Highburton CE (VC) First School

Bee Diary

April - August 2019

 

Bee Club meet every Tuesday after school to learn about bees, their place in the world and how people can help protect them. They spend time at the hive asking questions, investigating and observing the insects. 

Part 1

As club started the first week back after Easter holidays a lot of members could not attend as there was other school commitments at the same time. However, Mrs Smith and the sole member of the club went over to the hive to see how the bees were doing.

The bees had been 'wrapped up' all winter with insulation put around the hive to try and keep them as warm as possible. Mrs Smith and Mrs Kelsey had already been across to take the insulation off but they had not done a full inspection for around 4 months. Beekeepers do not disturb bees through winter as they are working very hard to keep the hive a certain temperature (between 32'c and 35'c) and it would be very unkind to take the roof off and expose the bees to the cold and wet weather. However, now it is April and the sun is shining Mrs Smith felt it was a good time to check on them and see how they had got on over the colder months.

Once Beekeeping season begins it it important to inspect the hive every week to check on their health and progress. There are three things beekeepers are looking for:

  1. The Queen
  2. How many frames of brood (babies) there is
  3. How many frames of stores (honey) there is

It is vital to keep a record of these things to make sure the hive is working well and do not need any help.

The colony need a Queen in the hive to lay eggs. As bees do not live very long (up to six months during winter and six weeks during warmer months) it is extremely important to the Queen is laying new eggs all the time so the colony can continue to be productive.

Mrs Smith inspected the hive with the sole beekeeper and managed to count all the brood and stores, of which there was both. This is a great sign, it means the bees have managed to survive the winter and been able to forage for food in the recent warmer weeks. If there is brood (babies) it also means that the Queen must be in the hive somewhere, or was at least a few days ago when the eggs were laid.

Spotting the Queen can be quite tricky! She looks very similar to the thousands of other bees in the hive only she is bigger and has a coloured dot on her back. This dot is put there by a beekeeper to make her easier to see and let people know the year she was born. The colour you 'mark' your Queen depends on the year. There are 4 colours used and they get used in rotation.

Years Ending                                                 Colour

2 or 7                                                              Yellow

3 or 8                                                               Red

4 or 9                                                               Green

5 or 0                                                               Blue

As our Queen was born in 2018 she was marked with a red spot on her back.

However, during this initial inspection Mrs Smith could not see her anywhere! Mrs Smith looked through the hive twice but could not see her. This does not mean she has left the hive as she is a moving animal which makes it hard to be sure where she is. Mrs Smith may look at a frame the Queen has just left and miss her completely! As there was brood in the hive the beekeepers felt it was OK to put the roof back on and check again next week....fingers crossed she's there then!

Below are images of frames inside the hive and the lone beekeeper having a go at taking out the frames.

 

You can see sealed brood, drone cells and some stores.

Sealed brood are cells that have an egg laid in them, have developed into larva and have been sealed by the bees. Bees do this to make sure they have the correct habitat to turn from a larva to a bee. If the baby is going to be a worker bee (girl) the cell will be flat. If the baby is a drone (boy) the cell is raised up as boys are bigger and need more room to grow.

Stores (honey) can also be sealed with a wax lid. Stores are eaten by the bees and can only be sealed when they are the right consistency. Raw honey is clear in the cell but once it is ready the bees seal it with a light yellow wax to keep it fresh.

 

Part 2

 This week there was a full set of beekeepers and some lovely weather so we were able to visit the hive all together. Once at the hive we talked through the rules of the apiary and the behaviour expected from the children. Mrs Smith showed the children inside the container so they could see all the equipment. Inside the container there is extra hives, frames, suits, smokers and much more so it was interesting for the children to see and ask questions about it all.

Once everybody had looked through the equipment it was time to get in suits! This was very exciting and the children were making jokes about becoming astronauts which was great fun! 

Putting the suits on is very simple but making sure everything is secure is the most important part - this is what we call the 'Safety Check'. Beekeepers must zip up their suits completely and then secure the zip around the hood too. Once the zip is closed there is velcro to secure the hood in place and close any gaps there may be. It is important for the children to check each others suits and make sure there is nowhere for the bees to enter the suit.

The children were very focused on this and did a great job of making sure everybody was safely in their suits with the legs tucked into their wellies. Well done everyone!

Once everybody was in their suit Mrs Smith inspected the hive. Most children stayed behind the fence as she opened the hive but some decided to come inside Bee Corner to have a closer look at the bees. Mrs Smith was very impressed with everyone's behaviour as even if they felt nervous they remained calm and respectful. A very successful initial visit!

 Part 3

This week we weren't as lucky with the weather so had to stay indoors. However this was fine as it gave the beekeepers a good opportunity look closer at some of the equipment they had seen in the container last week. The beekeepers went over to the container and collected a range of interesting things to take back to school and investigate further. 

