Finishing work on a Friday normally signals the start of the weekend but Friday just gone was different... I had a colony of bees to go and collect. I already have bees at the bottom of my own garden at home but today was the day to resurrect one of a pair of beehives here at The Donkey Sanctuary after the honey bee colony collapsed a couple of years ago. Bees are having a very hard time at the moment with the loss of wild habitat for them to forage, so we are doing our bit to help. By doing so, the bees will be assisting in the pollination of our fields and gardens.
As dusk arrived my partner Dave and I drove over to the other side of Exeter to go and collect a nuc of bees as it's known in the beekeeping fraternity. This is a colony of about 15,000 bees on 5 frames of wax foundation that is heavy with brood (new bees) with their new queen. All was quiet when we picked them up and drove the 30 miles back to the Sanctuary and into the wild flower meadow where the new apiary site has been set aside. It was dark but all that needed to be done was to set down the nuc box in the place where the bees would take up residence and return in the morning to transfer them into their own brood chamber and pop the rest of the hive back together again.
All went really well and I must say that the colony was lovely - so calm and a real pleasure to handle.
Over the coming days they'll be taking flights out to do reckies and report back to the others in the colony as to where they can find nectar, pollen and water.
New honey bees will be emerging daily and the colony could grow to about 60,000 strong. The new bees will spend three weeks inside the hive on various chores they're given. These are called nurse bees and they look after the youngsters emerging after them. After three weeks, they'll take their maiden flights out of the beehive - you can spot them as they circle their home to get their bearings - then they are off for another three weeks foraging as hard as they can to bring as much nectar and pollen back to their colony.
A honey bee's life is short in the summer and is about six weeks. They literally work themselves to death bringing back stores all for the good of the colony. As autumn comes along, Betty (as we've affectionately named the queen bee) will no longer be laying eggs and the colony will start to hunker down and ready itself for winter. Many of the honey bees will die off naturally, but those born in the later months of summer will be those that will go through winter. Their lives are longer in contrast - six months. They will be the ones tending to the new bees emerging in the spring and the whole cycle repeats itself.
Honey bees, by nature, are not aggressive. Their whole purpose is to look after their queen and her colony who all come first second and third. They will only sting if threatened in any way. It's the last thing they want to do because after a honey bee stings, they die.
Over the coming weeks I'll be taking a quick look inside to see how they are doing and hopefully will see the colony expanding in numbers. In the meantime, they will be feeding on sugar syrup (white granulated sugar mixed in water) until the time is right to add a super above the brood chamber for them to start drawing out comb and adding their own stores of honey to get them through the autumn and winter months through to springtime next year.
If you're in the Devon area, why not drop in to visit our donkeys and mules and also see new residents living alongside them - the honey bees!