Bees of a different kind - our solitary bees
Our Buglife bug hotel is currently being used by Red Mason Bees (Osmia rufa). The females create cells within the tubes using mud and will fill them with pollen before laying an egg in each one. The egg will hatch into a larva and then pupate before finally making its way out as an adult bee.
You can see the trail of pollen left by the bee as she goes in and out of the hole. This is because, unlike honey bees, these mason bees carry pollen on their hairy bodies rather than in pollen baskets on their legs.
Red Mason Bee using our bug hotel
Play Wales/Chwarae Cymru
Play Wales is the international charity for children's play. Have a look at these great ideas on their website for for playing outdoors in all weathers, playing actively indoors and games for playing together https://www.playwales.org.uk/eng/playideasforparents
Don't let the rain stop play!
Make a rain gauge
Why not make your own rain gauge using a 2l plastic bottle and measure how much rain is falling each day? Using scissors carefully cut the neck off the bottle about 1/3 of the way down. You may need a grown up to help you with this. Turn it upside down and slot it into the base of the bottle - this will act as a funnel. Put a small amount of water in the bottom of the bottle to create a flat surface and mark the level on the outside of the bottle using a permanent marker. This water will remain in the bottle and won't be measured. From the first line use a ruler to mark centimetres up the side of your bottle. Place the bottle outside in an open area. You can put it in a heavy plant pot or wedge it with stones to stop it falling over. Each day at the same time record how much rain has fallen. You can make a chart of your results. Once you've measured, tip out the water remembering to leave some in the bottom up to the level line.
Make a marble run
If you're having to stay indoors because of the rain why not have a go at making a marble run out of junk and other household objects. Have a look at the Eden Project's website (link below) for some ideas.
Go on a snail hunt
Slugs and snails love wet weather so why not put on your waterproofs and go and see what you can find outside. You can use the spotter sheet to help you identify the different species that may be in your garden.
Outdoor Learning Resources
If you would be interested in a wide range of outdoor learning activities why not have a look at the Learning Through Landscapes website under their Resources tab. There are lots of lovely things you can do at home with your children or that they can do independently including maths activities, gardening, natural art.
Have a look also at the Eden Project website for some more ideas https://www.edenproject.com/learn
Competition- How would you redesign your outdoor space for wildlife?
Beekeeping news - Sunday 31st May
No opening of the hive today. As we think there is a new queen it is advisable to leave the hive unopened for a couple of weeks whilst the queen may be out on her mating flight. Sometimes the disturbance can cause her to get lost. The bees will be happy getting on with honey production without any interruptions and it is an opportunity to get on with other jobs such as making a solar wax melter.
The weather has been so lovely and hot that it makes sense to use some of the sun's energy to melt our old wax comb. This old filing cabinet drawer makes a good wax extractor as the metal will heat up quickly. A couple of trays - the top one has a slot cut in the front to allow the wax to run through, being filtered on the way by an old pair of tights, into the collecting tray below. The whole drawer was lined with black polythene to help absorb the sun's rays and finished with a lid of greenhouse glass to make sure it all gets nicely hot inside. Will it work? You'll have to wait until next week to find out!
News from the bees - Sunday 24th May
Having not been able to find the queen last weekend it looked like something may have happened to her. Sure enough, on this visit, there were no eggs or larvae, only sealed brood. It was clear that the queen was missing. It had looked like the bees were already making plans to swarm. However, all but one of the queen cups and queen cells present last Monday had been torn down. There was only one queen cell left to hatch out into a new queen for the colony.
Luckily the cell looks to be well formed and in good condition so the only thing to do now is wait. The dates suggest that the cell is due to hatch today or tomorrow. When she emerges the new queen leaves the hive to mate with several drones before returning to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life.
Beekeeping Update - Sunday 17th May
The bees are definitely considering swarming or at least replacing the Queen. On this inspection there were several queen cups which contained a larva in a pool of Royal Jelly and two recently sealed queen cells on the face of the comb.
Miss Davies conducted a thorough examination of both brood boxes several times but could not find the Queen or any eggs. Eggs hatch into larvae after 3 days so this is an indicator that something may have happened to the Queen as she does not seem to have been present for a few days.
One of the ways to avoid a swarm before the bees start to make preparations is to split the colony so that it thinks it has moved house when all that has really happened is that the Queen and the flying bees have been separated. Miss Davies has prepared the new hive ready for the split but if the Queen cannot be found this will not be possible.
