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Buzzing with the bees!

Buzzing with the bees!

As the mad buzz of summer gives way to the gentle hum of autumn, the honey bees returning to the hives look like tiny white ghosts – because they are completely covered in the pollen of the Himalayan Balsam!

The workers land heavily on the landing boards of the hives, ready to offload the pollen to their sisters for storing. 

It’s a yearly ritual I’ve come to anticipate with relish at my 10-beehive apiary near Oldham.

Bee-keeping is a family affair for us: my son Luke is also a bee-keeper – there aren’t too many of us around the Oldham area – who helps not only at our apiary but also with the bees at Oldham College, where he is studying. 

We have been keeping bees for around four years and it has made a huge difference to our lives. In fact it’s fast becoming a full time job since I’m also a part-time bee-keeper for Manchester and Salford cathedrals for Volition, a charity that helps people back into work after long term unemployment. I also look after the bees at Manchester University, and teach students and staff about bee-keeping, as well as looking after the university apiary.

Bees will soon be working the last crop of the year, ivy, then it will be to bed for the winter, until the ice melts and the weather starts to pick up again in the spring. Honey bees will fly as soon as temperature reaches 10 degrees, seeking out their first spring meal of willow, early-flowering plants such as crocus, and weeds – dandelion being one of the first to bloom.


My bees have worked hard this year despite changes in the weather. They were hungry in June due to a lack of nectar, but have made up for it since by storing away record amounts of honey.  

Honey bees need both nectar and pollen throughout the year. The pollen is their protein and the nectar acts as their carbohydrate, and both feed themselves and their brood. 

There are times throughout the year when there is a gap – for example June, when we keep a close eye on their stores and feed them if they are short of food.  

In spring the bees need to find pollen and nectar and bring it back to the hive, which encourages the queen to start laying eggs. The more they bring, the more she lays and the bigger the colony the greater the  chance of its survival and ability to store honey for the winter months. The bees use the nectar they collect for energy to forage and do their work around the hive.

After the devastating diseases suffered by bee populations in recent years, many gardeners are keen to plant bee-friendly seeds, flowers and plants. More power to your elbow!

The benefit is that they help all the native pollinators, not just the honey bees.

by Catherine Charnock


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