Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


Following on from our last beekeeper's report, Ben tells us what has been happening:

11th June: “Returning from my travels it was exciting to go see the bees again. I must admit I was anxious, mainly because earlier in the week there had been reports on Wales Online of a swarm in the City Centre. The reported swarm had caused mayhem in the brewery quarter when a few thousand bees descended on a table outside the Yard public house.  When I’d heard about this swarm I feared the worst, were they our bees? Had we missed something? I’d heard reports from some of the museum technicians that there had been clouds of bees up near our hives on that Monday – perhaps that was them swarming!

I can’t describe my relief when I opened the hive of our strong colony to discover that it was full of bees. They were there, all present and correct! The weather was perfect, warm and still, ideal for thoroughly going through the hive! So, removing the heavy super full of honey, I delved straight into the brood box with the help of Sally and lots of smoke! I must admit though, hearing of Nigel’s six stings didn’t fill me with confidence! There are a lot of bees in this hive now and actually seeing what’s happening on the frame is really quite difficult! Going through each frame carefully revealed two Supersedence type queen cups and several play cells (unlaid cells where the bees practice making queen cells). These were removed and the hive was carefully put back together and some of the bees coaxed back inside! Interestingly, now the hive is very full, bees seem to accumulate at the entrance and around the lip of the brood box and they often need a bit of smoke to encourage them back inside.

On opening the weaker hive I was delighted to see that the bees have substantially increased in number and activity. The colony has increased in strength from the 1.5 frames of bees to 5 full frames of bees. Without wanting to disrupt the bees too much, I quickly went through the hive to check the brood pattern and food supplies. Seeing that there were adequate capped reserves of honey and that lots of the bees were returning covered in pollen I closed the hive up and strapped it back down.  Just as we were finishing up Sally was stung! I think the first time for the female bee keepers! Rather painfully she’d been stung right on her heal, somewhere I’d been stung previously so I can vouch for the fact that it really does hurt!

Perhaps our bees aren’t so choosy about who they sting after all!”

The first ever National Meadows Day is tomorrow, Saturday 4th July. You may have noticed National Museum Cardiff now has an Urban Meadow on the east side by the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre. It gives us a fantastic new outdoor learning space where just a lawn used to be. Check out our programme of events based around the meadow in What's On.

Our Urban Meadow with the bee hives on the roof is a positive approach by the museum to increase pollinators within Cardiff and are funded entirely through landfill tax. Meadows on our other museum sites help pollinators throughout Wales. With a no dig, no chemical policy, as well as introducing plants and seeds from Flora Locale recommended suppliers, we are following sustainable principles. 

Children have used the Urban Meadow to start investigating the natural world, children who may not otherwise have visited a museum. The next event is ‘Family Fun in the Meadow’ on Saturday 11th July: Help our OPAL scientist to survey the bug life in our urban meadow and learn to be a botanical illustrator. See the What’s On guide for further information

You can find further information and links to events for National Meadow Day on the Plantlife webpages

Also you can follow the Twitter hashtag: #magnificentmeadowsday

By Sally Whyman and Kath Slade

Well last week we posted about the Beehives up on the roof at National Museum Cardiff and how they fared over the winter. Today we have another exert from our Beekeeper’s diary. Has the weaker colony survived? Let’s find out: The weather in late March and early April was fantastic and the strong colony went from strength to strength.

During the next weekly (9th April) inspection we decided to place our first super (a set of shallow frames from which the queen is excluded, used to collect honey) on the strong colony and moved another frame of brood across to the weaker colony. This moving of frames serves two purposes, it helps reinforce the struggling colony whilst limiting the size and growth of the strong colony and thus lessens the risk of having to deal with the colony growing to such an extent that the bees swarm. Every time a frame of brood is removed the frame is replaced with a fresh frame of new foundation (a sheet of patterned wax on which bees build their comb). The rate of productivity is currently so high in the strong colony that a new frame of foundation is being drawn out and prepared for laying within a week!

At the next inspection (16th April) another frame of brood was moved across and the contact feeder in the weaker colony was refilled with more honey. Whilst honey might not be the most cost effective feed the bees certainly like it!

We noticed that the weaker colony certainly had more activity with more bees flying in and out than has been seen recently, hopefully the translocation of brood is working and the colony is growing in strength and numbers.

Whist inspecting the strong colony, a large elongated brood cell called a queen cup was noted- it wasn’t sealed and contained a grub. We removed the cup and grub in order to minimise the chances of a new queen bee hatching and the colony swarming. We inspected the rest of the frames looking particularly closely at the abundance of dome shaped, capped drone (male) cells! There were quite a number of hatched drone bees too, which may be indicative of the colony getting ready to swarm? Hopefully our regular removal of brood should limit the expansion and development of the colony and reduce the risk of having to deal with swarming this year.

Beekeepers use the term drawn-out to describe the process where bees build their honeycomb structures on a base of fresh foundation wax. The bees build up hexagonal honeycomb until the honeycomb cells are 12-15mm deep. This process of building comb outwards from the flat foundation is called drawing-out. The super that we placed on the strong colony is gradually getting filled with honey too.

