Wakelyns hopes to support the wild honey bee that lives on the farm by offering homes for her swarms. Several healthy, free-living colonies thrive at Wakelyns. With Gill Horrocks’ help, one housed itself in a Layens box, but for the future we are developing other housing to replace tree cavities when they are no longer able to support the bees.
We began by developing a Wakelyns box. This is 30-40 litres in capacity, and heavily insulated with sheep’s wool and recycled material from the renovations on site. The cavity offers the same sort of protection as the inside of a tree trunk, and is based on the design of the People’s Hive by the French village priest, Warré. It’s easy to construct with available bits of wood, and costs in labour rather than resources. The Wakelyns hive has top bars because we hope to take just a little honey for the bakery, in keeping with the farm’s sustainable, low food miles model. But it can also simply be left as a bee hollow for species conservation.
In 2024 we hope also to introduce traditional bee homes made from the farm’s long-stemmed straw and from its willow crop: the iconic bee skep that’s seen in the vignette on Bank of England notes at Britannia’s side.
Join us in skep making!
Chris Parks, master skeppist, will come to Wakelyns and teach us how to make straw skeps, and all about skep beekeeping, on March 15th 2024. Here he is appraising a willow skep he guided me to make. He was very nice about it being a bit crooked.
Bee kind at Wakelyns
For some years now, we have known that bee-kind is in trouble. The honey bee is suffering from various diseases introduced by modern agriculture and modern beekeeping practices, and some of these diseases are passed on to the many species of wild bees. Over 40% of our food is produced with the help of the honey bee; another 30% is pollinated by other kinds of bee, fly, and wasp. So the crisis is serious enough for serious re-thinking.
Wakelyns, is trying to be ahead of the game, just by providing a healthy eco-oasis. Always a haven for solitary bees and wasps, it turns out that it also supports a hidden population of honey bees living wild, too, in old bird nests inside thick tree hollows. This is very special, because it means they have out-evolved the worst parasite of the current age, varroa, and they have done it all by themselves. And, because the balance of the proportion of honey bees to other pollinators is delicate, we are keen to keep the balance stable at Wakelyns, so as to support the health of all the invertebrates here.
Get in touch: BeMoreBee@proton.me
Bees work with the seasons and are guided by the length of the day as well as outside temperature.
Now we have passed the Autumn equinox, the bees are ready for the winter: they have built up their stores of winter food (honey), but they have also been growing their winter bees. In summer, a bee might live only a few weeks, but in winter the bees age very slowly, and might live up to six months. These are the bees that will see the colony through the cold and dark winter without forage. They protect the queen, and raise small amounts of brood, so that before the vernal equinox, they have a growing, busy family, strong and ready to reproduce by swarming.
Well-sealed hives with good insulation – like tree trunks – require much less energy from the bees to keep their nest at a comfortable temperature. This means they have more energy to spend on health – and they eat less of their winter stores. The bees nest is an elliptical spheroid and in our latitude the bees travel upward through the winter, using their honey stores, and recycling water, as the whole colony rises together. The queen may stop laying for a while around the winter solstice.
If we have a tough winter, our local bee species is well-equipped to deal with it, being prepared to fly in quite low temperatures, needing less food and with a digestion better able to cope with confinement. Bees will venture out unless the weather is really poor – they don’t like to defecate in their nest. We wish them well through the dark months and hope to see them again in Spring.