Stormont estate Apiary Blog
July 2019

In March this year an exciting new bee project launched at the NI Assembly.  Infinity Farm CIC - have initiated an apiary consisting of four honey bees hives.  The beekeepers have made weekly visits to the site to look after the colonies each consisting of a queen and upwards of 40,000 honey bees! The Stormont Estates team have also completed their beginners beekeeping course and have enjoyed some practical hands on beekeeping experience at the apiary.

NI Assembly staff inspecting a hive with the Beekeeper

NI Assembly staff inspecting a hive with the Beekeeper

The Stormont estate is an excellent foraging area for the bees who generally travel within a three mile radius of their home to forage.  Early in the season dandelions are an important source of food, if you are reading this and have an immaculate front lawn consider allowing the dandelions to flourish next year in a bid to help your local bee population.  

The weather has not been on our side so far this year, the frequent rain storms and drop in temperature in early spring have meant that we have needed to feed the bees more often than we would have liked. The bees are fed a syrup solution of sugar and water 

designed to keep them going during hard times, but nowhere near as good for them as the nutritious nectar found in flowers. Honey bees need the temperature to be above 11 degrees celsius to leave the hive and are not capable of flying in the rain.  

Weather conditions like this can also affect the growth of the hive - the queen bee will often desist from laying eggs if the weather is poor meaning that the colony fails to expand and thrive. Unfortunately this problem has affected three out of the four hives at Stormont, however, there is still plenty of time for things to turn around and for these colonies to improve. 

One issue we have had in one hive is that the worker bees have been laying eggs. This has happen because the queen was killed, she may have died when out on her mating flight or she could have hatched out and then due to the bad weather didn’t get a chance to get mated and then became barren, the worker bees have then stepped in and started to lay their own eggs. The problem with laying workers is that worker bees can only lay unfertilised eggs which grow up to be drones or male bees. This is problematic because the only job of a drone is to mate with another queen from another hive. Drones can not take care of the essential jobs within the hive like foraging and producing wax, over time the population of drones will overtake that of the worker bees and there will be no bees left to do any work in the hive. This colony has now been replaced with a healthy new colony.

Thankfully the apiary has remained disease free and despite the weather conditions one hive is thriving with two supers of honey already produced. A super is a box containing ten frames of honey - worker bees deposit nectar in the hexagonal cells within the frames, a young bee will then excrete wax that is used to seal each cell. This process preserves the honey, the bees will tap into their honey reserves over the winter months when there is little available for them to forage on.