Once back at school we set out all the equipment in the DT area and Mrs Smith and Mrs Kelsy talked through each piece. 

We had frames of different sizes and stages, a hive, queen excluder, hive tool, smoker, collected wax and a water sprayer.

 

 

 

Below is a picture of three frames at different stages. 

Frames are kept in the hive to give the bees somewhere to build their cells, keep the brood, stores and generally live. In the picture below you can see three stages of a frame.

  • The first frame is flat and clean, this is what frames look like when a beekeeper puts them into the hive. The wax foundation given to the bees is flat and the bees draw it out by adding wax to it to build their cells.
  • The second frame's wax has been made into honeycomb. Honeycomb is a structure of hexagonal cells made by bees primarily of wax.
  • The third frame is very dirty. This is because the bees have reused the cells multiple times for food or brood. Each time the cell is emptied they will clean it but inevitably it will dirty. 

Bees wax is used by people for many things and created by bees naturally.

How is wax made?

On the underside of a bees abdomen, each worker (girl) bee has 4 pairs of wax glands. Queen and drones do not have wax glands-they have other jobs to do.

Young adult bees are the most productive wax producers. Most of the honeycomb in your hive will be built by bees that are between 10 and 18 days old.

Liquid wax is excreted from the wax glands and it dries into clear flakes or scales.

The bee grabs the wax scale and uses its legs and mouth to mold the wax into hexagon cells. Isn’t that remarkable!

 

Here are the images of the children looking at the other pieces of equipment. 

Part 4

Sadly this week it was raining again so we were unable to visit the hive. We decided to build frames ready to add to the hive when the bees need extra room. This is quite a fiddly job and needs a couple of people to work together to make it work. 

You start with five pieces of wood, nine nails and a piece of wax foundation. You have to place the wood in specific places to make the frame and it is important to add the nails in the right place to keep everything in place. Making the frames meant the children had to use a hammer (Mrs Kelsey helped) which they handled really well and took great care to make sure the wood was put together properly. The most tricky part of making  a frame is adding the wax foundation to the frame. You do this by feeding it through some of the wood and making sure it stays in place with the final nails.

Another challenge we set the beekeepers was to try and extract wax from honeycomb. The children balled up some old honeycomb and put it into a piece of material. We then tied the material with an elastic band and put it into a pan of boiling water. Once the honeycomb is in the boiling water the wax melts and comes out of the material rising to the top of the pan. We left the water boiling for a few hours so all wax could rise. Once the heat was turned off the wax solidified at the top of the pan and we were able to pick it out and save.

By the end of the session every child had made a frame and added a parcel of wax into the boiling water. Another great session - well done everybody!

Part 5

Once again we had another rainy week which meant we couldn't go and see the bees as a club. MrsSmith went to visit them independently on a sunny day and saw they were still working away and seemed to be getting along just fine. 

Another school that keeps bees was holding a beekeeping festival that required the entrants to submit an art project inspired by the name 'Protecting the Pollinators'. Due to practical reasons within the school we were unable to attend the festival but decided to have a go at the project anyway. 

Using lots of different materials we made a garden filled with bees, people and flowers. The children had a great time and were very creative designing some beautiful colourful plants for the bees to pollinate.

Part Six

YEY! The sun was out this week so the beekeepers could come to the hive and see how the bees are doing.

Once again the beekeepers behaved respectfully and carefully around the hive. We had to do our basic inspection but this time we spent time looking for the different types of bees - workers, drones and the queen.

 

 

Worker bees - These are the girl bees, they make up the majority of the hive. Workers live around six weeks in the warmer months and up to six months during the colder months. Workers do everything in the hive including cleaning, nursing, feeding, foraging, making wax, guarding the hive and of course making the honey. They are very busy bees!

Drone bees - Drones are boy bees. Drones live anywhere from a few weeks to four months depending on the time of year. Inside a healthy hive of 50,000 bees there will only be around 200 drones during high summer peak time. Drones depend on worker bees to feed them. Drones die off or are ejected from the hive by the worker bees in late autumn, and do not reappear in the bee hive until late spring. Their only role is to leave the hive and mate with a queen. Once they have fulfilled this role they die as they are no longer functional.

Queen bee - There is only one queen in the hive. The queen's two primary purposes are to produce chemical scents that help regulate the unity of the colony and to lay lots of eggs. Queens generally live around three to four years, as long as they are functioning and serving the hive well. If she is not contributing enough to the colony she may be forced to leave and therefore not survive as well. Reasons the queen may be forced to leave are she may not be laying enough eggs or laying too many drones and not enough workers. 

