BBC Radio Cumbria came to school this week to record the first of 3 interviews with us all about the new Bee Hide. As always, the children were wonderful! Professional, passionate and so enthusiastic about sharing their bee knowledge! Radio Cumbria will be back to check on progress when the Hide is finished, then again for the Bee Hide opening in July.
Gosh! We have had so much going on in the Bee Team over the last two months, we have a lot to fill you in on!
Following successful grant applications to the Frieda Scott Trust & Lake District Foundation, we are delighted to have started the 'Big Bee Build' of our fully accessible Bee Hide which will allow us to share our bees, not just with even more children in school, but it will mean we can invite even more schools and community groups to come and learn more about these vital and fascinating insects!
Mr Halliwell our Year 3 Dad starts the Big Build!
Mr Halliwell is dad to one of our year 3 children and also came to Heron Hill School when he was a youngster! So we were delighted when he said he would take on the job of building the Hide for us... (don't think he knew what he was letting himself in for!)
Day 1 on the Big Bee Build and already the old apiary enclosure is removed and Mike the digger man is scraping off the turf to enlarge the apiary and dig out for the new paths.
Once again, our Beekeeping Buddy Mr Tett, helps out in sourcing some wood for the upright posts for the new enclosure!
Craig starts the first 'lean-to' area, which will be to store our bee suits & get changed. The first week went wonderfully, with mild spring DRY weather for Craig to work in... no such luck the second week, when 'Storm Ciara' and 'Storm Dennis' arrived in Kendal!
Posts go in and our accessible raised 'Bee Bed' starts taking shape!
The Bee Bed, will be a teaching resource allowing children & visitors to learn and appreciate which plants are particularly suitable not just for our Honey Bees, but solitary bees, bumbles and other pollinators.
The enclosure is up!
Mrs Harper and Mrs Cottam do some 'hands on' measuring, for the 'touchy-feely-glove' system which will be gloves going through the glass of the Hide, to allow children or visitors who are maybe nervous of being too close to the bees the opportunity to hold and feel the bees and frames in safety.
Craig gets some extra labourers to help put up the Bee Hide framing!
At last the certificates arrived for our youngsters who had worked so hard for their Junior Certificate examinations with the BBKA (British Bee Keeping Association)
It was wonderful to welcome back Emma & Josh now from KKS to receive their certificates and of course enjoy a bit of bee cake! Along with some more of our keen 'JC' children, they will be returning next year to help mentor the 'new-bees' who will start in the Spring and also help host Bee & Tea afternoons for members of our community who want to come along and learn more about our bees from the children.
For The Bee Team, it really is all about the bees and not the honey, but...
Helping The Bee Team with their 'honey exploits' we are very fortunate to have Mr Tett, our Beekeeping Buddy, who has supported our bee project since the beginning. Mr Tett, is MAD about showing honey, so has been a wonderful mentor to the children over the years, teaching them how to triple filter the show honey, ensure there is no dust in jars and that 'you can see your face' in the honey when it is all done!!
(I won't say it out loud, but life is a little bit short for taking dust off the surface with a cocktail stick...and filtering it through ladies tights!! ) but the children have loved it, & it turns out, we are pretty good at it too!
So, this year, we entered our honey into the Kendal Beekeepers, Westmorland Horticultural Society honey class... and the Cumbria Beekeeping Convention Honey Show, where up to 5 associations compete in classes for some frankly HUGE trophies!
We did rather well!! Sweeping the board at the Cumbria Convention, with firsts with our Light & Medium honey (more on the differences later!) and our 'chunk honey' and set honey.
The Kendal Honey Show, brought us firsts in Light Honey, the Schools Trophy for the third year running and a well deserved 1st in the photographic competition for Lily, with her brilliant photo of 'Bella' our Buckfast Queen Bee, where she was up against all the adults.
Finally, we had firsts in the Westmorland Horticultural Society honey classes with 1st place with our Light Honey and Set honey... Incredible!!
The comments from the judges and fellow competitors has been wonderful and we have learnt so much over this past year... (Mrs Harper & I have learnt how awfully messy it all is!)
So why different colours of honey in classes?
It is all down to the time of year and what our bees have been foraging on.
