Not many people know when they visit The Donkey Sanctuary here in Sidmouth that not only do we have fields of donkeys and mules grazing, but tucked away in a corner of a wild flower meadow we have a colony of honey bees who are also out foraging for food every day to take back to their beehive to add to their stores which they will rely on over the winter months.
With the nectar flow coming to an end, the colony will begin to decrease in numbers from August as it prepares itself for the long hard winter when the weather turns colder and they will no longer be flying out foraging for food but relying on the stores they have been gathering. This will be a critical time for the colony as they hunker down to keep themselves warm and fed. Only in the springtime, when the weather warms back up, can the beehive be opened. To open it during the cold months would cause the colony to collapse and die.
From now on, Betty (queen bee) will be reducing the number of eggs she will be laying making more space for stores to see the colony through to springtime. The drones (boys) will also be kicked out as they only have one purpose - that of mating with queen bees – so to conserve food through the winter months, the workers (girls) will be ousting them from the beehive.
The new adult honey bees that will be emerging will be the girls that keep the colony going for they will live for six months compared to the bees that are born earlier in the year. Their short lives (6 weeks) are spent working as hard as they can gathering food, bringing back water, tidying the beehive, nursing young bees... the list is endless. They literally work themselves to death. This may sound harsh, but the sole purpose of a colony of bees is to look after itself - as one entity - all for the good of the colony their commitment to their duties is incredible and I can only admire them for what they do.
There are still flowers providing nectar for the colony, just like the bee-friendly wild flower patch we have growing towards the willow beds. If you're visiting us, it really is worth a stroll a little further out than the heart of the Sanctuary to behold the splendour of colour and hum of busy bees, bumble bees, butterflies and a whole host of other insects that live alongside our resident donkeys and mules.