Hartpury College is getting ‘buzzy’ with its bees to get students and the local community more involved in its honey-filled hive of activity.
In a bid to make its bees a sustainable resource, from providing learning opportunities for students to selling colonies and honey to local enthusiasts, Hartpury has been working hard to transform its bee population.
By gradually switching out queens from a more aggressive species and replacing them with much friendlier British female monarchs, Hartpury now has colonies of good tempered bees that students can work with more safely and that can be developed as a community beekeeping resource.
Hartpury and its surrounding villages already benefit from the activity of the college’s bees, which total over a million, as they pollinate crops, flowers and fruit in local orchards.
Hartpury’s beekeeper, Carl Maass, said: “We’ve been building up the number of colonies we have in recent years and currently have between 40 and 50 hives of between 10,000 and 70,000 bees each.
“While around 35 are on campus in a purpose-built apiary at the far end of our orchards, the rest, others are situated in locations outside of a three-mile radius where people have requested a hive to help with pollinating their plants or crops.
“It’s a win-win situation. We maintain the off-site hives as well as our own and it gives our bees access to a wider area to provide their food supply. It also helps ensure that local farmers and growers have a good crop each year, especially of oilseed rape and fruits.”
Hartpury is now stepping up sales of its colonies at auctions and through beekeeping associations throughout Gloucestershire, while its high quality queens are also for sale. There are two different grades on offer – marked British-bred buckfast queens and British queens that have been bred with local bees – all with excellent disease resistance and temperament. While the queens can live for many years, it is important to change them every couple of years to ensure high levels of fertility.
The college is also now exploring possibilities for the bees to become a valuable learning resource for students. The beekeeper has already started to deliver lectures to university students on animal and land programmes and one degree student is currently gaining beekeeping experience with Carl. These activities will expand and grow in future.
Mark Harwood-Browne, who heads up horticulture and Access to Higher Education programmes at Hartpury, said: “It used to be that it wasn’t possible to go close to the bees without wearing a suit, but now they are so docile that you can pull out the frames with the bees on. There’s also an observation hive with glass panels on both sides so that you can clearly see the inner workings of the hive.
“Many of our hives are polystyrene with a clear Perspex roof that the students can look through without the bees having to be exposed to the outside temperature, and they have a turning door, which helps with transporting them to lectures if we need to. These hives are also better insulated, more hygienic and easier to clean than wooden hives, which helps us maintain the health of our bee population.
“There’s so much our students can learn about insect behaviour and welfare from observing and working with this fascinating species and we’re looking forward to taking more groups to the apiary under close supervision.
“We show them how to differentiate the queens from the workers – they are slightly narrower and longer and are painted with a small mark – but also about reproduction, the roles and the interactions within the hive and the management of our colonies.
“For example, at this time of year, the beekeeper needs to carefully monitor and control the numbers within each colony. If they get too large, they are likely to swarm, which is when the queen will leave and take some of the bees with her.”
Hartpury also sells its own high quality honey and while most stocks were used up to keep the bees well fed during the winter months – when the worker bees form a protective blanket around their queen to keep her warm and those on the outer layers often die off in the cold - production is ongoing and jars will be on sale again soon for sale from Hartpury House reception.