Highburton CE (VC) First School

Bee Diary 2018

April - July

Beekeeping Club meet every Thursday after school to learn about bees, their habitats, how they work and their role in our world. The children are expected to listen carefully to instructions and to ask as many questions as they wish. We spend time with bees and respectfully work to help them build a home and produce honey (hopefully!)

Part 1

During our first week of bee club, we did not have any bees! Over winter our bees had to go elsewhere and we have not got them back yet. However, this gave us a great chance to look at other aspects of bee keeping and get our hands messy!


We looked at all the honeycomb that Mrs Smith had removed from last years frames.

Mrs Smith had separated the comb into three containers - dirty, cleaner and honey. Some of the comb was very brown as it had been used by the bees again and again. Other parts were lighter as the bees had not used these cells as often.

Honeycomb is made out of wax so when held it feels brittle but when warmed by hands it is very gooey and sticky in texture. The children had lots of fun snapping it, rolling it, smelling it and moulding it into lots of different shapes. Everybody's hands were so sticky and smelly by the end of it! We could all smell honey as soon as the lids were taken off the tubs.

We also looked at the frames inside the hive.

Frames are what the bees build their cells on. We, as beekeepers give them the foundation to draw out the hexagonal cells that the Queen lays babies in and the bees use to store their honey. We had one full frame for the children to inspect. They all noticed how heavy it was even though it was only half full of honey. When full of honey a frame can weigh up to 8lbs per frame. 

Mrs Smith had cleaned all last years frames so needed the children to help put the new foundation in. This is a bit of a fiddly job but the club worked together and managed to get them all done. Well done team!

Part 2

 This week we learned all about equipment needed for beekeeping. The children spent time putting on suits, cleaning and building a hive as well as making frames for the hive. 

We also tried to get wax out of last years honeycomb. We did this by putting the honeycomb into cheese cloths and adding them to boiling water. Once the pan was back to boiling the wax rose to the top! It was great to see.

"We have turned a solid into a liquid and back into a solid again" one beekeeper said. 

Well done everyone, it was a great day and we all learnt lots!

Part 3

We got our bees this week! Thankfully it was a very sunny week so the bees had a great chance to explore their new area and get out to collect some pollen.

The beekeepers we very excited to meet the bees, some were a little nervous but everyone came to the hive and had a look.

Once in the field the children allput on their suits and gave each other safety checks. They made sure all zips were fastened, the velcro was securely down, gloves were on and suits were tucked into boots. They were very careful and respectful of the environment.

We also inspected the hive for the first time.

After going through the health and safety rules the children were allowed to come close to the hive and help Mrs Smith inspect it. We talked about the three things we need to look for every time - the Queen (larger than the rest and has a yellow spot on her back), brood cells (babies) and stores (honey). We have to fill in a chart and make a note every week so we can see the progress being made and check everything is OK.

They were all thrilled to find there was already lots and lots of bees (probably between 4000 and 7000) as well as some honey! 

We spotted the Queen so we knew everything was going well inside. Can you spot her? She's the biggest bee with the yellow spot on her back. Beekeepers put coloured spots on the Queens back so beekeepers know which year she was born. Queens born in 2018 have a yellow spot on them - this allows beekeepers to spot any new queens in their colony, and it also makes her a lot easier to see when inspecting the hive.

Part 4

  This week we inspected the hive and looked for different types of cells (where babies are). The Queen lays both worker bees (girls) and drones (boys). For a strong colony we need to have lots of workers as they do all the jobs and keep the hive running, a drones only purpose is to mate with a queen. They do not do any work around the hive and therefore there is no need to have lots of them. For every 1000 bees there is usually around 5 drones.

Drone cells are raised up from the comb so easy to spot. Worker bees cells are flat and Queen cells hang down from the comb and are larger than any other type of cell. We looked at the frames carefully and the children were able to spot different types of cells and even noticed the drones walking around amongst the workers. 

If you look at the pictures above you can see different types of cells.

Raised cells have drone (boys) babies in them. Flat, sealed cells have worker (girl) babies in them, cells with a yellow bottom are full of pollen and shiny cells are full of honey. 

