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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

On Wednesday 30th October, National Museum Cardiff came alive for a haunting day of Halloween fun. Curators (and witches!) from the Natural History department filled the main hall with spooky specimens from our collections to share with the public on a busy half term day.

The botanists made a real impression by opening up the Herbarium and creating a spooky graveyard of deadly plants. This was a real hit with the children who left repeating some of the delightfully ghoulish names to their parents such as “Stinking Hellebore!” and  “Bloody Cranesbill!”

The Fungus table had a case of wonderful wax models where you could match each fungus with its creepy name, such as the Trumpet of Death, Scaly Tooth and Witch Heart. Children, and adults, could make their own fungus with the colourful modelling clay provided, creating some amazing new species!

Two witches stirred their potion in a cauldron alongside an eerie ‘Herbs in Medicine and Magic’ display.  All Harry Potter fans would have immediately recognised the famous Mandrake, a plant often used in magic rituals due to its hallucinogenic properties, but there was no need for ear muffs as the real plant does not let out a fatal scream!

Marine and Mollusc curators put out an array of Halloween treats from ghost slugs and dead man’s fingers to blood cockles and pumpkin snails. Visitors enjoyed being able to touch sea urchins, spiny oysters and star fish. The pickled cuttlefish and squid were a real treat and produced a great mixed response, from awe to disgust, from children and adults alike.

The giant bloodsucking mosquito model dominated the Entomology stand whilst a witch displayed a table of British bats, from the largest Noctule to the smallest Pipistrelle.

Geologists enticed visitors with ‘fossils in folklore’, including echinoderms that were thought to be ‘fairy loaves’, and ‘dragon claws’ that come from dinosaurs. Those brave enough stayed to see the ‘Hell, Fire and Brimestone!’ stand which revealed specimens of larva, ash and volcanic rocks.

The Open Day was underpinned with an educational trail provided by the Education department. The trail took children around all of the displays, answering questions on blood stained petals and thunder stones, fungal fingers and tails of worms, to name a few. It was an excellent way to get families involved and encouraged children to interact with the curators. The trail proved to be extremely popular with 170 families taking part.

For those who wanted to know more, there was a scary ‘Dragons’ tour in the Evolution of Wales gallery and two behind the scenes tours of the Biology and Geology collections.

The day was a real success with 3127 members of the public coming through the museum doors. So, if you didn’t make it this time keep your eyes peeled on the ‘What’s On’ guide  for more upcoming Natural History Open Days throughout the year.

Blog by Harriet Wood

Hi! I'm Professor Plant and I'd like to welcome the six and a half thousand young scientists across the UK that are taking part in the Spring Bulb for Schools Investigation this year!

Twelve thousand bulbs will be planted and monitored as part of this long term climate investigation being co-ordinated at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. If there was a world record for the most people planting bulbs simultaneously, (in several locations) we could smash it!

All the bulbs have been counted up by our fantastic volunteers (see the pics) and are steadily being delivered to the 150 schools across the country. I'd like to welcome each an every pupil and teacher who will be working on this project!

  • Take a look at the map to see where the bulbs are being sent across the UK
  • If you haven't already received my letter please follow this link     
  • Before each bulb is planted, each pupil must also adopt their bulb and promise to care for it. If you want to know how see this link

If you are wondering where the bulbs came from and how they got to your school - please read then read on y friend Baby Bulb is going to explain:

"My bulb buddies and I come from a nursery plantation in Manorbier, near Tenby in Wales, it's called 'Springfields'. We didn't spring from the fields, but we were picked and loaded onto a van ready to go to our new homes. At first I was a little afraid, but then when I met Professor Plant at the Museum I understood that I would be cared for by a nice young person and that I have an important job to do. We have all been selected to help us understand how the weather can affect when my friends and I make flowers. My parents before me grew here too, Springfields have been growing us 'Tenby Daffodils' for about 25 years, and we are one of the two daffodils that are native to the British Isles".

Just a few weeks until planting now! I can't wait!

Professor Plant