Keeping Bees at St Marys by Paul Snell

Honey bees hibernate over the winter months and feed on honey within the hive to keep them at a temperature above the sometimes freezing conditions outside. During the rest of the year, they provide an invaluable service pollinating the tree blossoms and all the other flowering plants we grow, and of course all the wild flowers

A beekeeper provides a place for the bees to live and the structure of the man made hive allows some honey to be extracted in the summer months. It is therefore the job of the bee keeper to look after the bees all the year round and keep them in the best possible conditions. Bees, just like us, are susceptible to viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as parasites. These problems need to be looked out for and treated.

Last November the allotments flooded and my hives just about stayed above the water line down by the reservoir. The damp conditions remained for weeks afterwards and these are not how bees like to spend the dark winter months. I was therefore very relieved to find my hives active on mild, sunny February days. They come out of the hives on these sorts of days and quickly return before they cool down too much. Last month they had some lovely sunny days to get out and about, and I was pleased to see them returning to the hives carrying large amounts of yellow pollen (daffodil?) on their back legs. This pollen tells the beekeeper that the queen is alive and laying eggs; the pollen is used as an important nutritional food supply for the hatching bee larvae.

The cool conditions this month are keeping the bees confined to their hives for most hours of the day despite there being huge amounts of flower nectar and pollen available on our fruit trees. However, the numbers of bees in each hive is building up gradually so that by mid April, they will be out in large numbers to pollinate our apple trees and ensure a good harvest in September! Bees travel as much as 3 miles from their hives to collect nectar; the hawthorn blossom along the River Leam provides a really important food supply for making Spring honey.

Extracting honey from hives is both a challenge and a pleasure. I rarely get stung, but the bees are obviously not impressed when their hard earned food supply is taken away. However, they vastly over produce the amount they actually require, but it is a beekeepers responsibility to leave them enough at all times. Honey is a complex food containing sugars and a host of other substances. The colour and taste of honey differs from spring to summer extractions and from one year to the next, depending on the flowers available.