Once we had discussed the difference in cells and type of bees the children were able to point them out to me. We also saw workers eating honey, cleaning cells and communicating with each other. 

Part 5

This week we learnt all about the life cycle of a honey bee. A honey bee goes through three stages before it can emerge as a fully grown bee.

The Queen lays an egg into an open, clean cell. This egg grows into larva (look similar to small curled up maggots), once this stage is complete the other worker bees (nurse bees) seel up the cell with wax. Inside the closed cell the larva will transform into something called pupa. This is a 'bald' version of a bee as it does not have any hair or distinct markings. The pupa then develops into a full grown bee and eats its way out of the wax into the hive. While it eats its way out the nurse bees will be there waiting for it, helping it make its way out and cleaning it as it comes. 

The children did a great job of remembering the order and spent time quizzing each other on the different stages.

We also did an inspection of the hive and the children pointed out larva and closed cells to me. They could explain that flat cells are worker bees and raised ones are drones. 

The hive is certainly filling up with honey now thanks to the lovely weather we have been having. We can smell it when we take the lid off the hive. Its very exciting to see!

 Part 6

 This week we did an inspection and noticed just how many frames are filled with stores (honey). This is great news and means that not only do the bees have plenty to eat but hopefully we will be able to collect a little for ourselves too. It is still fairly early in the year and if this weather continues we should be in luck!

As the super (the top box filled with stores) is so full we are hoping to add another super next week to give the bees more room to work.

While doing the inspection one child exclaimed "Look, that baby is being born!" When we looked where she was pointing we were lucky enough to witness a bee eating her way out of the seeled cell. It was amazing to see and the children were fascinated. We spent time taking it in turns watching the bee emerging from the cell and being cleaned and helped by the nurse bees. It took the bee a long time to eat enough of the wax to fully emerge so we put the frame back and let them get on with it.

Part 7

 This week was a little windy so we were concerned we wouldn't be able to take the roof off the hive. The bees are working very hard to keep the hive the perfect temperature so if we took the roof off a cold wind could really set them back, or upset them - which we don't want to do.

Luckily, where our hive is situated there are tall bushes which create a good wind shield so we were able to do the inspection. We were hoping to add another 'super' (top box for stores) this week but after the inspection we decided there was no need at this stage. Although the bees are working hard and there seems to be more stores (honey) every week there are still empty frames. Once we have some full frames we will (hopefully) remove these, extract the honey and replace them with empty ones for the bees to build up again.


Our inspection showed the bees were in good health and we spotted the Queen. "There she is!" cried the children with excitement. 

As we cannot have lots of children around the hive at once they have been busy making information sheets about bees as well. These tell us of the differences between workers, drones and the queen. Some are really good and show that the children are really taking on board what we learn at bee club. Well done everyone!

Part 8

 This week we learnt about the different jobs worker bees have to do within their lifetime. As mentioned earlier, the worker bees (girls) are the ones that run the hive. Although each colony needs a queen to continue working it is up to the workers to maintain the queen and hive - without them the colony would be nothing. 

A queen's role is to lay eggs. A drones role is to mate with the queen. The worker bees do everything else.

The worker bee has nine jobs before they die. A worker bee typically lives six weeks during busy months and four to eight months through the quiet season. 

 Job 1. Housekeeping. From the minute the worker bee emerges from its cell it begins work. Its first job is to clean the cell it has just been in and make it clean enough for either another egg to be laid or nectar or pollen to be stored.

Job 2. Undertaker. To clean all the dead bees out of the hive, this helps prevent disease and to keep the hive clean and tidy.

Job 3. Nursing. These bees feed and care for the larva. On average they may check on a single larva 1300 times a day.

Job 4. Attending to the queen bee. As the queens only job is to lay eggs it is up to the workers to feed and clean her. They do this as she walks around the hive laying eggs, you can often see a group of bees surrounding her.

Job 5. Collecting nectar. These bees work with the foraging bees and collect the nectar from them. Older bees leave the hive to collect nectar and then pass it to the younger bees to store in the cells.

