No English garden is complete without its bees, and Kew is no exception.
A beekeeper inspects bees in Kew's Wildflower Area
Where to find bees at Kew
The home of Kew's bees has moved from its previous location behind Kew Palace. Although this area was full of flowers popular with the bees, the site was a bit exposed to the elements, so we decided to try a new site - the Wildflower Area near Elizabeth Gate. This area was enhanced as part of Kew's 250th anniversary celebrations, with plantings of British native orchids and Salvia verbenaca, a sage native to the Thames Valley. These plants, along with wildflowers already in the area, will provide ample food for the bees.
Bees will travel up to six miles to forage for food, so can choose from a vast menu at Kew. The bees from our colonies have been seen drinking from the water fountain in the Secluded Garden on hot summer days. The new hives are also south-facing and well sheltered from cold winds.
Kew's bee hives
The two modern hives look quite different from each other, but are in fact the same structure; one has a white outer casing. The basic-looking one is called a National hive and the other one, with the white outer casing, is a WBC hive, named after its designer William Broughton Carr. These hives grow taller as more 'supers' (extra layers) are added, as the honeycomb is formed inside them by the bees and filled with honey.
The two new colonies of bees had queens flown in from New Zealand; these bees are quite docile (important in a garden that welcomes a million visitors a year) and a paler colour (almost yellow) than the dark native British honey bee.
Kew staff check the bees in the hives every nine days and remove honey in August. This is taken on frames from the top of the hive, leaving the bee colony living in the bottom layer. Unfortunately there is not enough honey produced to sell to the public - but it is very popular with staff in the Gardens!
Bees make an important contribution to gardens and agriculture, pollinating flowers and in the process helping them produce seed. Scientists believe that bees provide £200 million worth of pollination services to British agriculture every year.
However, honeybee populations have been declining for the past 20 years. Habitat change and a disease caused by the varroa mite have both taken their toll. 32% of all British bee species are now listed as threatened in the UK Insect Red Data Book.