Spring Check of the West Rise Bees

We last went to visit the bees at the School Apiary on Langney Marsh in August, and we braved the breezy conditions today to go and see how they were getting on. The water was high in the lakes, and there were lots of birds on and around on the water. Swans, geese, ducks, and gulls and a snipe zig-zagged away as we made our way to the apiary, and the large shallow body of water that was parched and desert-like at our last visit was now full.

The willows we planted to form a windbreak are still very small, and the hay bales the children had arranged around the Warré during our first BeeFest have long since disintegrated. The site is very exposed, and remember that honey bees are actually a woodland species; we have been so impressed with the resilience of these bees.

There was no activity at the hive entrance but bees don’t like the wind much and it was really quite cool so we weren’t particularly surprised. We checked the windows:

Hmm: a worrying lack of bees. The box below was the same. We weren’t sure if the bees had left or died so we decided to open up the hive and take a look. If there were lots of dead bees on the floor and in the combs, we could assume they’d died. If there weren’t bees, it is likely they left and took up residence elsewhere.

You can see how the combs protrude: this is because there are bars at the top of each box on which the bees attach their combs, but in one of these boxes, there were only 3 bars so the bees have built down the depth of the two boxes in between. These are the bees’ home, and you can see how each comb curves and accommodates the space they have available. The combs are also dark and firm where the bees have strengthened them with a resin-like substance called propolis to give them an antibacterial coating as well as more structural support.

The base had a small pile of bees and lots of woodlice:

Woodlice and earwigs love beehives and as they evolved to live with honey bees, pose no threat to them at all – in fact, they likely help with the general tidying up and clearing detritus created by the bees.

Some of the combs clearly show drone comb: this is the part of the comb where the male bees develop and as drones are about twice the side of a female worker, the cells are proportionately larger:

There was some honey in one of the combs so the bees had food but seem to have abandoned the hive. You can just see it glistening in this photo below:

We have trimmed off the bottom of the combs and brought the box with 3 bars back to fix. The combs and remaining honey will hopefully attract a swarm, and we have put some of the combs in the top bar hive too in case any bees pass by looking for a new home. Ideally we need to wait for the willow windbreaks to grow up a bit more to offer some protection, but in the meantime we will see if any bees take up residence.

We will watch with interest, and see if any bees move in over the next couple of months. The site is a great place for wildlife, and one of the fallen empty hive roofs is now housing a family of voles:

4 thoughts on “Spring Check of the West Rise Bees

  1. Jen, We are Brits, but have been living in SW France. We are fortunate to have a largish garden in a rural area, where we keep our hives (all 10 frame Dadant hives) at the end of our own garden where the river Seudre flows.
    It is generally mild here and at this time the daytime temperature is often 15-18 degrees. there are plenty of flowers at the moment for the bees. Our large plum tree is in full blossom, and the vibernum tree also. Both are absolutely buzzing with bees. yesterday we did our spring inspection and each hive had about 5 frame of brood.
    I do wish you every success with yours. – Kourosh

    1. Oh that sounds idyllic! So pleased your bees are thriving 🙂 thank you for your comment – I am really looking forward to spring!

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