Job 6. Fanning the hive. It is vital that the hive remains a suitable temperature for the bees and stores. Some workers are assigned the role of fanning their wings as climate control. A bee can flap it's wings 230 times a second!

Job 7. Wax. As bees mature they are able to produce wax. The wax flakes they produce are for building comb or capping the honey or pupa cells.

Job 8. Guards. At every hive there are guard bees. These workers are positioned at the door of the hive checking every bee that arrives back at the hive has a familiar scent and belongs to their colony. Only family members are allowed back in. They may come across 'robber bees' and these may be allowed into the hive for a bribe of nectar or pollen. Some bees will be allowed to leave the hive and others will be forced to stay as part of the colony.

Job 9. Forages. Once a bee matures its final job is to leave the hive and look for pollen and nectar. During their first orientation flight they dart up and down and all around the entrance. They then begin to circle the hive widening the circle every time to imprint local landmarks in their memory so they can find their way home.

Once we had run through all the jobs the children spent time inspecting the hive looking for signs of different roles taking place.

 We spotted nurses, undertakers, guards and attending bees. 

Part 9

Sadly, this was the final week of bee club for this year.

We did an inspection and Mrs Smith was a little worried as we had not seen the queen last week. We checked every frame in the brood box and still couldn't find her! It is very important to find the queen. Every colony needs a queen and without her there wouldn't be any workers laid so eventually the hive the die out. Once we had inspected all the frames we rushed to look through again hoping she had just escaped our view onto a frame we had already inspected. Sadly, we couldn't find her.

At the beginning of every inspection we have to take out one frame and place it to the side of the hive, this makes more room inside the hive and therefore it is easier to inspect. As Mrs Smith put that first frame back into the hive there was a scream "She's there! She's there!" and one of the year 3 beekeepers spotted the queen on the frame being put back in. Phew! 

Mrs Smith had not expected her to be on the first frame as she is usually found in the middle of the hive, so for her to be on the outside frame was a little surprising. Thank goodness the beekeepers were there to help!

Once we had spotted her and counted the brood frames we moved up to the super to check how many frames were full of stores (honey). We were all very excited to see that 6 out of 11 seemed to be fairly full and all 11 had some honey on! This means that next week we will have to add another super on top to allow the bees more room to store. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks we will be able to remove some honey for ourselves and still leave enough for the bees. 

A big well done to all the beekeepers and thank you for taking part with such enthusiasm. It has been a great season so far and you have all been amazing!

Part 10

This week we were lucky enough to purchase lots of new equipment! A friend of Mr Penson used to be a bee keeper and had lots of things she wanted to get rid of, this worked out fantastic for us as we got a lot of new kit for a great price. Not only that, it came at a time when the hive is getting really full and busy. 

Mrs Smith went across to the bees alone to check on the supers. It was a very hot day and the bees were very busy. She looked inside the super and as it was so full she decided it was time to put another super on. Here came the tricky part...

The super contains 11 frames, each of which had at least some honey on making the super weigh around 14lb! Not only this it was stuck with wax to the queen excluder so she had to use her hive tool to try and prize it away from the super box. This was hot and heavy work but she managed to do it and placed the super to one side. She now had to add in another empty super on top of the brood box / queen excluder for the workers to start storing honey in. We put the empty one underneath the full one so the bees have to walk through the empty one to get to the full one, this encourages them to start working on the empty frames. Once the empty one was in place she put the full one back on top, replaced the lid and left them to it for another week.  

Part 11

 Mrs Smith, Mrs Kelsy and Mrs Dunn went across to inspect the hive and hopefully remove some honey, it is was a new experience for all of them but by working together it went very well.

Mrs Smith removed the lid from the full super and took out the first frame to make room for the inspection. This outer frame had lots of honey on but the cells were not capped. We cannot take the frames unless the cells are capped as they act as a lid for the honey and keep it fresh so she put this frame to one side. The next 7 frames were full of capped honey cells! Each of them weighed around 2lb and were full of bees working away.