We are very lucky to have Kendal Park Cemetery only a few hundred meters from us (as the bee flies) which is carpeted with crocus early in the season, we took just a few frames of honey out of the hives then, which gave us the lightest honey ever, totally different from the honey harvested later in the year from things like Bramble, clover and Horse Chestnut trees, which was much darker, giving us our 'Medium Honey'
For the 'Set Honey' Classes, it is patience we needed!
All honey will set eventually, some flower sources, such as Heather & Ivy & Dandelion will set almost immediately, but we leave a jar of our honey for a few months or year, until it has naturally granulated, giving a smooth and set honey, (perfect for toast!)
As you know, we love our bees at Heron Hill!
But for a while now, we have wanted to make our apiary and hives more accessible to even more of our children & the groups who visit.
Our National hives are super, but they are heavy, (especially when full of up to 20kg of honey!) The hives fit together a little like the 'Jenga' game you may have seen, each tier/box resting on the next, meaning we have to do quite a lot of lifting!
Green Earth Hive company specialise in hives for children & people with mobility problems and we were delighted when they asked would we trial one of their new 'Long Hives' for them!
So this week, Matt and Dean delivered our new hive and spent a super afternoon showing it to some of the children.
The hive has one roof, easily opened by the children, with space in the Long Hive to accommodate several colonies of bees in a variety of different configurations. The children will be able to see right inside the hive, as they have made it the perfect height...topping it off with perspex covers to allow inspection without disturbing the girls!
Green Earth Hives also brought an Observation Hive for us to look at. They then helped the children plan and design their own ideas for the perfect indoor hive! We had some amazing ideas! The children considered noise, light and materials in their designs, some even colour coding the temperature requirements of the bees at various times of year!
Matt & Dean have taken the drawings away with them and we will be working with them over the winter to bring the ideas to life in our own observation hive! Watch this space!!
It's only October, but we have had the first frost and our bees are in the last throws of the 2019 season!
The Lancaster research group have been busy putting our bees to bed for the winter. Our next full New Bee Team will start in the early spring ready for the new season, so our research students have been making sure the colonies are all set for the winter months ahead.
This year we concentrated on increasing our stock, not honey production, going from 3 colonies to 10 this year.
We have bred our own local Queens, those with the traits we want to see in our bees... calm, gentle, good producers of honey and brood, but also disease resistant and able to tolerate all the Cumbrian weather can throw at them! The children have done a great job and between the school site & our 'out apiary' we now have 10 healthy strong hives ready for 2020.
Bees need at least 20kg of 'stores' to get them through the winter, they don't hibernate, just cluster together to keep warm, slowly eating all the precious honey they have collected during the summer months. This is why we leave our bees with at least this amount to make sure they have enough.
Mouse guards have been fitted to stop any furry visitors making the most of free accommodation! Our boxes of fondant are ready to put on the hives in case the bees need extra food. The children have been 'Hefting' the hives to assess the weight of stores, which as we go through the winter, will allow us to know if the bees need any extra food.
As we performed a 'Shook Swarm' on all our colonies in the Spring and monitored the Varroa levels during the summer, we do not need to treat our bees now... but we will be doing a mid winter treatment at Christmas to make sure they are in the best of health for the season in 2020.
Lancaster University research project
This week members of The Bee Team travelled to Lancaster University to start their data collection as part of an exciting project with Dr Phil Donkersley a renowned Research Entomologist and Dr Nadia Mazza maths professor and Chairperson of Lancaster University Beekeepers. Dr Donkersley is conducting a long term study into pollen, pollinators and the forage available to them... which is where the Bee Team come in!
Over the next 11 months, we will be carrying out a 'mini' research project alongside Lancaster University, to compare our two sites, the available pollen sources throughout the year and the pollinators who use them. The Bee Team will use their beekeeping knowledge to map our findings against the 'beekeeping year' to see how and why our bees collect pollen & use it within the colonies.
The Bee Team will be enlisting the help of Year 5 to help collate valuable weather data for the two sites, which will add an interesting element to the study, to see if one site is further ahead in the year and if temperature differences have an effect on visiting pollinators...
The first visit to Lancaster Eco Hub involved mapping the site and identifying all the major pollen sources at this time of the year (September) The group then spent 10 minutes at each quadrant, counting the visiting pollinators & noting which flowers or shrubs they were using.
