Copper Bee Apiary

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

Spring Opening of the Pond Hive and the Copper Hive

When it's warm enough to be outside in a T-shirt, it's warm enough to open a beehive. Apart from briefly removing the hive rooves to rearrange boxes a couple of weeks ago, I have left the bees to their own devices for about the past 5 months. Today I had a first proper look at the frames in the brood boxes of the Pond Hive and the Copper Hive.

I already knew that the colonies were thriving, because on warm sunny afternoons there is a black mass of bees at the hive entrances, with foragers coming and going and house bees taking the air. However, the wider beekeeping world at this time of year (and for the past few months) is filled with warnings about colonies starving to death, imperatives to provide fondant or sugar-syrup to feed the bees, and beekeepers exchanging tips on where to buy cheap fondant or sugar. Now that I am cautiously optimistic that all 4 of my colonies have made it through the winter, I feel safe enough to admit that I ignore this advice, and even rather disdain it. I opt for a simpler solution: when harvesting honey from a hive, don't take the whole lot. Only take the excess. I am happier that my bees live in winter on the honey they stored the previous summer, as honey bees are supposed to do. In what I like to think of as the "artisan" end of beekeeping, I believe there is room for this approach.

So, to the Pond Hive. This colony is headed by Queen Felicity, who was a swarm queen last year. They did not make masses of honey in their first season and I did not take any honey from them. In opening the hive today, I was anxious to check that they still had some left. Fortunately, they do! And the brood nest is building up ok. It wasn't quite T-shirt weather in the shade of the willow tree where the Pond Hive stands, and let's not pretend that the bees really benefitted from my interruption of their working day, but the beekeeper is content.

Then on to the Copper Hive. This colony is stronger and further advanced. They too have stores of honey. They already have drones, as well as wave upon wave of new workers. I saw Queen Dawn. She is a ginger-striped tiger of a queen! I am delighted.

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