Who's going to learn the most? Them or us?

Testing, Testing 1, 2, bee

We were very glad for the May-Day bank holiday as it gave us a chance to prepare for the arrival of our Koppert Natupol Beehive. As I work in IT, I'm very used to the concept of thorough testing, preparation and quality assurance, so it was important to me that we had run through as much as possible and were prepared as possible for the arrival of the box. Bearing in mind, too, that the whole point of my "shelter" structure was to out-perform a slab of Expanded Polystyrene held on top of the hive with a brick (as suggested by the supplier).

The types of things we had to make sure were in place were:


  • stability of the shelter for the hive - important to keep shade and waterproofness; tolerant to wind
  • suitable containers to provide pollen on top of the shelter; tolerant to wind and rain
  • suitable containers to provide honey-water on and around the shelter; also tolerant to the elements
  • ability to place and remove the box under the shelter easily
  • stability of the greased bricks on which the hive rests under the shelter
  • overall colour and sympathy with the surroundings (ok, a slightly moot one, that!)
  • setup of the overhead video camera


We're talking about hosting a live colony of bees, so there is no room for taking chances - everything must work fine and protect them (and our investment) properly and safely.

We ran through the process of setting and removing a dummy box under the shelter and checking stability. The shelter itself had been placed outside for several days and thus subjected to steady winds of about 10mph and gusts upto about 23mph. (That new weather station already proving its worth!) It's taken this wind fine and while this is not the full extent of possible Fenland blusteriness, it's a good initial test; and there is scope to deal with more via the brackets I've embedded into the structure. I have no concerns about waterproofness due to the heavy duty plastic also sandwiched in the structure.

With those "mechanical" tests out of the way we turned our attention to providing some food supplies to the bees.

Of course, the bees can fly many kilometres to find their own food, but we also want to supply some in the early days to make life a little easier for them and encourage a favourable response to their new location. I've not uncovered any research yet on what it takes for bees to learn their location if their nest is moved; suffice to say, we don't want to take any chances and want them to find our garden as bee friendly as possibly

Let the science begin

In the morning I'd had a flash of inspiration, making a fake "flower" to hold our "nectar" (a honey/water mix at 30/70) from a shower gel cap and a bottle top:

 underside of fake "flower" with bottle top sealed oncompleted "flower" - what bee could resist that purple?The "flower" is just filled with a dropper and holds about 4ml. I stuck it to some card to make it more stable in the ground. Spurred on by my delight at this creation we went to the local "pound" shop to raid it for all manner of plastic, sticky coloured things to come up with some ideas for making similar flowers. Here's what we bought:

raw materials for flower makingThis bright jumble of bits cost under a fiver and seemed to provide all manner of colourful goodies to make petals and holders and capsules and so on. We bought some cheap paint too. The piece-de-resistance was most definitely the "hair snare" (top right) which is designed to stop hair going down the shower plughole.

The minute we saw these we knew instantly we could place them over a pot (Waitrose peeled garlic cloves, as it happens!) filled with our "nectar" to provide a safe platform for bees to poke through and drink from. This completely solved the problem of having to fix (onion) netting over bottle tops to make them safe when full; a tedious and fiddly job. 

The pill holders were absolutely brilliant too - each day comes out from the main tray separately. So, we could, for example, have a rotation system on little cubes of pollen. We could even colour them differently and try differing arrangements. 

In the end this is what we came up with to get started:

our big, bold flowers!

The reflective material is Diamond Grade reflective tape - the exact stuff you find on police cars. It is seriously unmissable!

Now, to you and me these might not look much like "flowers", but when they are filled with pollen and nectar to a bee they are going to seem like a 3-course dinner!

The big round flowers (made from the shower traps) are designed to hold about 30mls of fake nectar, which should be enough for several bees to feed on easily. (We'll probably never get them off it!). We've painted different patterns, partly for fun but potentially to determine whether one pattern is favoured over another. There is good research that shows that (honey) bees are capable of recognising patterns and learning which are best, so there is definitely scope for experimentation here.

They tray of multi-colour shapes actually contains some upturned containers which have an opening (in the same orientation as the opening in the coloured plastic top). These are all stuck down into the corners and this is designed as a pollen tray. The pollen will be sheltered under the clear plastic corners. 

This will be interesting to watch as the bees will have to learn that they cannot access the pollen directly from above, but follow the marked opening and go "underneath" to get it. I'm confident they will easily be able to do this. Research we have read shows that Bumblebees can learn the layout of different flowers and the different techniques required for accessing their nectar/pollen. And, in fact, once they have learnt a few of these techniques they tend to favour the types of flower they work on, rather than constantly learning new flowers.

Again, there is scope for experimentation here - for example, to see if the bees learn that the gap to get the pollen is round the side and aligned with the gap in the coloured plastic. So what will happen if we change this relative orientation? How long will it take the bees to learn the "new" flower? 

The pill holder at the bottom left is basically on standby at the moment. It could be a pollen or nectar holder and we can bring it into play if we need to take other items out of service or boost the food supply. There is scope to experiment with colours and orientation on this one.

Have you got an idea for an experiment? Why not let us know. 

 profile of our flowersOh, and for a bit of fun, we've added glow-in-the-dark pebbles in our flower pots!

Can't wait for our hive to arrive now and to start studying the bees' behaviour!