seemed less active but this is not really diagnostic: bees are active at different times and both colonies were bringing in pollen from both ivy and aster – no doubt taking advantage of the autumn planting in the many gardens surrounding the Marsh. It cannot be stressed enough how valuable pollinator-friendly plants are at this time of year, so thankfully the flowers we enjoy such as sedum, aster, colchicum, fuchsia, and even late raspberries are really useful for bees. Choosing these rather than highly-bred bedding plants is a great way to make a contribution to the amount of forage available.

If you enjoy gardening, do take a look at this research to see if there are any varieties you might consider planting for maximum benefit to bees of different kinds.

We had a quick look in the top window after rearranging the slumped bales:

Our black poplars are down to one and a half: one looks relatively fit and well, and the other has been nibbled on one side at the base but not all the way round, so we are hoping it survives. The other four seem to have died but it was an experiment and in any case the take-up can be patchy. We will collect some black poplar branches from other trees we know and stick them in the ground to see if they root, but as we are really using the apiary as a way to see what happens with minimal intervention, it is important we don’t get disappointed if our trials don’t all work out.

There was a new selection of large puffball mushrooms, as well as another group of more typically-shaped specimens further along the bank.

Something had excavated quite a large hole which looked too large for a rabbit but not quite large enough for a fox or badger. We’ve not seen any mammals yet, apart from the odd fox on the other side of the Marsh, although moles are much in evidence. Quite how they get on with the ground being so saturated…they must have snorkels.

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