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Bee Keeping at Pensford
The bee keeping year started early this year. Taking many beekeepers including us by surprise. The winter had been so mild, that when we opened the hives in the spring it was to find that the queen had been laying for probably weeks and some believe they may never have stopped laying over the winter. Opening the hive for the first time in the spring can be a nerve wracking event. The fear being they have not survived the winter. But this year was a great start. It has been one of swarming in the main for UK beekeepers​. This is the way they naturally increase and our bees were no different in wanting to swarm. We found ourselves almost immediately doing swarm prevention​. This started so early it almost caught us on the hop, almost but not quite.

Later in the year we arrived at the field to find three hives on their sides and the area filled with flying bees.  A large stick on the ground as evidence.  We then heard of some local youths bragging about having been stung!  We bought more straps, so that if it happened again, which it did, the hives would be less likely to slip apart. The second time extra bricks were put on the roofs.    The third time slabs of concrete were added,  by then the summer holidays were at an end and with it the vandalism. Hence the sign on the gate, asking for it to be kept shut. We were fortunate not to lose our queens, but the bees were sufficiently disturbed to be making signs for imminent departure, which we were able to reverse.

So as we head into winter, and at this end of the season it is unusually warm, the queen is laying her winter bees which instead of living six weeks, will go through the whole winter.

They're putting down honey and pollen and as the weather gets cooler they will go out less, and start to cluster together to keep warm. They don't hibernate which is why on a warm sunny late winter day you may see some bees out and about down by the pond where they like to drink.  We meanwhile will be putting our feet up, beekeeping manuals in hand, preparing for the year ahead.

Pensford Bees Make Delicious Honey!
Honeybees are wild creatures and through the ages people have developed ways of keeping them to make harvesting honey easier. Pensford bees live in wooden boxes that are stacked one on top of another to allow for colony expansion. Each box has 11 or 12 frames that hang on rails, resembling a filing cabinet of honeycombs. The large one at the bottom contains the queen and her workers and drones. The smaller ones above are where we like the bees to store their honey so that we can conveniently help ourselves when the time comes.

In winter honeybees do not hibernate but make a warm cluster around the queen and survive by eating honey they make and store in summer and autumn. They will fly from the hive whenever temperatures are high enough to gather any nectar or pollen available from winter flowers. Bees enjoy a wide variety and abundance of flowers in and around Pensford Field that enable them to thrive. Hazel, blackthorn(or sloe), wild plum, willow and field maple all grown close to the hives.

As spring progresses the orchard trees including apple, pear, quince and plum begin to flower, aiding in the rapid build-up of the colony. In early summer hawthorn and rowan scent the air, bramble and alkanet will give a crop of honey.

In July and August honey boxes are filling and hives become visibly taller as more are added to make space for all the incoming nectar. The smell of ripening honey fills the air close by. If the weather holds and the honey is well-ripened in its hexagonal cells and sealed with wax a beekeeper can take some to extract. First the bees must be removed from the honey boxes by using an escape board allowing them to join the main colony below but barring their return. The boxes are taken to a clean kitchen where wax cappings are sliced off with a knife and honey spun out of the frames using a hand-cranked or an electric extractor. Thick, golden honey runs from the wax cells of the frames into the tank of the extractor, then into containers for storage and filtered into a large honey tank where it settles for several days, eventually run into jars and labeled ready for sale.

Only excess honey is taken; the colony must be left enough to last the winter, usually at least 20 kilos. If there is insufficient honey due to bad weather, the colon must be fed a quantity of sugar syrup in September, and topped up with a cake of fondant icing in the New Year.

It takes a year of work by bees and beekeepers to make a jar of Pensford honey. In autumn jars of runny and set honey will be available from Mary Smith, on 020 8878 3230.

If you see a swarm please contact Linda Howell on 07983 765017, or e-mail

The Frames of Honey

Extracting the Honey

The Final Article - a pot of Pensford Honey

Ivy Bees
These Ivy Bees were seen in a sandy bank near the Studio. The Ivy Bee is a species of mining bee that was first recorded in Britain in 2001. As the name suggests, it forages almost exclusively at flowers of Ivy, and flies only from September to mid-November (i.e. during the flowering period of Ivy).

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