The bees are gradually filling the fully drawn-out comb in the centre of the super although all the frames have been drawn out to some extent. The super frames that have been partial filled have been moved one or two positions out towards the edge of the super and the more empty frames have been moved inwards to a more central position in order to encourage the bees to work evenly across all the frames within the super.

During this inspection we also installed a third hive on the roof. In this third hive we placed pheromone swarm lures. The idea being that a passing swarm of bees might find and settle in this hive if we’re lucky. The lure hive is essentially a normal hive loaded with foundation filled frames. We have used some of the old, drawn-out frames from our other hives in order to give it a lived in feel and scent (apparently swarms don’t typically settle in new unused hives). If we aren’t successful in catching a wild swarm the hive can be used to home a third colony of bees that we currently have on order with Natures Little Helpers.

29th April inspection – it was a lovely sunny warm day although perhaps in hindsight a little windy for bee keeping inspections. I took the opportunity to take Annette Townsend up onto the roof to see the bees. Not only was it tough to hold the frames of bees still in the breeze, but Annette’s hair and bee keeping suit was being buffeted around so much that she could hardly see a thing! The bees weren’t keen either, there were lots flying around and they were generally grumpy. Annette has blogged her experience, so you can see how she found beekeeping here. Anyway another lesson learned – too much wind makes life tricky – heavy frames of bees and a strong breeze aren’t compatible!  

Bee inspection 6th May, another sunny but slightly breezy day again but not as bad as the previous windy hive inspection. Again the weaker colony wasn’t inspected particularly intensively, we just quickly refilled the feeder with honey and once again transferred a frame of brood and juvenile bees into the hive from the stronger colony. Our efforts certainly seem to be paying off, once again there seemed to be significantly more bees flying in and out of the hive plus at least four of the frames now seemed to be covered in bees! The feeder obviously is still being used by the bees but they also seem to be flying out to find natural sources of food too.

The strong colony seems to have stepped up a gear too! Another two queen cups were removed and several suspect other dome shaped cells were removed just in case! A section of brace comb was cut at the edge of the hive in order to allow all the frames to be removed freely. Brace comb is extra honeycomb that is built between frames, it is perfectly normal for wild bee colonies but for managed hives, brace comb prevents frames being removed. The brood now extends almost to the outside frames and there is a considerable amount of capped honey surrounding the brood. The small honey collecting frames inside the super were moved around once again to ensure an even honey fill. None of the honey filled comb in the super is actually capped (the honey sealed in with a wax cover) yet but you get the impression that within a few weeks another super might need to be added!


Last week, as part of Give and Gain Day 2014, we had 50 volunteers from the Lloyds Banking Group helping with a number of projects here at St Fagans. Some helped with the Gardening Department, some helped the Historic Buildings Unit while some assisted with a project alongside the Alzheimer’s Society. Myself and Bernice had the help of 11 volunteers to build a dead hedge in the woodlands near the bird hide.

We had been planning on building a dead hedge in near the bird hide for a while, for a number of reasons. A dead hedge would act as a screen for approaching the bird hide, meaning that birds on the feeders would be less likely to be scared by the approaching visitors. A dead hedge also acts as a wildlife corridor, giving cover to a wide variety of wildlife as they move through the woodlands. Visitors had also begun cutting through the woodland, and one section of the dead hedge was to act as a deterrent meaning visitors would be more likely to stick to the paths.

The first task of the day was the sharpening of the fence posts. The posts are needed for structure and need to be driven firmly into the ground. Creating the sharp end obviously makes this much easier. After creating pilot holes, the poles were then driven into the ground using a sledge hammer. Once the posts were in place, we could then begin to assemble the dead hedge.

A dead hedge is built up of dead woodland material. Over the past couple of weeks I have been asking the gardeners and farmers here to help by collecting any trimmings and off cuts and delivering these to the bird hide for use in this project. Everyone was incredibly helpful, and we ended up with a vast pile of material… or so I thought. Dead hedging takes a lot of material, so along with some of the volunteers I headed into the woods to do a bit of clearing to gain more material.

After lunch, we headed up into the woods near the site of Bryn Eryr, the Iron Age farmstead currently being built. This area has previously been cleared so there was a lot of cut material for us to collect. This was loaded into a trailer and taken over to the bird hide. The afternoon finished with us using this material to finish the dead hedge. As an artistic final touch, we used some lime cuttings to add extra height and a certain je ne sais quois to the finished hedge.

As these pictures show, the day was a huge success! The weather could not have been better and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The 2 sections of dead hedge we wanted to build got done, and I’ve already earmarked some projects for future volunteers! The amount of work done in a day was incredible, it would have taken me and Bernice a lot longer to do without the help of the volunteers. A huge thank you to everyone who helped us and the other projects too!

Last weekend was RSPB’s annual Big Garden Bird Watch, the world’s largest bird survey! On Saturday I joined in the fun by making fat ball birdfeeders with some of the visitors to the museum. Inspired by the Big Garden Bird Watch, I spent a little time this week in the bird hide at St Fagans. Here are a few photos of what I saw…

Did you take part? What birds you see in your garden? Remember to report your findings to the RSPB - Big Garden Bird Watch

Keep in touch with the wildlife at St Fagans by following on Twitter