What are we looking for?
Big fat healthy Queens! Our aim is to purchase extremely specialist bee breeding equipment to enable us to breed queen bees and the training to use the equipment efficiently and safely. We aren't looking for a cash quick fix this is a new phase of a long term project that needs some help getting started.
One of our big healthy queens having just laid an egg. below her are some hatched worker eggs (female) in the larval stage prior to capping for pupation.
Who are we?
We are a small turnover non eu subsidised family run agricultural business. We specialise in the keeping of bees and growing of apples for the production of cider. Our beekeeper lives and breathes the countryside, is a fourth generation Dorset farm lad, and is steeped in all things agricultural with a deep appreciation of nature and the environment.
A row of Yarlington Mill apples nearly ready to harvest, not possible without pollination.
What’s the problem then?
Our colony numbers have dwindled from 200 hives in 2011 to 60-70 hives in 2016. This dramatic reduction is down to many factors. However in the last few years we have struggled to keep up with colony losses using our normal queen rearing techniques due to poor weather. The specific problem we face is poor weather for queen mating. Virgin queen bees mate on the wing flying high up to areas where drone bees (the males) congregate. They will mate with approx 20 or so drones and then fly back to the colony they originated from and begin to lay eggs after a short while.
Sounds like they bees know what they’re about, why play God?
As amazing as the natural system is there are so many variables! Wind can blow the virgins off course, rain can keep them inside too long or can disrupt the mating flight its self. If a queen returns to the wrong hive she will be killed by the workers once she tries to get in and if a queen is stuck inside and doesn’t mate early enough then there can be problems with her fertility. Bringing the breeding hives inside and mating the queens safely in our heated shed means we remove a few variables and hopefully increase our success rates.
Mark in a slightly grubby bee suit checking on new queens in a Dorset cider apple pollination orchard.
So what’s the plan?
With our new bee breeding shed and the fertility equipment inside it we will be able to rear queens and colonies come rain or shine. The skills that I will learn from the specialist course (one of its kind in the UK) will bring unique skills to Dorset that I hope to be able to share with the local beekeeping community. We also hope to be able to afford a microscope capable of relaying to a monitor to be able to share the process with others
The first few timbers going up on our breeding shed. To save money we've harvested, milled, and cut the frame out ourselves. The timber is from a local stand of Larch and the roof is an upcycled grain silo!
We'd dearly like to get our numbers back up now. We've nearly finished our bee breeding shed and will fund most of the equipment from our own business plans but we'd like to step things up and get the kit for the new system as soon as possible in order to make a start on the new programme this year (2017). We've kept bees commercially for 10 years and have plenty of experience to draw from in order to make this new endeavour a success.
And if it all goes to plan?
If we are successful in raising enough funds to change our system then we’ll be able to raise queens earlier in the year and hope to have a better success rate. More queens means more bee colonies, more bees for us to make honey, more bees for pollination of orchards and farms in Dorset, queen bees for sale to replace old queens or start new colonies and hopefully complete colonies for new beekeepers to buy. The community of cider growers locally is desperate for more colonies at blossom time and currently we struggle to supply enough for all the people who request bees. I won’t go into why bees are so important or the fact that they are in decline. We get asked “how are the bees?” at all the fairs and events we attend throughout the year so I know it's something we are all aware of and concerned about. Here is an opportunity to get involved with a practical solution to a worrying problem.
We have opted for a keep what you raise campaign as we can guarantee that any money raised will go towards moving this project forwards. We already have money ring fenced to finish building the shed and pay for travel to the course. Any money raised here will help speed things along. For example we are aiming to buy products that will enable us to share our new found knowledge with others, but if we don’t make the goal then we can scale back a bit and buy what will get us started first.
We hope that you'll consider that this project that brings together ecology, nature, science, agriculture, beekeeping (both commercially and for leisure), food and drink, business, technology, education and passion is worthy of consideration.
A worker bee on some phacelia planted as bee fodder on our headlands.