It was tricky, as some patches had so many visitors, we could barely keep up counting!
The children were lucky to have a second day of wonderful autumnal weather as the mapped the Heron Hill site and again, started the data collection on the quadrants where they will monitor the visiting pollinators.
Already the children were seeing patterns in the information they were collecting...which also led to more questions!! 'Why aren't we seeing lots of honeybees on these flowers?' Why are there so many Hover flies visiting this particular flower?'
The Bee Team will hopefully learn so much during the course of the study, not least perfecting their plant & pollinator ID skills! But for us as beekeepers, the real interest will come when we compare our findings against the 'beekeeping year calendar' where (hopefully) the children will start to see the synergy between the environment and the bees and pollinators vital to it.
Over recent months, the children have been using the wax we harvested after our shook swarm to make 'bees wax wraps' We hope to make enough wraps, so that every child can use a wrap for sandwiches, hopefully reducing the amount of cling film and plastic we use in school.
Beeswax wraps are great! With the warmth of your hands, they self seal over sandwiches, bowls, cheese, leftovers... almost anything, (not raw meat) They can last up to a year if washed in mild soap cold water and dried... they are naturally anti-bacterial and of course, 100% recyclable...Environmentally friendly!
So, if you are thinking of having a go, here is our recipe & method!
We use an old slow cooker to melt down the wax we harvested after the Shook swarm in April, the slow cooker, (or 'slop cooker' as my rude children call it) holds around a kilo of wax.
After MUCH experimentation with just wax...wax with jojoba oil...then with pine resin added...
The mix needs it all! The pine resin certainly is the key ingredient making the resulting wraps pliable & adding extra antibacterial properties.
ROUGHLY, two tablespoons of jojoba oil and pine resin powder added to the melted wax, stirred with a wooden skewer (we then use to light the smokers!) Stir and wait until all melted.
We then use a paintbrush to QUICKLY paint the wax over the material... using grease proof paper as a background. It hardens really quickly, they are then put in a warm oven, on a baking tray, 100 degrees, only for a minute until 'wet looking'. Once brought out, they are picked up & held until the wax hardens and they can be placed on another piece of grease proof paper to cool.
Beeswax wraps make super presents, so we hope to have lots made in time for Christmas!
Great fun to make yourselves, but make sure you put some paper on your kitchen floor, as the wax seems to 'travel' considerable distances! Enjoy!
The Bee Team in school are dedicated to their bees and lots of the children volunteer in the summer holidays to come to school, not just to look after the bees, but help teach other groups about bees and beekeeping. (It is the only downside of beekeeping in school, that the busiest time of the beekeeping year, coincides with the 6 week summer break!)
This week, children from y4-y6 +our leavers, who will start their new schools in Y7, spent a enjoyable afternoon with the ladies from Allithwaite & Grange WI.
The children went through 'who's who in the hive?' and showed the ladies their observation hive. We were honoured to be joined by our new Mayor of Kendal, Mr Alvin Finch, who also dropped in to learn more and see the children in action.
The children taught them the life cycle dates of the various bees in the hive: vital knowledge for beekeepers so we can understand and plan for when Queens emerge for instance... Other children demonstrated how they would mark our Queens, and the colours we use each year and why. We could have done a weeks course, the ladies were so interested and had so many brilliant questions!
It was a super afternoon, rounded off with tea and cake in and around the bee shed!
Well done to our young people, who once again were perfect ambassadors for beekeeping and Heron Hill!
Some members of the Bee Team were lucky enough to meet Amy Turner, a research graduate who is studying Varroa Destructor mite DNA...with a view to finding more solutions to controlling this terrible parasite of honey bees. Amy is using 5 Varroa mites from 35 apiaries around the UK and we are delighted to be one of them! Normally beekeepers send their samples in the post, but Amy kindly came to us, to teach the children about her work and let them do some hands on sample taking!
The children used forceps to collect the Varroa mites which had fallen through the open mesh floor of the hives, they were difficult to spot amongst all the normal hive debris of wax and dropped pollen!
Amy taught the children all about DNA and what she hopes to find from our 5 varroa mites, Jeremy our local Community Police Officer also popped into the Bee Shed to learn!
Amy will keep us up to date with her study, maybe our Varroa mites contribute to finding the next big step towards eradicating this terrible parasite!
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