Monday 18th May
Back again with reinforcements! Today Miss Davies AND Mr Gunning had another look through the hive in an attempt to find the Queen. No luck this time either. Both brood boxes were again examined thoroughly but with no sign of her. It is possible that the Queen Cells the bees have constructed are 'supercedure' or 'emergency' cells - this is where the bees replace a failing Queen or one that has died. If that is the case a new Queen will be reared from several cells - the first to hatch will kill the others with a sting through the cell wall. The new Queen will then leave the hive on her mating flight before returning for a lifetime of egg-laying. In the unlikely event that the colony will swarm in the next couple of weeks, the new empty hive next door may attract them as a potentially suitable new home.
The second honey super is almost full of honey and both supers will be removed soon so that the honey can be extracted. The bees will continue to be productive over the summer and should be able to fill more supers over the coming months.
News from the hive, Sunday 10th May
Yesterday was not good beekeeping weather - colder and very windy. The videos below show the difference a day can make - the first one was taken on Saturday afternoon at about 3.30 pm and the second one on Sunday at a similar time.
Quiet hive on Sunday
Beekeeping news 2nd May
The bees are continuing to store nectar in the second super. Hive inspections need to take place every week whilst the risk of swarming is likely. This involves examining every frame in the brood boxes for queen cells with eggs. A sighting of the Queen is not guaranteed but this weekend Miss Davies was treated to two sightings as the Queen moved from one box to the other during the inspection.
Have a look at the video below and you should be able to see the Queen in the top right hand corner of the frame.
Can you see the Queen?
News from the beehive, Sunday 26th April
Our bees have been enjoying the hot, sunny weather and have started to store nectar in the second honey super which Miss Davies added last weekend. They will turn this into honey before capping it with wax. This year there is some non-wired foundation in the super which will mean we can enjoy some cut comb honey later in the year.
Remember the drone comb from last week? Have a look at the photo below to see the difference between the worker brood and the drone brood cappings. If you look closely you might even see one or two larger drones next to the workers.
There are some more interesting pollen colours appearing in the hive. The bright red pollen in the photo below may be from the Horse Chestnut (conker) trees which are in flower at the moment.
Are the bees likely to swarm? As every beekeeper knows, no matter what you do to deter them bees always have the potential to swarm. It's their way of reproducing (they leave behind a colony with a new queen and continue in a new location with the old queen). By constantly moving they also help to keep themselves free of pests and diseases which can build up in a hive over time if untreated.
The first sign of swarming is the presence of queen cups. The bees sometimes make these and tear them down again but if there is an egg in one or more of them they are likely to be developed into queen cells and the beekeeper must act to prevent a swarm. Whilst swarms look alarming they do not usually present a threat to people but they are a real loss to the beekeeper because many of the workers leave the hive with the queen which will affect honey production. Sometimes, further swarms can leave the hive in quick succession leaving very few bees behind.
The queen cup at the top of this frame was empty, as were several others in the hive, but will need to be checked next weekend at the latest.
Latest from the beehive, Sunday 19th April
Sunday was another warm, sunny day, perfect for inspecting the hive to check that all is well and that the bees are not preparing to swarm.
The workers are continuing to bring in lots of pollen which they deposit into the cells on their return to the hive. Other bees then pack it tightly down so that more can be added until the cell is full. Each of the colours represents a different flower source.
Drones are the male bees. There are much fewer of them in the hive than the workers who are female - about 1000 compared with about 60,000 workers in the height of the season. Their sole job is to mate with new queens so that they can lay fertilised eggs which will hatch into workers who perform all the important tasks in the hive. If necessary, the workers can create a queen from a worker larva by feeding it royal jelly.
When Miss Davies inspected the hive 2 weeks ago one of the important jobs was to add the queen excluder above the brood box to stop the queen laying in the honey super. Some drone brood had already been laid at the bottom edge of the honey super and this must have been almost ready to hatch as this week there were drones trapped above the queen excluder. They are much bigger than the workers and cannot fit through the bars. Although some had sadly died the others were shaken into the main body of the hive before it was put back together.
This is drone brood. The cappings are much more domed than worker brood because the developing bees are larger. At this time of year it is usual to find drone brood in the hive. Sometimes it can be a sign that the queen is only laying unfertilised eggs which if left will lead to the collapse of the colony. At this point the bees may intervene and create queen cells with a view to replacing the failing queen. This process is called supercedure.
First inspection of the year
Miss Davies carried out the first inspection of the year yesterday as the weather was nice and warm. Sadly, not all of our colonies survived the winter but Hive 2 remains strong and the bees were bringing in lots of yellow pollen and beginning to build up stores of honey.
Our busy bees bringing in pollen and nectar
Our chickens enjoying some willow leaves
Went to see our chickens and they had laid 6 lovely eggs