Wednesday, April 22, 2009


There has been a great deal of coverage recently about the plight of the honey bee (not the same as the flight of the bumble bee :)) In fact Michelle at Rambling Woods recently did a great post about this exact subject. So I was delighted today when Vincent, our 'bug man' told me he had been contacted by a lady who wanted to put some bee hives on the roof of our Museum. I know absolutely nothing about apiculture so I was quite relieved to hear that she will do all the maintenance required!

The bees had originally been intended for a city garden but for whatever reason, at the last minute they had been unable to take them. The bees had already been shipped from California and so the lady desperately needed somewhere to set up the hives and release the bees. We have an extensive prairie around the Museum so what could be better? The bees were transported in the boxes shown above. What I found rather touching was a couple of bees that had not been put into the box had attached themselves to the outside and had hung on determinedly all the way from California! You can just see one under the top, to the left of centre.

We transported all the pieces for the hives up to the roof and then kept a safe distance whilst the lady set them up and released the bees. Here she is emptying the first batch of bees into the hive.

Then the racks that will eventually be filled with honey are carefully slid into place. Early forms of honey collecting entailed the destruction of the entire colony when the honey was harvested. There could be no continuity of production and no possibility of selective breeding, since each bee colony was destroyed at harvest time, along with its precious queen. The 19th Century saw a revolution in beekeeping practice through the invention and perfection of the movable comb hive. There is a specific spatial measurement between the wax combs, called "the bee space", which bees will not block with wax, but keep as a free passage. Having determined this "bee space" (between 5 and 8 mm, or 1/4 to 3/8"), a series of wooden frames were designed within a rectangular hive box, carefully maintaining the correct space between successive frames, the bees will build parallel honeycombs in the box without bonding them to each other or to the hive walls. This enables the beekeeper to slide any frame out of the hive for inspection, without harming the bees or the comb, protecting the eggs, larvae and pupae contained within the cells. It also meant that combs containing honey can be gently removed and the honey extracted without destroying the comb. The emptied honey combs can then be returned to the bees intact for refilling.

Because we don't have anything around for the bees to feed on yet they are supplied with a nectar mix to last them through until the flowers start to bloom.

And then the top goes on the first hive.

The second batch of bees get put into the second hive

Then the precious queen is carefully inserted into the centre of the hive.
Globally, there are more than 20,000 species of wild bees, including many which are solitary or which rear their young in burrows and small colonies, like mason bees and bumblebees. Beekeeping, or apiculture, is concerned with the practical management of the social species of honey bees, which live in large colonies of up to 100,000 individuals. In Europe and America the species universally managed by beekeepers is the Western honey bee Apis mellifera, which has several sub-species or regional varieties, such as the Italian bee Apis mellifera ligustica It is this Italian variety that we now have in our hives - I wonder if they like pasta :)

Photo Credits - CJT


Arija said...

How wonderful to provide a home for bees on your roof.
We had two hives in our Mt.Lofty garden and harvested enough honey for two families. Unfortunately some apiarists brought in some queens from the US with a spreading disease and we lost bothe hives. On the harm i have lovely wild bees in the hollow of a poplar and we ahave been firm friends for years. We also have other hives in dead trees. It is fun when they swarm, except if you are afraid of them, then they tend to attack. They are such garden helpers, fertilizing my truit trees, berry patch and vegetsbles. You can't ask for better than that.

Becky said...

Another greatly informative post. Thank you.

spacedlaw said...

They might speak with little "hand" gestures too!

Anonymous said...

Celeste...would you link this for Nature is such an interesting post and so important...

RJ Flamingo said...

What a great post! Really interesting and so wonderful that your museum will have a living natural history exhibit, right there on the roof, ready and waiting to educate even more people!

I also did Nature Notes - I hope you’ll stop by mine! It's really short - I promise! :-)

Carver said...

This was a fascinating post and great shots to go with it.

MyMaracas said...

Wonderful post! I learned a lot, and your photos added so much. That's a brave lady under that bee veil.

gtyyup said...

Great read! And I never would have thought bees would be "herd-bound" ;~) Those lil' guys had the ride of their life!