Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.


It's 7 degrees Celcius (45 F) outside, and even though we've had some sunshine there haven't been many bees flying from the hives today. It's too cold and anyway there's very little forage available at this time of year. So all is quiet. I went out on to the gin terrace and put a stethoscope to the wall of the Disc Hive. I listened. At once I became aware of how noisy it actually is round here - a light aircraft was passing overhead, traffic was rumbling, and then for good measure a train went past. The bees were probably huddled inside trying to get some peace.

I couldn't hear anything that sounded like inner hive noise. I tried knocking on the hive wall to see if that would ruffle the bees into making a sound. But at that point another train went past. And the aircraft was still puttering on. Things were the same when I tried the Cedar Hive.

So I went out into the garden. I put the stethoscope against the front of the Copper Hive brood box, and knocked. There was an answer! A susurrus rose and fell. I went to the Pond Hive and tried the same - another answering susurrus!

Feeling encouraged, and having got my ear in, I returned to the Disc Hive and Cedar Hive and retried. Yes - both answered.

It's a quiet sound, a bit like a gust of wind stirring the twigs at the top of a tree. I guess it's a rustle of wings as the bees react to the disturbance. I will leave them in peace now. I am waiting for the first day when it is warm enough to open the hives, when I will revert the hives to their "summer configuration" (that is, a super above the brood box rather than vice versa) and at the same time I will insulate the rooves. They have insulation in spring, rather than in winter, because it is in spring that we get the big temperature fluctuations - warm days and frosty nights - and the bees must keep warm enough during the night to cover their growing brood. If they have to huddle back into their winter clusters, the brood will become chilled and die. On the other hand clustering in winter is their way of conserving energy and they need less honey to get through the cold months that way, so I don't insulate the hives for the onset of winter.

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