This week the children decided if they would like to hold a frame or not. Some children did not feel brave enough to hold the frames but lots of the beekeepers did. Each child commented on if they found the frame heavier or lighter than they imagined, most said they did not expect the frame to be as heavy as it was. When full of honey a full deep frame holds about 8 pounds (4 kg) and a full medium holds about 6 pounds (3 kg). This means that a full hive with ten frames can weigh between 60 and 70 pounds, or 5 to 6 gallons. That is an awful lot of honey!

 

What makes a queen bee?

Once an egg has been laid in a cell it is up to the workers to feed it with.The majority of honey bee larvae eat honey, but larvae that are chosen to become future queens will be fed with royal jelly. Royal jelly is a white secretion produced by young, female worker bees. It is comprised of pollen and chemicals from the glands of worker bees.

The only bee that can lay eggs is the queen bee so essentially the queen lays her own successor without knowing it. It is all down to the workers to decide when it is time for a new queen. Often the workers will feed multiple eggs royal jelly to ensure at least a couple of queens will emerge. The first to emerge will then become the queen of the hive and kill all the other queens as they emerge. A newly hatched queen will sting her unhatched rivals, killing them while they are still in their cells. If two queens hatch at once, they must fight to the death. It's a brutal world in the hive!

You can tell the difference between cells by their shape. Worker cell are flat, drone cells are raised and queen cells are elongated away from the frame. Cells have to be different sizes to ensure the bee growing inside it can fit! Workers are the smallest, then drones with queens being a lot larger as you can see below.

Part 7

This week was another dry week so we were able to visit the hive once more. We had two focus' this week; to learn about life cycles and to feed the bees if needed.

As the weather had been so poor for a few weeks the bees had not been able to get out and forage for food. Luckily they had plenty of stores in the hive so they were able to eat the honey they already had. However, with more bad weather forecast and dwindling stores Mrs Smith decided it was best to feed them to make sure they had enough food for the coming weeks.

To feed the bees we just need to mix sugar and hot water to make a nice sweet syrup. This is then placed in a container on top of the crown board. The bees are able to visit the syrup and then return to the hive once they have a full tum. 

Our other focus was learning about life cycles of bees. 

We learned how workers, drones and queens are made and then looked for signs of different stages within the hive.

All bees follow the same sequence of development - egg > larvae > pupa > bee. 

  • Once the egg is laid nurse bees feed them until it develops into larvae.
  • The egg hatches into a worm-like form called a larva. The worker bees feed the larva royal jelly for the first few days and then switch to honey and pollen. An exception to this is a future queen: this larva continues its diet of royal jelly. A larva eats almost constantly and grows quickly. Within just five days, it grows 1500 times larger than its original size. At this point, worker bees cap the cell with wax and the larva spins a cocoon around itself when it turns into the pupa stage.
  • In the pupa stage, the tiny organism hidden under the capping is starting to look like an adult bee. Its legs, eyes and wings develop and, finally, the little hairs that cover its body grow.
  • Once the pupa has fully grown into a bee it will eat the wax seal and emerge from its cell.   

The difference between each type of bee is the length of time they spend at each stage.

 

       Egg                        Larvae                  Pupa                 

 Worker              3 days                    5 days                  12 days

 Drone                3 days                    6 days                  13 days

 Queen               3 days                    5 days                   7 days      

  

Part 8

When inspecting the hive last week we could not find the queen! This is rather concerning but Mrs Smith felt because there was some fresh brood she must be around somewhere and did not worry too much.

This week when inspecting the hive, once again, she was no where to be seen. However there was LOTS of queen cells. You can clearly see the queen cells in the pictures below - they are the large hanging cells.

This means that the workers are making a new queen as the old one must have gone. The queen doesn't decide to leave so she must have been made to leave by the rest of the colony. Mrs Smith believes this is because the queen was laying too many drones. As previously mentioned there is no need for a lot of drones in a hive so if the queen is laying too many she is not being as productive as she should be and workers will get rid of her.

Mrs Smith asked the Beekeepers Association what to do when faced with around ten queen cells. She was advised to find the newest looking two and destroy all the others. This involved just nipping them so the pupa inside stopped growing, only leaving two to develop into queens. By choosing two Mrs Smith limited the chances of queens fighting and disturbing the hive. Once this was done Mrs Smith left the hive alone for a few weeks so the bees could sort themselves out and give the queen bee time to emerge undisturbed. 

This was also the last week of beekeeping so it fell in good time to leave the hive alone. The bees will be inspected in a few weeks but then largely left to look after themselves and let the queen get busy laying again. When the weather turns consistently miserable Mrs Smith and Mrs Kelsey will feed the bees and insulate the hive. This is done by wrapping the outside of the hive to ensure they have a better chance of surviving the winter weather. 

Well done Beekeepers for a fantastic season! We will start all over again in April when the weather warms up.