Beekeeping is an expensive, unpredictable, disappointing but very rewarding and extremely satisfying hobby.
For nearly ten years, we have kept bees – up to 7 hives in our smallish back garden at one point – that’s a lot of bees that could potentially kill you all in one confined section of garden. The problem with bees is – they are brilliant survivors and continually produce new bees – so one hive is never ever enough! We had to look for an alternative space to help us with this overcrowding issue.
So now we keep 2-3 hives in a local disused graveyard that a group of volunteers have restored and created a wonderful nature reserve. Our bees love it there and produce by far the majority of our honey from these hives. There are still 3 hives in the garden at home too – more manageable and less dangerous!
Bees are complex and there are many facts about them that have surprised us and it’s a hobby that constantly brings surprises- they are wild animals who can be unpredictable and totally defy all the rules of managing colonies.
Here are few facts about Honey Bees
A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs in one day
Each hive can produce around 50-60lbs each summer. This varies depending on the weather and the amount of pollen available in the mile or two they travel to forage. We are sustainable beekeepers which means we leave plenty of honey for the bees to eat and survive on. They always need support with top-ups of sugar syrup food during bad weather – but mainly they eat what we leave behind.
There are around 50,000 per hive/colony during the summer months.
In the winter this drops to 15,000. Only the female bees live through the winter. All the male bees are ejected in September as they are no longer any use as breeders. The male bees are lazy and will just eat honey – so they have no use! A big pile of bees will appear on the ground and most of these are eaten by birds fattening up for winter.
One of the biggest challenges is swarms and how to contain them. Most of May and June is spent trying to stop them swarming out and there are many telltale signs. But they are unpredictable and will go when you least expect them – taking most of the honey and all the healthy worker bees with them. They follow the queen to a new safe place – this could be a tree, a car bonnet, under a roof or in an ideal situation into a swarm box we’ve already set aside in anticipation of them moving off.
If we can catch the swarm – or someone else’s swarm, then we have a new colony or some bees that can be blended into an existing smaller colony to build up stores together.
Bees swarm for 5 main reasons
- Too much honey so no space to store more
- Fire in the vicinity
Stuart, my husband, has been stung many many times – he’s now probably part man – part bee! The honey we harvest tastes amazing and we bottle it up straight from the hive. It’s totally natural and raw. It starts off runny – and sometimes sets eventually. It depends on the pollen – some sets faster than others. The main honey flow is July – August. When the Buddleia flowers – that’s the prime honey flow time. This year has been very high yield – a classic English summer with sun and rain has been perfect.
They’ll be ready to start hibernating soon and we treat them for disease once the last crop is taken off so they can settle down for the winter ready to start laying in April- May. And then swarm season starts again!!