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Update on the Aspinal Bees

The South Downs National Park is host to our countryside HQ, providing a stunning landscape that inspires all aspects of our work. As a company, it is important for us to give back to this beautiful and ecologically important environment; work that contributes towards our sustainable journey.

When we learnt that one-third of Britain's bee population has disappeared over the past decade, we were compelled to find a way to support these key pollinators. In May 2018, we set up our first two Aspinal beehives, and now have 15 hives across both our HQ and our Chairman's family home, all buzzing with life. We have also supported the South Down's 'Bee Lines' project, which has worked with farmers and other landowners to create new wildflower corridors, linking habitats, and encouraging pollination.

Throughout the year, our in-house beekeeper tends to the hives, harvesting the yearly honey production come August. We jar this special Aspinal Honey and gift it to the press and other industry professionals to highlight the fundamental need for honeybees for our future. For those curious to sample our Aspinal Honey, this June we are partnering with Quaglino's a famous brasserie-style restaurant in the heart of London's St.James, which will be featuring our honey in a special Aspinal themed menu.

A Year in The Hive

Our in-house beekeeper Neil provides a detailed account of a year in the life of our Aspinal honeybees below; From the critical preparations in March to the last forages of chilly November, each moment offers a fascinating insight into the lives of our precious winged friends.

The hive in January is a subdued place. Bees tightly cluster and vibrate their wing muscles to maintain an optimum temperature of 35 degrees, ensuring the small amount of unhatched young in the centre of the hive won't chill. If they are brave enough to venture out, they may be lucky enough to harvest some snowdrop pollen.

On those warmer February days, the bees will occasionally break cluster for a while, or even venture out of the sunlit entrance to investigate pollen from crocus or pulmonaria.

In March things are starting to get going. The queen is laying eggs in earnest ready for the coming spring bounty of pollen and nectar, but the bees that have protected her and her new eggs are beginning to die. This is a critical time for the hive - will the new spring bees emerge in time to take over the colony?

By April the hive is buzzing with new bees emerging from the eggs laid in March, as well as readying to start foraging on the myriad of flowers bursting from buds on the cherry, wild plum and blackthorn.

June brings the promise of even better rewards, with the oil seed rape and blackberry starting to flower. Workers stop feeding the queen and she slims down as the hive gets ready to swarm, meaning 70% of the hive leaves with the queen to start a new, separate colony.

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm in July is not worth a fly

In the original hive, new workers hatch while potential future queens develop in their cells. Once hatched, the new queens begin their life in a fight to the death with the other hatched and unhatched queens, destroying their rivals until only one queen remains.

The successful surviving queen will use the July sunshine to leave the hive and make her mating flight to her suitors. Once she returns, she will not leave again until she herself has to swarm in a year's time. The workers will be spending this time of plenty building up stores for winter.

August begins a busy time for the beekeeper. They will remove any excess stores, spin the combs, and jar the liquid gold honey to be enjoyed over the next year.

In September the balmy days are shortening fast, and the race is on to start raising winter bees, which will live much longer than the 6 weeks managed by the busy bees in the summer. These bees will have to endure the cold winter months from now until March, keeping the nest just right for any brood laid by the queen in these months.

In October young raising is reducing, and the whole hive is concentrating on bringing in the nectar from the late summer plants, like wild marjoram, rudbeckia and golden rod.

Chilly November nights will cause the bees to be in a tight cluster, only venturing out during the day to get the last good forage of the year from ivy. Although a good source of nectar, it is prone to crystalise in the comb and requires the addition of water to be used as food. Collecting this water on frosty winter days can be fatal for such small insects.

The end of December gives the beekeeper the chance to clean the hive of any pests that may harm the bees, a process already completed once before in August. Application of an organic acid in vapour form treats the hive without bothering the bees.

A Year in the Hive, An account by Aspinal's In-House Beekeeper Neil

Now the beekeeper has done all they can to protect the colony and it's provided itself with the stores for winter. Both now wait until the warmer days of spring arrive.

Moving forwards, we will continue to nurture our hives, and look forward to seeing them flourish even further.