Sandgate Bees


Sandgate Beekeepers have two hives on Saga garden, part of the Sandgate Community Garden projects.

The Perfect Pollinators:

Pollination is crucial because many of our vegetables, fruits and the crops that feed our livestock rely on it to be fertilised, so without it, we could go hungry. … Bees are important pollinators.

Did you know that it’s not only bees that are vital for pollination but also wasps, butterflies, moths, mosquitoes and hoverflies? We joined KCC’s virtual Bee Sumit and found out what we can do to help reverse the rapid decline of pollinators. It’s so easy to make a difference at home too by planting a window box or leaving areas of lawn un-mown (quite challenging for some of us!). Another piece of news is that we are officially on the map – Saga’s new signs around Enbrook Park show where the community garden is. Why don’t you pop over for a look?

To find out more about what is happening on the Sandgate Community Garden you can contact us via email, phone or text 07840138308

Instagram – sandgatecommunitygarden or Facebook

Sandgate Bees - June Update

Chris, one of our resident bee keepers has written this update below.

‘Ray and I thought we would give you an update on the bee hives at the community garden. We are both trained beekeepers, Ray has more knowledge and experience than me but we both discuss and agree a strategy and then carry it out together.

We have had issues this year with both colonies. One hive contains black stripy bees that Ray rescued from an overturned abandoned hive last year and the other hive contains a colony of orange stripy bees. Both colonies overwintered relatively well, it is normal that numbers are low in early spring but once the weather warms up, the queen starts laying in earnest and the colony quickly builds up in quantity. The issue with both hives has been that the queens have not been laying this year in significant quantities so the size of each colony is shrinking, as the older bees die off they are not being replaced.  We don’t know the age of the black queen (from the previously abandoned hive) and it may just be that she is coming towards the end of her life.  We do however; know the age of the orange queen because she was purchased last year as a mated pedigree young queen.

Having spoken to other beekeepers, the only conclusion we can come to is that she was not properly mated and has run out of fertilized eggs from which the worker bees are produced.  In very simple terms, the virgin queen will fly off to mate with a number of male (drone) bees and then return to the hive to spend the rest of her life laying eggs which in turn become honey bees. The queen’s mating flight is fraught with danger, she may be eaten by a passing bird, she may get lost or injured and be unable to return to the hive or the weather might be inclement meaning she returns to the hive without sufficient sperm to fertilise all her eggs – we think this is the likeliest scenario.

We also have to bear in mind that we have had one of the coldest and wettest springs on record, night after night of frost and then lots and lots of rain. Many colonies do not make it through the winter but this year, many survived the winter only to succumb to the unfavourable spring conditions.

Beekeeping is full of jeopardy but all is not lost…

Ray has managed to capture a large swarm of honey bees and these have been placed in a small hive called a nucleus in the community garden. The plan is to combine the swarm with one of the main hives and begin the process of increasing the size of the colony using the queen from the swarm.  So, there is an outside chance, I repeat outside chance that the community garden may get a small amount of honey after all later in the year.  Beekeeping is never easy. Watch this space for further updates…’

Sandgate Bees - a Christmas Update

Christmas Greetings from Ray and Chris, your friendly beekeepers. 

You may be thinking that this is the time of the year when we are sitting by the fire in our Christmas onesies with a box of chocolates and a glass of fine wine… Well that may be the case but we want to assure you that we are still working hard to ensure our bee colonies remain safe and healthy during the cold, damp winter months.  We now have an opportunity to scour bee books, magazines and catalogues to research ways to improve our techniques and equipment ready for the spring. 

The worker bees (all female) will now have foraged the last of the pollen, mainly Ivy, Rosebay Willowherb and Himalayan Balsam and this has been packed away in the hive to provide a source of protein.   All the male bees (drones) have been expelled from the hive to die, this is because the drones serve no purpose during the winter and are voracious eaters of the precious stores.

The queen has stopped laying eggs and her last brood will live for six months (rather than the usual six weeks) and take the colony through the winter.  In order to do this they have to be well-nourished and free from disease.  The colony should have garnered about 20 kilograms of honey during the late summer for the bees to live on.  All our colonies have been checked and supplemented with a sugar syrup to make doubly sure they have plenty of food.

It may surprise many of you to learn that honey bees do not go into hibernation but remain very busy within the hive.  They will have clustered into a ball around the queen, their duty being to keep her fed, warm and healthy.  Warmth is generated by the presence of the bees themselves but it can be increased by the bees shivering to produce heat.  The bees will each move around from the centre to the outside of the cluster and back again to keep each other warm and to regulate the temperature within the cluster so that the queen is neither too hot nor too cold.

Although it may seem strange, colonies of bees survive better and use less food if the winter temperature stays very cold, between +5 and -18 degrees Celsius.  At higher temperatures the cluster of bees breaks up and their increased activity means the consumption of more stores so the bees need to work harder outside the cluster to keep their temperature above +7 degrees Celsius.  Sometimes the bees will not have enough honey stores or perhaps during an unsettled winter they will become too cold and weak to access their nearby supplies and the colony will unfortunately perish.

It is very important at this time of year not to open the hive unnecessarily so a procedure known as ‘hefting’ is used to estimate the amount of stores inside.  Many beekeepers on Christmas Day quickly open the hive to add extra food, regardless of the hefting process, so that our bees share in our festival of goodwill and also enhance their chances of survival.  The food of choice is called fondant and Ray and I have made our own, not because we are tight fisted but because we can be assured of the purity and integrity of the ingredients.  The resulting fondant is pushed into an open container and placed either directly onto the frames or above the crown board.  The fondant is firmer than honey and is simpler and quicker for them to digest.

Ray and I are still visiting the hives on a more than weekly basis to identify any issues.  This involves checking for damage caused by wild animals (woodpeckers in particular) or damage caused by the weather.  We are also checking for any signs of activity, disease or distress.  On a warm winter’s day, we would expect to see some of the bees flying outside but near to the hive.  They will be busy removing any dead or diseased bees, collecting water or doing what is politely called a ‘cleansing flight.’

Wishing all the Sandgate Community Gardeners a Happy Christmas and a Healthy and Safe New Year.  With love from Ray and Chris xxx