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Our new residents at Fulham Palace

By Sarah Nicholl-Carne, volunteer beekeeper

Today we welcomed a new colony of bees into the Palace apiary. During the winter we lost one of our colonies; it had too few bees to keep themselves warm during the coldest part of January, and they died.

Our existing hive is doing exceptionally well, but it is good to have more than one.

On Sunday morning, the bees arrived by car (no, they weren’t driving themselves) and were ushered down to the walled garden. We beekeepers were ready with a new hive for them, and they were carefully transferred from their travelling box into their permanent home.

A beekeeper applies a blue dot of paint to the queen bee's back to mark her

The most important job was to find the new queen and mark her to make finding her in future a much easier business. Because she was hatched this year, we marked her with a blue spot on the back of her abdomen. Blue indicates 2020.

Queens have a maximum life expectancy of 4 years, and it is very helpful for beekeepers to know the age of the queen. (After about two and a half years, she will become much less productive, and we would generally replace her then.)

There is a standard system for marking queen bees, which works over a 5 year period, with a different colour for each year.

Year 1 : White
Year 2 : Yellow
Year 3 : Red
Year 4 : Green
Year 5: Blue

The mnemonic to remember the sequence: Will You Raise Good Bees?

A green container full of bees which reads LIVE BEES KEEP VENTILATED HANDLE WITH CARE

Successfully marked, she was put back with her travelling companions in their new hive and left with a feeder full of a thick sugar solution (ordinary granulated sugar and water) to help the worker bees build up the new frames, ready for the queen to lay eggs.

The beekeepers have been allowed into the Palace grounds once a week during lockdown, as the bees count as livestock and have to be looked after.

Will there be lots of Fulham Palace’s wonderful honey this year? We will harvest it in August, as usual, and until then, we just don’t know. As with everything else at the moment, we will have to wait and see.