To celebrate World Bee Day 2020 we are sharing with you the story behind our unique Pitzhanger Honey, made by volunteers and sold in the Pitzhanger Shop.
Written by Vivienne Cane-Honeysett, Trustee and Chief Beekeeper
Hello everybody from your Pitzhanger Manor Apiary!
I wonder if you know that Boris Johnson gave us our first colony of bees? It’s true!
In 2009, I was Chair of the friends group that covered Walpole and Lammas Parks and everything within them, including the Manor and a gallery. In that role, the Friends, together with Ealing Council, successfully applied to an initiative of Boris’s called Capital Growth and Capital Bee, where he, as London Mayor, offered a package of equipment and training to encourage London-based gardening on wasteland and beekeeping. His office gave us all the necessary things to allow us to start beekeeping, this included a year’s training for one person, one suit, one hive tool, one smoker, one hive and one colony of bees….and we were off!
I did the years training and must have passed the test, as the bees duly came to Walpole Park in 2010, tucked away in the walled garden. Whilst most people love the bees, we did have a bit of trouble with them ending up in the pond! So, we decided to remove the main hives from the public space and install an observation hive instead. This is positioned in the perimeter of the Rickyard by the coffee kiosk and is tremendously popular. However, we have not installed it this year due to COVID 19.
The Pitzhanger bees are now in an apiary directly opposite the park so we know that, from there, the bees will still definitely still forage on the wonderful trees and plants in both Walpole and Lammas Parks and in the trees lining the streets. So your Pitzhanger honey is very local.
We have seven hives in our apiary, but this changes as the season goes on, as some will expand and we may merge others as we go.
We used to have a large group of beekeepers from amongst the Friends Group, who came regularly to watch the beekeeping and to learn about the bees. With Coronavirus, this has had to stop, so my husband, John Sears, and I are doing all the beekeeping ourselves now.
What do you know about beekeeping?
Well, it’s a great deal more work than people imagine as every hive needs to be inspected at least once a week. The inspection is to look for eggs, (to check the Queen is still laying), signs of disease (some are notifiable), signs of swarming (to be prevented if at all possible), to make sure they have enough food and are not overcrowded.
A colony will consist of one queen, many worker bees (all female), and some drones, (all male). The colony can reach up to around 50,000 bees at the height of the summer. The workers do all the work, that is, feed and groom the queen, clean out the cells for reuse once the new bees have hatched, feed the larvae, build new comb, forage for pollen, nectar, propolis and water and cap the honey for storage.
The drones do nothing other than go out looking for girls. It’s not such a great life as a drone though as you either die in the act of mating (they fall to the ground dead immediately after mating) or they are literally murdered and kicked out of the hive by the workers in autumn as the workers don’t want to feed all the blokes over winter if they aren’t going to contribute.
Bees do not hibernate. In autumn, the queen and the workers huddle together in a football shape with the queen in the middle to keep warm. New drones are born at the beginning of each season whilst the queen and a small number of workers live through the winter. Depending upon the temperature, they will leave the hive (to go to the loo) and then start to come out again to forage some time in March or April.
Many people assume that the queen is in charge, but she isn’t. She is a respected figurehead but it’s the workers who make the decisions and she does as she is told. The workers will kill her if she isn’t doing a good job…(history shows that this can also happen to our own recalcitrant monarchs). Her job is to lay eggs as she is the only female who mates; the worker bees do not. It’s the workers who decide to replace her and/or to swarm.
A new queen will go on one mating flight (it’s from the bees that the term maiden flight comes). She will go to where a lot of drones are hanging about (nobody knows how she knows where they are) and she will mate with up to 15 different drones. (She says it’s to get a wide variety of sperm but I think that’s just an excuse).
So, each colony has one queen and she is basically an egg-laying machine. She can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day at the height of the summer.
There is a great deal more to tell you about our wonderfully fascinating honeybees and I expect that you have questions buzzing around inside your head (pun intended). Let us know if you want to hear more!
All the honey that comes from the apiary is donated to the manor to help with the tremendously expensive upkeep of this important Ealing venue. All the beekeepers are volunteers.
Pitzhanger Honey is now available from our online shop.