High Summer at the School Apiary

Lockdown restrictions and social distancing have made it a bit challenging to visit the bees at West Rise Junior School’s Bee Sanctuary. Normally at this time of year we would be in the throes of BeeFest, the annual celebration of not just bees, but simply being outdoors and appreciating nature – a mandate which the school joyfully embraces to great effect.

Last time, we had added a box to the Warré hive and ensured the top bar was secure and ready for any new arrivals. The fencing had been secured so there was less likelihood of ingress of livestock, which is a good thing as the hive poking up in to the flat landscape would look like a tempting scratching post if I were a water buffalo, which thankfully I’m not…

The grass in the sheep-free paddock was long and tussocky – absolutely perfect for the reptiles that have been introduced there, and any creature that has a penchant for grasshoppers will do extremely well; walking through the thigh-high stems sent up clouds of them. We looked for lizards, slowworms and snakes but sadly no sightings.

The section surrounding the apiary has shorter grass and we inspected the area below our tarpaulin. The covering has done absolutely nothing except protect the underlying foliage! Presumably the white colour and weave of the fabric allows light in so the grass has continued to grow, albeit with rather a flat habit.

The apiary has dried out extensively, and large cracks criss-cross the ground. The thistles abound, with butterflies, bumblebees and hoverflies as well as the honey bees. We suited up and had a look at the top bar. Absolutely no sign of any habitation, attempted or otherwise. Meanwhile the Warré bees were looking really strong:

We had a look through the windows: chock full of bees and honey. Sadly photos never come out well (at all!) what with the reflection and trying to photograph while wearing a veil, but we are confident they have not swarmed. This means they have a good strong population as they have not split in half to reproduce. As with any reproductive strategy, there are costs and benefits, and although sending off a swarm propagates the colony’s genetics, it does leave the remainder with a lot of work to do, so in some years they stay put and consolidate. It is great to see them looking so abundant and healthy. They were very calm too – another sign that all is well within the hive.

The upper box is full of honey stores, and they are bringing in lots of biscuit-coloured pollen:

The willows we planted to produce a windbreak for the hive are growing up nicely despite the current lack of water. Hopefully by next year they will start to make a difference to the weather bombarding the hive, and the trees in the corner of the apiary site will diffuse the prevailing wind, again, reducing the impact of the chill factor.

There is a solitary black poplar clinging on:

It only seems to be shooting from the section below the nettle line; could the fact it’s sheltered be a factor in its survival? There are other forage flowers such as elecampane, and the brambles will have provided a boost. The water lilies in the sewer were being visited by bumblebees, but the pennywort has completely choked the section above the apiary. Dredging seems to be in progress though, and we saw gulls and a little egret, and a group of young mallards as we walked back to the entrance. We will visit again next month.

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