Tuesday afternoon inspections

During the Summer season, Tuesday afternoons, weather permitting, the Hughenden beekeepers can be found at work.  We look at the bees to check all is well.

We have had a busy few weeks as we adjust to the various issues. For example, we combined two hives neither of which was doing very well.  If you looked at this combined hive you might have wondered why we had given them a newspaper to read. When small colonies are combined, we need to make sure there is only one queen. We also need to guard against bees in one colony rejecting the other colony to the extent the queen could be killed. If we separate the two with a sheet of newspaper, there is every chance that the various indicators that show a bee is from a different colony will have merged to such an extent that the bees from the two colonies can live in harmony by the time shey have eaten through the sheet of newsprint.

A young visitor at our Tuesday afternoon inspection.

A young visitor at our Tuesday afternoon inspection.

We have also replaced a couple of queen bees, to improve our stock.  When buying queens, they are purchased with a small entourage of worker bees. In a similar way, if we just emptied them into a colony, they would be identified as ‘foreign’ and risk being killed.  If they arrive by post, they will be in a tiny ventilated cage with a small plug of sugar paste at one end.  If this can be suspended inside the cage, there is a chance that by the time the bees have eaten the plug of sugar, they forget they wanted to kill the alien queen.

Amongst this we have also taken part in a research project which involves putting on pollen traps and reporting the pattern of pollen from 3 of our hives as well as our ongoing task of speaking to those visitors who stop and ask us what we are up to.  Today we spoke to several people, including a young visitor intrigued with the electronic monitoring equipment inside the hives.  He had just built his own computer, having costed everything on a spreadsheet and tested each step of the build.

To read more about our pollen project

Or about our hive monitoring equipment

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It warms the heart…


We love going into schools and sharing our enthusiasm about bees. We have even had schools come for a Bee Day at Hughenden Manor and we are frequently pleased at our young visitors enthusiasm.  It is usually Keith who visits schools. In my mind he looks the part and he enchants his audiences.

Last week he shared with me some of his thank you letters.

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Illustrated thank you letters

One pair of thank you letters

One pair of thank you letters

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The truth about hexagonal cells of the honeycomb

There is an excellent site called HoneyBee Suite that puts so many things so well see http://honeybeesuite.com/how-honey-bees-make-hexagons/

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Candles and more at Hughenden’s Christmas Market

The Christmas Market at Hughenden Manor takes place the first weekend of December 2015 and is the first time the market has been expanded and open to crafts people from outside the National Trust.

The beekeepers have decided to have a stall with produce from bees in an effort to fund further expansion of the project.

We will be selling honey, candles and some notelets featuring scenes from our beekeeping.  We have some great pictures some of which are on display on the walls of the stableyard cafe.

My role has been to increase our stock of candles. Over the years the project has added to its store of moulds and I have also added to mine.  It can be a long process even once the wax has been purified.

I use a double saucepan to heat the wax but with the buffer of the hot water in the lower container. Due to the risk of fire, you have to watch the pan. It probably takes about 15 minutes to melt a large 500g lump.

During this time I insert the wick into the moulds. I use the TS moulds from Thornes which are excellent quality and can be used over and over again. I use a metal spindle or a wicking needle to push the wick into the holes in the base.  I have found that making a loop at the end and pressing the wick so it is double just at then end that goes into the hole in the base, it blocks the hole well enough that no wax dribbles through. I use some upholsterer’s needles to support the wick upright. I then try and check that the place where the mould is split to make it easier to remove the candle when it has solidified has fallen back into place so the design doesn’t have a discontinuity.  I use elastic bands to help keep the mould together.  The bands will need replacing as hot wax will spill on them at times.

Once the wax is melted, it is ready to be poured into the moulds. At one stage I decanted it into a container with a lip which helps when you are pouring into small apertures but you end up coating another container with wax and possibly wasting it so it is better if you have a steady hand and can pour directly from the pan.

