The Buzz from the Hive – Springing into Action

 

There is hive of activity in the apiary now that spring is well and truly here. We have been observing the entrance of our hive over the past few months, to check that our bees had survived the winter and importantly that the queen was present and active. Honeybees need an air temperature of around 12⁰C to fly without danger of becoming chilled, and as the days warmed up the number of flying bees increased and the over-wintered bees began bringing bags of brightly coloured pollen into the hive. This was a sure sign that the queen had begun to lay and size of our colony was on the increase.

During the rare warm days in March and April we were able to take a quick look into the hive to gauge how things were going, and on one occasion we were joined by the Provost, who has wholeheartedly supported the Pollination plan for campus and Ireland, as well as encouraging us to develop the apiary for Trinity.

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Susie and Marcus were joined by the TCD Provost, Patrick Prendergast, and Professor in Botany, Jane Stout, for one of their early season hive visits.

This week Marcus and I carried out our first full hive inspection of year, and will keep this up on a weekly basis for the next 3 months. The inspections will keep us informed of the health and productivity of the hive, and importantly help us prevent swarming. The first thing we noticed when opening the hive was the sweet smell of wax and nectar, a sign of a healthy hive. We removed the roof and crowd-board to allow us access to the brood-chamber, the area where the queen resides and where the bees are raised. Each of the brood-frames was lifted out and examined, to check that the queen is laying, that she has adequate space for the 1500- 2000 eggs she will lay per day, that the bees have has adequate pollen and nectar stores, and that there is no evidence of disease.

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During a full inspection of the hive, Susie and Marcus must ensure that their is a healthy proportion of stores and brood, and that the queen laying eggs.

Susie Bioletti is the Head of Preservation and Conservation at the Library and Marcus Phelan is the Senior Technical Officer for Trinity’s Hazardous Materials Facility. Together, they are our campus beekeepers and will be writing a regular segment for Campus Buzz on “The Buzz from the Hive”. Keep an eye out next month for more news from the hive!

The Buzz from the Hive – Origin Story

In spring 2016, Prof Jane Stout contacted my colleague Susie Bioletti about establishing a research apiary at Trinity as part of the new Campus Pollinator Plan. With the assistance of “Estates and Facilities” and the donation of space by TCD’s Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering, the way was clear by summer. Following a rest over Winter, the hive is now gearing up for the 2017 season and, over the next year, our monthly blog, “The Buzz from the Hive”, will follow the progress of the colony.

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Watching your honeybees entering and leaving the hive on a sunny lunch time has to be one of the beekeeper’s favourite pastimes.

The sight of foraging honeybees returning to the hive is one that never loses its appeal for beekeepers. That’s why when Susie requested assistance to install a colony of bees on the rooftop of the Parsons Building, I jumped at the opportunity. The prospect of doing hive inspections at lunchtime, only a stone’s throw from both our offices, was irresistible. Once safety protocols were duly satisfied, the nuc — a starter home for bees, arrived in the boot of Susie’s car. Once safely ensconced in the apiary, we were free to begin swapping our favourite beekeeping anecdotes — Susie and I work in very different areas of College (neither of which are connected to pollinator research) but we both share a common interest in bees, underscoring their universal appeal.

Soon, the colony was ready to be transferred into a new full-size hive, painted Trinity blue of course. A subsequent check identified that the young queen is present and laying, and stores are in ample supply for a burgeoning colony. A good start by all accounts and the planted environment of Trinity’s campus should provide for all the needs of the hive.

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Before long, our colony had outgrown its nuclear (starter home) and was ready to move into its new premises – all decked out in Trinity Blue!

Bees are a fascinating insect, not least due to their remarkable communication systems. Their primitive looking meanderings belie a complex social network that can also be seen in their cousins, the ants. Information is transmitted by many modes, including chemical messages in the form of pheromones. Blends of organic compounds are secreted by the glands of bees and serve to regulate the activities of the colony, which can be regarded as a super-organism. The various castes of bees influence different aspects of hive life including reproduction, building and defence. This ancient method of communication is something akin to a live news stream, complete with feedback loops, and provides an efficient means for a hive of sometimes more than 50,000 bees to co-exist with a singular purpose.

Keep an eye out next month for more news from the hive!

Marcus Phelan is the Senior Technical Officer for Trinity’s Hazardous Materials Facility and Susie Bioletti is the Head of Preservation and Conservation at the Library. Together, they are our campus beekeepers and will be writing a regular segment for Campus Buzz on “The Buzz from the Hive”.