Our sponsored beehive: winter update

By 13 December 2023News
Bee mating nuc frame

Following on from our recent post about our adopted beehive, here’s an update on how our buzzy little heroes of nature are getting on.

In case you missed that, we’ve been sponsoring a beehive at SW Honey Farms in West Sussex since earlier in 2023. Home to around 80,000 bees, our adopted hive sends pollinators off to work around the South Downs, doing their important job for the wider ecosystem. “How are they getting on?” we hear you ask. Well…

Queen Rearing

Our hive was carefully selected to be one of a small group to be split and make a new colony, a process which allows our beekeeper to grow his number of hives. These will be fed and nurtured so they become full working colonies next season.

To raise queen bees successfully, a strong colony with an abundance of resources is needed, including bees, brood, pollen and nectar. A strong colony is more likely to produce high quality queen bees due to there being a large percentage of nurse bees to make the much needed royal jelly.

We’re pleased to hear that our queen has worked very well over spring and summer 2023 and therefore made the cut. The photo above shows the mating nuc frame, a small nucleus colony designed to rear new queens, which provides a controlled environment for queen mating and development.

These are the caged queen bees:

Caged queen bees

Feeding for Winter

Because our hive is a very strong built colony it can deal with some of its resources being removed.

When making a beehive split, the beekeeper takes one frame of food, one frame of pollen, three frames of brood in all stages and an empty frame of foundation. This is then moved over 3 miles away so that the flying bees do not return to their previous hive, and a new queen is introduced. The next thing to do is to feed them.

These splits are called nucleus colonies which are small colonies made at the end of summer/beginning of autumn and are made to become fully working colonies in the next spring.

One crucial step needed to ensure they survive the winter is to feed them a sugar solution of inverted sugar syrup. This syrup is a honey substitute that ensures the bees have a food source all winter.

The syrup is fed before the ivy flowers bloom and the honey starts to flow because this honey has a very tight crystal structure and the bees can struggle to consume the honey as they have to break their nice warm cluster and seek water in order to liquify the honey.

This break of cluster can cause the entire colony to chill and even cause the queen to die. If the queen dies and the other bees survive it leads to a colony which seems to have made it through the winter, but as the queen is not alive and laying eggs the new spring bees which are supposed to hatch and start the new season will not be present, leading to a quick colony collapse.

So to stop this, a nice easy honey substitute loaded with everything the bees need is the best alternative. This is fed for the remaining cells to be filled with this syrup and bring them up to an acceptable weight. And they really do get every last drop out of their feeder.

Once they are fed the syrup the bees are provided with an extra food source – a bag of bakers fondant placed on top of the frames. This is quite literally what bakers use on top of cakes and the bees absolutely love it!

So fear not, our little buzzy friends are being well looked after and the colonies are growing.

Another update soon…