A Day At The Bee Farm

August 22, 2020 3 min read

A Day At The Bee Farm

Bee Good skincare products contain British honey, beeswax and propolis sourced from our own bees but we also obtain these raw materials in bulk from Bee Farmers including our partners at Elm Tree Farm Bees. This family business is one of the bigger professional bee farms in the UK with over 1,000 beehives under their management located at sites across the Southern Midlands.

Simon recently visited their main base near the Silverstone race circuit in Northampton to collect some bulk honey and propolis and met up with Manager, Amanda Johns. 

Amanda and Josh from Elm Tree Farm Bees
Amanda in the Elm Tree Farm apiary 

On the day of his visit, Amanda and Josh her apprentice, were working in their Queen bee rearing apiary. As with all livestock farming, bee farmers want their charges to be healthy, calmly behaved, and productive. However, breeding bees is much more difficult than many other types of livestock.

Like all farmers, Amanda's day starts early, loading the trucks with all the equipment they will need including brood boxes, honey supers, and sugar syrup, as well as the basics such as smoker and hive tool. Each beekeeper on the team manages around 200-250 hives, visiting them in rotation across a 10-day cycle.

This particular day, Simon accompanied Amanda and Josh to their dedicated mating apiary, and once suited up, and with smokers lit, they got straight to work. This apiary is used to raise new Queens from their best colonies and contains many small "Nuc" hives with between 3-6 brood frames. Amanda opened up one of the breeder colonies that had been previously selected based on productivity, calmness and health. She chose a frame that had lots of young larvae in the cells (1-3 days old) and selected around 20-40 that she then extracted individually and placed into pre-prepared queen cups. These are then attached to frames which are then placed into Queenless Nucs full of young bees that will raise multiple lovely Queen cells.

A Frame full of sealed Queen bee cellsA frame of newly sealed Queen Bee Cells raised by Amanda and Josh

She and Josh harvest these sealed Queen cells just before hatching and place one into each of the Queenless Nuc hives along with a small feeder containing syrup to keep the bees fed. Once hatched, the virgin Queens will mate and then return to start a new generation.

At the same time, Amanda and Josh check to see if the previous weeks nucs have hatched cells and any queens that have been mated and started laying. If the nucs are building nicely and bringing in pollen and nectar, then they will expand rapidly and can be later placed into a full-sized hive in a production apiary.

These good performing Queens are all documented and certified by Amanda with her personal seal of approval as shown below.  These hives headed by the best Queen bees will be closely monitored throughout the year and used to produce future generations of locally raised Queen bees.

Each productive healthy Queen bee is certified by Amanda

Each productive healthy Queen bee is personally certified by Amanda!

Later that afternoon, Amanda and Josh visited several local production apiaries inspecting the colonies to check on their development and judge whether there is enough excess honey to harvest either now or later.

Amanda and Josh inspecting a hive

Amanda and Josh checking on the progress of a young Honeybee colony

Making a living as a Bee Farmer is a challenge. Still, one huge advantage is that you don't need your own land as most landowners welcome such efficient pollinators. Honeybees can raise flowering crop harvests by up to 20%, and their presence can also provide a good nectar source for a later honey harvest. Pollination fees are a welcome income source for many Bee Farmers supplementing their primary revenue from honey harvested in June and again in late August, depending on the conditions.

Amanda the Bee Farmer and supplier to Bee GoodAmanda in the Elm Trees Farm extraction room holding the results of their hard work

Any honey supers that are ready to harvest are brought back to their dedicated extraction suite which is kept at a steady 30C to warm the honey so that it flows more smoothly. Here the individual honey-containing frames are placed into a machine that extracts the honey and filters it before pumping it into settling tanks from where it can later be decanted into containers for wholesalers (or us!) or jars for retailers. There is a seemingly insatiable demand for great British honey, and as Elm Tree Farm has an extremely professional and progressive approach to Bee farming, and business is growing well.

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