Once the frame had been taken from the hive Mrs Smith had to knock the bees onto the floor. She did this by holding it length ways and gently tapping the wooden frame onto the floor - this safely knocks the bees onto the ground. Once the majority of the bees were off the frame she passed the frame to Mrs Dunn who took it to Mrs Kelsy. Mrs Kelsy then used a bee brush to carefully remove any lingering bees. This was done away from the hive so the bees did not get confused or try to stay with the honey. Once all the bees were off the frame it could be put into an empty super for us to keep stored away. We did this all 7 frames and then put the box into the container shed. We had to place the box on top of a plastic sheet to catch any honey that may fall down.

As we only took 7 frames we had 4 left. Each of these was almost full of honey but the cells were not capped meaning that the honey was not quite right yet. The bees need to fan the honey with their wings to evaporate any water and get the honey to exactly the right temperature before sealing the cell with wax. We took 4 empty ones from the new super and added the almost full ones to that box, this will give the bees time to complete these frames before we are able to take them away.

It was very exciting to collect so much honey as it was oozing from the cells. Mrs Smith did try a little bit and it was absolutely delicious! We can only take the honey because it is early in the season and good weather is forecast. If we were having poor weather or it was later in the year we would have to leave the honey for the bees to eat as it is their food. But as the weather is being so kind to us they should have plenty of time to replenish their stores before winter.

Our next step is to try and extract the honey and get it in some jars! That could be a job for next term though....

Part 12

Mrs Smith was so excited about the honey she decided to take the beekeepers over to have a look. It seemed a shame that they would not be able to see what we had done just because bee club had finished.

It was fantastic to see the children thrilled about the honey and let them give it a good sniff...it really does smell yummy!

Well done everyone!

Part 13

 Mrs Smith went to inspect the bees hoping to be able to remove more honey frames. She looked through and there were four almost full, however lots of the other frames were empty or the bees had just begun to draw the foundation out. Due to this she only took one frame and left the bees with the other three.

Before taking frames out she had to be prepared to add new, empty ones in so she built the frames using hammer and nails. After taking the frame she added a fresh one for the bees to start working on.

She then did an inspection of the brood box and saw there were some capped cells meaning the Queen is still laying eggs and thankfully she spotted the Queen fairly on.

Part 14

Over the summer holidays Mrs Smith visited the bees every week to make sure they were still healthy and if they needed anything else eg another super or any frames changing.

During the inspection one week Mrs Smith was not able to find the queen, she searched the frames twice over but still there was no sign of her. As there was still some brood in the cells she did not feel overly concerned and decided that she must have just missed her this time. However, the following week the same thing happened and she couldn't see the queen anywhere.

It was at this point that Mrs Smith became concerned because without the queen the hive can not function and would fall apart. There was no evidence of queen cells being built by the worker bees. If the worker (girl) bees are not satisfied with the queen (if she's not laying enough or no longer as strong as she was) they will begin to make a new queen.

All eggs laid by the queen are basically the same. It is the job of the worker bees to feed all eggs a mixture of pollen and nectar, this will result in those eggs growing into more worker bees. However, if the worker bees decide they need a new queen they will feed some eggs royal jelly. This is not collected from anywhere but produced by the workers. Once an egg is fed royal jelly it will grow into a larger, fertile queen bee. Queen cells are much larger than other cells and hang down from the frame so are quite easy to spot. 

As there wasn't any queen cells Mrs Smith thought it was best to call an expert to help. The following week a wonderful bee keeper named Yvonne came to visit the school bees, did another inspection and investigated what was happening. She concluded there was no queen in the hive and no sign the workers were trying to produce another. This seemed a little odd but Yvonne reassured Mrs Smith that you can introduce a new queen to an existing hive, and this is what they did.

Yvonne (who breeds queens) gave Highburton another queen and we slowly introduced her to the hive. The queen had to live in a 'cage' which has 'candy' in the bottom. The cage is placed on top of the frames and by the time the workers have eaten through the candy the colony have got used to the smell of the new queen and she is accepted as part of the hive. Luckily this method worked for us and our new queen got busy laying after a week or so. 

This is a picture of the queen inside the cage. 

After the summer holidays it was time for new children to experience Bee Club, please see our next page to follow what we got up to!