Swarms of children (and bees)


Last weekend, Janet and I lit the smoker, pulled on our bee-keeping suits and opened our hive.


Our bees had seemed busy all week, coming and going from the hive with full pollen sacks and, we imagined, honey stomachs full of nectar. But inside, the empty frames had barely been worked on. The bees had started to draw out (build) some of the honeycomb on one of the empty frames but the other frames remained empty. We had been feeding the bees with sugar solution to get them started as they settled into their new home but decided to stop this as we hoped they might work harder without a full larder!

Our inexperienced eyes found it hard to tell brood (baby bees/larvae) from honey stores so we decided to ask our neighbour, an experienced bee-keeper, to help us the following weekend.

So here we are. The following weekend has arrived and I have just returned to my computer after checking the hive with Janet and our bee-keeping expert.

And the news is good! Our queen has been busy laying eggs. We could clearly see open cells with larvae.


After the larva has fed for a few days, the cell is sealed until eventually, the adult bee hatches. The full cycle for a worker bee takes 21 days.

We strolled down to the hive in the evening and were horrified to find dead bees scattered all around.


Kneeling down, I looked closely under the hive and discovered the queen wandering around amongst the dead workers! I grabbed a wooden spatula, encouraged her to climb on board and delivered her to the hive entrance where she happily went back indoors. We’re not sure what had been going on. I think when we checked inside the hive earlier, she must have wandered up into the roof space because I had the one-way doors (Porter bee escapes) loose (mistake!) and she must have dropped onto the ground with a cluster of workers as I lifted the roof off. Can’t explain the dead workers, though. Thank goodness we’d checked the hive because if we hadn’t, the queen would have died and our bee-keeping adventure might have been over. We clearly have A LOT to learn.


I visited Milldene, Chappel, Messing and St Lawrence primary schools in Essex last week to talk about bees and my Bee Boy books with Just Imagine http://justimagine.co.uk .
Just Imagine are an amazing company dedicated to promoting reading in schools around the UK. I was working with Claire who made the trip really good fun and ensured that all ran smoothly.

I was surprised but delighted to find this lovely greyhound snoozing in a headteacher’s office. He was like a giant version of our Betty.

This super greyhound is the school reading dog. It has been proven that children relax and find reading less of a struggle with a kind-natured hound to read to!

Children appear to be VERY interested in bees. Just as well, because I’ve spent the last three years working on my Bee Boy trilogy! In my sessions I talk about the life of the honeybee. Many children think it is bumblebees that give us honey so I have to put them right on that straight away. They learn about life in a beehive, I tell them about Bee Boy and read a chapter then, finally, we draw bees! I love children’s drawings.


I can tell from the questions children ask at the end of a session, that they’ve been listening carefully. They ask such thoughtful things.
‘How long does a queen bee live?’
‘Why do bees die when they sting?’
‘Why can a queen bee sting lots of times?’
And so on!

I finish my session with the Bee Boy song. I’ve included some of the bee facts from the session in the lyrics. Children’s laughter is so lovely to hear . . .

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