The Secret Life of Steph’s Bees
When she’s not managing Metro’s supplier payments, you will find our Finance Supervisor, Stephanie Sparrow, tending her six beehives in a protected environment in South East London - a tradition she has taken over from her mother with the support of another lady beekeeper who has helped Stephanie’s family maintain the hives for over 25 years.
We were interested to find out more about her passion and Stephanie was happy to share some fascinating facts about her apiary and how she maintains the hives in order to produce the delicious honey her family and friends enjoy all year round.
In Spring, Stephanie opens up the hives and encourages the bees to fly out and begin the busy task of making honey while the sun shines. Seen here checking each Brood Frame within the hive, Stephanie takes care to check for new Queens so that she is able to identify them and create new colonies.
Each Queen is kept ‘downstairs’ in the lower compartments of the hive with the male Drones, producing more and more bees, while the female Workers use the upper frames to create honey. Often, a new Queen will be made and she will need to be tagged and relocated.
You can see the new Queen which has been made here. She has a slightly longer body than the workers.
Stephanie has clipped her wings so that she won’t fly off, cause the bees to swarm elsewhere, and marked her with a pink dot so that she can be monitored.
Unlike some beekeepers, Stephanie’s methods are a little gentler in managing the activities of the bees, particularly when it comes to managing aggression. Some beekeepers will use smoke to calm the bees before checking the frames. Smoking the hives directly encourages the bees to gorge on honey and stupefies them. This reduces risk of stinging but is a less natural approach.
Stephanie says, “We might use smoke sometimes to smoke our clothing or gloves to deter the bees, particularly if we have been stung and the pheromones have been released. The pheromones can alert the other bees of danger. If this happens, using smoke near the area of the sting reduces the risk of being stung again. Otherwise we use more natural methods to coax the bees into coming out or going back into the hive.”
At the end of the season, traditionally marked when the *lime trees have stopped flowering (usually by the end of July), it is time for harvest. When the honey has been collected and the hives had had a final health check, it’s time to prepare them up for the Winter months when food will be scarce.
Stephanie stocks the hives with sugar and water supplies while the bees settle down to recharge their batteries.
If you’d like to know more about keeping bees, you can contact the British Beekeeping Association:
*the common lime tree is native to the UK and some parts of Europe. During the war, the flowers were used to make a soothing tea.