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Nature8th April 2021

The Dockyard Apiary – a hive of activity during Community Garden Week

Three bee hives on stands sitting among primroses

Community Garden Week is being celebrated across the UK – what better way to mark it than to catch-up with our volunteer beekeepers and find out how the Dockyard’s very own colony is ‘buzzing’ along.

Aware of the general decline of species of bees in Kent due to pesticides, diseases and habitat loss, the Trust committed to a long-term project to support the local ecosystem and improve biodiversity on the heritage site.

Installed two years ago, and supported by Medway Beekeepers Association, the Dockyard apiary is set in a quiet and secluded spot, complete with a freshwater pond to provide drinking water and a coolant for the hives during hot spells, including plenty of strategically placed stones to allow the bees safe and easy access, without risk of falling in.

Over the cold winter months, the team made sure the bees had sufficient food by using a technique called ‘hefting.’ This involves lifting the hive slightly on one side to feel how heavy it is, if it feels light it means they are running low on food and should be fed. They are fed with an ‘icing sugar fondant’ which they collect from the top of the hive and take it down to their stores.

After a winter of feasting, the Queen, who has now started laying eggs, and her workers must provide pollen for their lavae, which remain safely cocooned in one of our four active hives.

As (and when!) the weather starts to warm up, the bees become active and venture out of their winter cluster to forage for blossom and nectar amongst pollinator-friendly wildflowers, protected by what was once a bike shed for the rope makers.

Just last week, the hives were opened for the first time this year.  Old frames were repaired and Vicky, our volunteer beekeeper, was thrilled to see an abundance of honey and nectar as well as lots of healthy eggs, lava and new bees (broad) at varying stages of development.

An old frame from a beehive at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Several new frames of comb were inserted to provide the bees with plenty of room to make and store honey. A ‘super’ was added on of top the existing frame box which is a box of 10 empty smaller frames of comb providing an area where we can harvest the honey from in a few months’ time. Making sure the bees have sufficient nutrients and space will also prevent them from swarming.

Hive 3 needed to be moved into a new hive. To do this the team moved the old hive, bees and all, onto a stand and replaced it with the new hive. They then took out each frame from the old hive, checked the bees and put the frame into the new hive. Luckily the bees were in a good mood and didn’t mind moving to a new house.

Vicky admits to having a sneaky taste of the honey when she took the old frames out and reports that it was very good – you can’t get much fresher than straight from the hive!

Vicky and her team will continue to check on the colony every week until Autumn, to ensure the Queen is in-residence and laying eggs.  The collected pollen has another important role to play as the bees help to pollinate nearby flowers.

Depending on the harvest, we may be able to sell our Dockyard honey later in the year.

Thanks to both Paul & Tony of Medway Beekeepers Association for their continued help, advice and support in the care of our bees.

Community Garden Week was set up to bring people together using the power of nature to inspire, heal and make people happy.

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