Go Apiary!

4 May 2020

Although students aren’t currently able to keep an eye on our OHS bees’ progress, Dr. Weeks has been keeping us in the loop. 

While students and staff (and parents!) alike struggle to get to grips with learning in a lock-down, the OHS bees, along with the rest of the natural world, continue their daily lives unaffected. I find it rather reassuring. Indeed, spring is an important time in the apiary – the temperature is rising, all kinds of plants are blossoming (and never more spectacularly than this year!) and the bees now have forage (nectar and pollen) to feed their young. It’s an amazingly fast change.

Just a few weeks ago, we were anxiously hefting the hives and providing lumps of bee candy to help them get through the cold days of February and March. Now there is a steady stream of worker bees queuing to come into the hives, laden with pollen (in little “tudor trousers” as Caitlin likes to describe them) and nectar. Cells in the wax comb that had been depleted of stores over the winter, are now glistening with fresh nectar. Most important of all, the Queens have started laying eggs again. As these develop and hatch over the next few weeks, the workforce of the hive will massively increase and we will then have to be on the watch for possible swarms….

Alas, I have been deprived of my own “worker bees”, the wonderfully enthusiastic girls from Year 10 upwards, who join me every Thursday lunch for our routine hive inspections. Instead, they have to make do with a few photos and a weekly update. It’s a great shame they can’t see what’s going on at first hand. One particularly striking feature, for example, is how different the 3 hives are to each other. In Hive 3, for example, there is a bustling metropolis, zillions of bees, lots of new stores, and 6 full frames of capped brood (developing larvae). It’s so busy inside the hive that I can’t find the Queen, but the eggs and larvae and behaviour of the workers clearly show that she’s present. And there is so much new honey being laid down that I have to add another box of frames (a “super”) for them to start filling. This hive will be the first to swarm and I’m very much hoping we can use this as an opportunity to split the colony and add another hive to the apiary.

Hive 2, on the other hand, is like a ghost town. Hardly any bees, very few stores, no new honey being laid down… And yet there is a laying Queen (see picture! Can you spot her?), a frame of capped brood, and the bees that are present are bringing in pollen and working hard. I’m confident that this hive will survive and thrive. Hive 1, for yet another contrast, feels odd. There are plenty of bees, there’s quite a bit of brood, but it’s patchy, inconsistent – as so often happens, these bees clearly haven’t read the manual! Is there something wrong with the Queen? Or am I just being over-anxious? Time will tell!

What they all have in common – and long may it continue – is that in each hive the bees are friendly, non-confrontational, unaggressive, apparently unconcerned by the strange white figure who opens up their home once a week, puffs in some smoke and pokes around inside. It also looks like there should be plenty of honey available for harvest at the end of the spring nectar flow. I very much hope that my worker bees will be back to do all the work – it’s the most rewarding part of the Go Apiary calendar. Watch this space for further updates.


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