I was involved in helping set up the allotments at the beginning. Now I’m going to be part of the allotments by keeping my bees there.
We recently moved from Ballagan (half a mile outside the village ) to Kirkhouse Road in the village. At Ballagan we had a large garden and allotment. We decided to downsize the garden and move into the village closer to transport and facilities. I had kept bees at Ballagan for a number of years. My main motivation in keeping them was to aid the environment because bees are endangered. But we also found our yield of fruit, vegetables and flowers really increased because of these extra pollinators.
Our new garden is not very suitable for keeping bees, so I approached the allotments committee for permission to keep a couple of hives down beside Charlie’s. They have agreed to this on the basis that I keep the path weeded and the bees under control. I’m looking forward to being involved in the allotments!
Keeping bees happy
Bees are part of the natural environment, and understanding their lifecycle is the key to keeping them happy and well-behaved. However they do have a mind of their own at times! The main thing people might be a bit worried about are stings and swarms.
Beekeepers sometimes get stung because they are intruding on the hive and disturbing the bees – and sometimes even stealing some of their honey!. But bees will not usually sting you unless you disturb them or they feel threatened by you. The bee will die once it has stung, so it will only sting if it feels it has to.
The way that bees increase their numbers is by swarming in the summer months. This can look like a very scary event and I believe there have been at least two swarms on the allotments already this year. This year has been very exceptional. Even the most experienced keepers have had swarms.
The way to minimise swarming is to carry out an artificial, controlled swarm. This means inspecting the bees every 7/10 days. If there are any large extended cells ( queen cells) being built, it means the workers have decided the hive is too busy and the queen needs to go elsewhere and start a new colony. Action is needed – if the beekeeper misses the signs then they are off!
The beekeeper takes the queen and some young brood (eggs) into another hive and all the flying bees will go with her, leaving the nursery bees behind to create a new queen and start laying a new brood of bees. This creates two hives from one.
If a swarm does happen they “swarm” around the queen in a rugby ball shape. She will be in the middle of it all being protected. Bees will fly off searching for a suitable home once they find something – normally within a day or two they will fly off. I know it’s easy to say but they won’t bother you, they aren’t interested in attacking or stinging anything, unless provoked, – they are looking for a new home. Left alone they will just disappear.
There are a few experienced beekeepers in the village and they will all normally assist in removing swarms if possible. My contact details are 07711 537397, email@example.com – you can contact me or Charlie.07809 157414 if you see a swarm.
The bee colony and lifecycle
Most individual bees don’t live very long – from a few weeks in summer to a few months through the winter.
In the hive there are 3 main sorts of bee:
1 The queen, who can live for 4-5 years
2 Drones, male bees whose only function is to fertilise the queen. They are much bigger than the female bees. They only live till September, when they are kicked out or die mating.
3 Female worker bees, who are split into two categories:
- nursery bees, who tend to the eggs, young larvae and emerging baby bees and cleaning out the hive,
- flying bees, who do all the collecting of both pollen and nectar, build comb and lay down honey. They can range about 3 miles from the hive.
From the time the queen lays there are different times to hatching
- Queens 15/16 days
- Drones 24 days
- Workers 21 days.
It’s a fascinating hobby and an amazing experience to watch the whole world of bees develop. During the winter they normally don’t come out except to go to the loo. But they need to be fed with sugar, especially if the beekeeper has removed some of the honey, so you might see me around even in the winter months.