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Spring is in full swing at Freedom Brewery, and at this time of year there’s plenty to keep a young beekeeper busy!

My name is Phoebe and I look after the Freedom Brewery honey bees as part of the brewery’s sustainability program.

The aim of my blog posts is to give a little window into the life of an apprentice beekeeper, to share any fascinating facts about the bees themselves, and to educate others as to the importance of native pollinators to the ecosystems they help to support.

The beekeeper’s role

My role as beekeeper is to understand and manage the natural life-cycles of the honey bees, allowing them to reach their greatest potential throughout the year. It is my duty to keep them healthy, to understand what they need, and how to help them if something goes wrong.

Stepping into Spring

This time of year is arguably the most nerve-wracking for a beekeeper. During the winter months it is too cold to “inspect” the honey bees, but as the weather warms up I am able to take a peek inside the hives, to see how they are getting on.

As I zip up my Sheriff’s bee suit and light the smoker, I can see the bees flying – making the most of the bright sunny day at Freedom Brewery. The bees will be foraging for nectar and pollen in all sorts of early-flowering plants, including hazel, willow, alder, crocus, gorse and snowdrops.

Crouching down next to the first hive, I can see a steady stream of worker bees flying in and out. Some of the bees are heavily laden with pollen attached to their back legs – which is a very good sign! During the Spring the colonies need as much pollen as they can get to feed hungry baby bees.

Going in!

I wave a puff of smoke underneath the lid of the hive, and wait for the smoke to take effect. The scent of the smoke masks some of the chemical signals bees use to communicate, which makes it easier for the beekeeper to get in and out as quickly and gently as possible without being “rumbled” so to speak. The smoke does not hurt the bees, and it is only used very sparingly.

I can see the bees inside the colony, each of them performing a different task. Some are tidying the brood nest; some are storing the food being brought in, and some are attending to the Queen. Everything feels good about this colony, as I begin to lift each frame to inspect it. The bees are nice and steady on the comb, their wings glinting in the sunlight.

Looking at the honeycomb, I can see plenty of nectar and honey; as well as cells filled with pollen. This is a great sign, as it means there is plenty of food in the area. Freedom Brewery have planted the surrounding area with pollinator-friendly plants, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. Besides being a lovely environment within which to work, a diverse array of flowering plants is absolutely vital to honey bee health.

Coming towards the centre of the hive I begin to see evidence of the Queen herself – I can see where she has laid tiny eggs – one in each cell – and I can see the pearlescent white grubs that hatch from the eggs after three days.

The older larvae look sticky and squidgy, but in perfect health. Some of the larvae have had a wax capping placed over their cell; beneath this capping this they will complete their final stages of metamorphosis before they emerge as fully formed adult honey bees.

Aha! There she is, The Queen. She’s much larger than a worker bee, with a long and pointed abdomen. She looks healthy and the bees are certainly looking after her; and from the presence of eggs I can see that she is doing her “job” within the hive. A Queen honey bee can lay up to 2000 eggs per day, which is no mean feat, if you ask me!

At this time I can assess what the colony might need. This first colony looks strong, and I can guess from the number of pupating baby bees that the population is set to greatly increase within 14 days. This leads me to think they’ll need some more space before long, so I fetch another box of frames to place on top.

If the weather stays fine, and the flowers continue to yield – by mid-Spring we should have a very strong colony on our hands!

Working my way through the hives, one by one, inspecting each frame and taking detailed notes on what I find – I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

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