In 2019 Storyhouse joined the international campaign to save the honeybee. Without an experienced beekeeper in the Storyhouse team we reached out to Chester-based Tim Schofield who supports us to look after the colonies on our rooftop. Tim tells us all about a year in the life of a bee.
Bees enter a form of hibernation around November. They form a cluster around the queen, taking it in turns to be on the outer layer where it is coldest and move around the hive, feeding on their stored supplies. The queen begins to lay eggs again in February and 21 days after laying, an egg will have gone from a grub to a pupa and then to a fully developed worker bee. The queen will lay around one to two thousand eggs a day throughout the season!
In spring, the hive will be very active and ready to swarm if conditions are right. This is how the bees reproduce. They need to produce more colonies, not simply more bees. The queen will lay a few eggs in queen cups prepared by the workers and these eggs will be fed only on royal jelly, a very nutritious food that allows the bee to develop into a fully sexually mature queen. The workers are not fed on this exclusively and do not fully develop. As the new queens form pupae ready to hatch as queens, the current queen collects a large number of workers around her and exits the hive as a swarm, looking for a new site.
The hatching queens left in the hive will kill any other queens until only one is left. She then must leave the hive on her mating flight, where she flies up into the ‘drone layer’, encountering drone bees from numbers of colonies, who will chase her and mate in flight. A number will mate with her to ensure genetic diversity. The sperm she collects from the matings are stored separately in her body. This is so she can lay the unfertilised eggs that become drones. These drones contain only genetic material from her but pass it on to other queens in the mating flight as above. A colony will contain about two thousand drones. Towards the end of the summer any drones left will be driven out of the colony.
In a wild colony the bees will store food and raise bees in the same combs within the colony. In a hive, the queen is excluded from the top portion of the hive by a queen excluder, a mesh which prevents the larger queen from accessing that part of the hive. The bees use that part to store their winter stores of honey. These combs can be taken out of the hive at the end of the season and the honey extracted by a centrifugal type machine that throws the honey out of the cells. The bees are then fed a sugar syrup to replace the stores.