The candle wax will gradually cool and solidify and change from translucent dark yellow to a solid paler yellow.

Don’t be tempted to try and remove the candles too soon.  You’ll probably end up damaging the shape or putting indents from your nails or even just losing some of the small details.



If you want to sell the candles, do look at the volume of wax each candle uses. A candle that looks twice as large as another can take four times the volume of wax. If you do spill wax, then once it has solidified you can collect the blobs and melt them later. If one of the candles doesn’t work out – perhaps because you tried to remove it from the mould too quickly, then you can at least melt the wax down and re-use it.



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Extracting wax

Beekeepers are good at recycling. Perhaps it is because we see the bees putting so much energy into creating beautiful wax we know we can’t waste it.

Some beekeepers save wild comb and cappings and exchange it for new beeswax foundation.

It is possible to extract and clean the wax and some beekeepers will then enter it in bee related competitions.

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Wild comb

We make candles, but it is a long process from the wild comb to the candle.

First all the bits of wax need to be boiled up with vinegar and water. It is unlikely you will want to use any of the pots or strainers for food production ever again so bear this in mind. Then it can be strained through a cloth and allowed to solidify. Some of the debris will settle at the bottom of the lump of wax and can be scraped away. You may want to repeat this process several times.  I usually bend a metal coathanger into a rough circular shape and stretch some old clean tights over to use at least in the initial stages.  The finished wax will take on the shape of the pan used.  It can be extremely messy and of course energy is used each time the wax is heated.

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Stages in refining the wax

The colour of the wax varies depending on the age of the comb used and all sorts of other factors.

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These lumps of cleaned wax weigh about half a kilo


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Nice little explanation video

We have been quite impressed by our Arnia equipment though we feel we are still on a learning curve.  It gives us valuable data and we need to learn then refine our interpretation of the data – we are probably still just using it simplistically.  This BBC video gives a good overview. BBC video, Arnia bee hive monitor

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Hughenden beekeepers join the C.S.I. Pollen Project by Janet Pascoe

Janet is sending the photos soon, but I thought I’d publish and add them later as it is so long since we posted.

Next time you see bees on flowers, look closely to try and spot the pollen basket contents on each of the bees’ hind legs: usually you’ll see a yellow blob, a mixture of dry pollen and nectar and/or honey.

Pollen is an important protein source for bee larvae (grubs): 120–145 mg is needed to rear a single worker from larva to adult and there can be up to 50 000 workers in a hive in summer. Pollen composition varies between different plants: 16–30% protein, 1–10% fat, 1–7% starch though little sugar, and many vitamins. It seems that pollen from many different plants may be needed to rear healthy bees.

Although an international study found associations between heavy colony losses and regions where bees have access to intensively grown flowering crops such as oilseed rape, it’s yet not known whether these losses are the result of pesticide use, or lack of different pollen types and thus poor colony nutrition.

We know little about pollen diversity in Britain and Ireland, so last year (2014) citizen scientists joined those from Europe and elsewhere to gather more information. Now, in 2015, thanks to the gift of three pollen traps from the C.B. Dennis British Beekeepers’ Research Trust, Hughenden beekeepers are taking part in this study.

When the trap is set, bees must pass through a vertical mesh screen to get into the hive – you can see the end of it on the right hand side – and the pollen is knocked off their legs into the basket below. After 24 hours we open the trap, collect the sample and count the number of different colours.

Probably every colour comes from a different plant (for example, black pollen is likely to have come from poppies), though this will have to be confirmed by examining the grains under a microscope. You can see that each colony has worked different plant combinations.

We’ve sent our data to the University of Graz in Austria where, together with everyone else’s results, it’ll be subjected to statistical analysis. With such a large amount of evidence we are confident that the information gained will help us improve survival chances both for bees and other pollinators. Disraeli’s assertion that ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics’ definitely won’t apply to these results!

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