Since mid-April 2018, we now have around 30,000 new employees at the Ludwigsburg site. Their two wooden hives are situated on the roof of the company car park and – you guessed it – they are now busy making honey. More precisely, they are collecting the sweet plant nectar that I will later use to make the honey in my role as beekeeper. The bee project is part of MANN+HUMMEL’s environmental programme for Ludwigsburg having been included as a concrete environmental objective in 2018. Its successful implementation will help to maintain biodiversity and also make a contribution toward Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The two beehives on the company premises should make a small contribution to the survival of bees, which are ultimately of high ecological significance: in their role as pollinators, they help to maintain our wild and cultivated plant life. Agriculture also benefits from their pollinating activities with higher yields being generated.
The initiative was launched through an article on our intranet seeking a beekeeper who would be willing to set up and maintain their beehives on the green car park roof. At this point the project slowed somewhat as there were some initial difficulties with the structure: the car park roof is not designed for the heavy concrete slabs upon which the hives should be placed. A protective rail also needed to be installed to prevent me from accidentally falling off the roof. By the start of 2018, everything was ready and I was able to move my two bee colonies to their new home in April.
Teamwork: Support for honeybees
The roof of a car park is an unusual location for a beehive. At a height of around 65 feet, it is often very windy and the bees are not so keen on drafts. We’ll have to see how they cope with it. As the beekeeper, I am responsible for ‘handling’ the bees; in other words, I nurture and care for them. We are, of course, talking about honeybees here – there are several thousand types of bees across the world, most of which are wild.
Honeybees can no longer survive without beekeepers. The reason for this is the menacing-sounding ‘varroa destructor’, a mite that attacks the bees and against which they have no resistance. If a swarm of honeybees were to settle in the wild, it would not survive. So, as a beekeeper, my duties include ensuring that the mites are kept at a reasonable distance by both biological and biomechanical means.
The bee year – One life, five jobs
The ‘bee year’ has a different cycle to our calendar year and begins in August. In this month, the foundation is laid for the subsequent colony development the following spring: at this point the size of the colony begins to decrease and the ‘winter bees’ emerge. From November to February, these bees then come together to form a winter cluster, which warms and feeds the queen in the centre of the cluster. She is, of course, the most important bee and ‘reigns’ over the colony, influencing how it develops and what needs to be done.
From February onwards, the bee colonies begin to flourish. The queen lays new eggs, the young bees hatch and they soon multiply in number. In June, there can be up to 60,000 bees living in one hive. Individual bees do not live particularly long, only around six weeks. During this time, they have several ‘jobs’: first, they are ‘cleaner bees’ that clean the honeycomb and hive.
After this, they are ‘attendant’ bees that feed the brood. In the next stage, they are responsible for constructing the honeycomb before subsequently becoming ‘guard bees’ to ensure that no foreign interlopers can access the colony. From an age of around three weeks they are ‘collecting bees’, collecting pollen and the sweet plant nectar and carrying out pollination in the process. Their operating radius is around one to three miles – hard work for such a small insect.
Honey as a sustainable reward
In the summer, we beekeepers remove the honeycomb from the hive. We then have to centrifuge the honeycomb in order to obtain the honey. Of course, we give the bees something back in return, providing them with a sugar solution to see them through the winter. The honey is the reward for our work. The size of the harvest is dependent on a number of factors, including the size of the colony, the location and the weather. In the past year, we beekeepers in Württemberg were able to produce an average honey yield of approx. 26 kg per colony.
More green for the environment and bees
Now, with the two beehives located on the car park roof, I need to wait to see how the honey yield conditions develop. There is an allotment with lots of plants right next to us, albeit one which is in decline. It would, of course, be preferable if the surrounding green areas were planted with bee-friendly plants so the bees could find food all year round.