Don’t bee confused, warns Knebworth enthusiast

Bee Keeping Knebworth: Liava Nation with the bee hive

Bee Keeping Knebworth: Liava Nation with the bee hive - Credit: Archant

As spring brings warmer sunny weather, Welwyn Hatfield’s growing army of amateur beekeepers is trying to clear up confusion over exactly which insects they can help with.

A honeybee swarm in a tree, taken by Lieva Nation.

A honeybee swarm in a tree, taken by Lieva Nation. - Credit: Archant

Beekeeper Lieva Nation, who keeps several hives in her Knebworth garden, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times that at this time of year, enthusiasts are routinely called out to deal with the wrong insects.

She and her fellow beekeepers can collect and provide homes for swarms of honeybees - in Britain, the western honeybee Apis mellifera.

But when they arrive expecting a swarm of thousands of insects to catch, they often find just a handful - perhaps 20 large bees going in and out of an old bird box where they are establishing a nest.

These are quite different insects - bumblebees of the genus Bombus, which has about 25 species in Britain, some very rare.

Bumble bee gathering pollen on a geranium flower taken by John Oakenfull

Bumble bee gathering pollen on a geranium flower taken by John Oakenfull - Credit: Archant


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Lieva, a 68-year-old retired health worker, said: “When people say there are ‘thousands of bees’, we ask ‘are there literally thousands?’.

“Bumblebees are protected, and they just need to be left alone.”

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Proper honeybee swarms usually appear in the late summer, and typically involve about 12,000 flying insects, tightly clustered around a queen.

Lieva explained that after mating with several males, a queen will lay about 2,000 eggs a day, either in a natural nest such as a hole in a tree, or in an enthusiast’s hive.

After about three days, the eggs hatch as larval grubs, fed by adult bees with nectar and pollen found on plants and crops.

The adults then “cap” the grubs with protective wax, but about a week later they hatch as the next generation of flying insects.

Females adopt various roles to keep the colony going- flying bees, scout bees or guard bees, but males exist purely to find and mate with a new queen.

Lieva said: “We do it because we love bees. My six grandchildren eat through the honey, and you can use the wax for polish.”

She is a member of the Hertfordshire Beekeepers Association Welwyn division, which has about 100 members in an area stretched from Knebworth to Potters Bar,

Lieva said: “Welwyn is the biggest division in Hertfordshire. Just in the last few years, it has grown from 40 to about 100.”

The association runs about 15 hives at Knebworth golf course that are suitable for training beginners.

With their cherished insects emerging from hibernation, members visited the Knebworth golf course last weekend to open them for the season.

Lieva urged readers who want to find out more about bees and beekeeping online at bbka.org.uk or welwynbka.org

The same websites can be used to contact local beekeepers to deal with a swarms of honeybees.

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