Did you know that Richmond Barracks is home to two bee hives?

Last year, we welcomed the bees to Richmond Barracks and are working hard to make sure that the garden is a good home for them. They’ve been tucked into a corner of the garden, safely behind some hedges. 

Beekeeper Joan Tolan is looking after the Richmond Barracks bees, which lived in her garden prior to moving to Richmond Barracks. We caught up with her to hear more about the newest residents.


Can you tell us a bit about the bees? 

There are two hives and I’ve had them for around six years. I’ve seen some people with quiet bees but I’ve never had quiet bees.


What do you have to do to look after them?

Well if you take the honey off them, you have to feed them to keep them going through the winter. So that’s usually a liquid sugar feed. After Christmas then, you can check the hive and see how much food is in there. Sometimes in January, you need to feed them a cake mix – like an icing fondant.

I sometimes sprinkle icing sugar on them too, so when they lick the sugar off one another it gets rid of mites.


So they like all the sweet things?

Yes they like nectar and pollen and they convert the nectar into honey. They also collect sap from trees, which they use to glue the hive together and fix things.


How do bees spend their days?

A bee emerges from the hive and starts to do different jobs at different times of their lifecycle – she spends the first few weeks cleaning out the cells and feeding, then she’s allowed to feed some of the grubs. Then she will do guard duty, then go off and start foraging in the summer – which is their busy time.


Meet Beekeeper Joan
One of the beehives in the Richmond Barracks Garden.

What’s your favourite bee fact?

When bees find good foraging ground, they communicate the location by doing what’s called a waggle dance. This directs the bees using the sun as a reference point.

Bees love voraged plants to feed on. Voraged plants can reproduce their nectar every 10 minutes so it’s a favourite plant for them. Comfrey plant reproduces its nectar every 20 minutes, so that would be a good one too. Dandelions are also good for them at this time of year.


What would make your garden more friendly to bees?

They like open flowers or clusters of little ones like lavender. They seem to like weeds – wild things that grow.

Listercians, they love them. A lot of old fashioned flowers, cottage garden flower. They love the flowers on sage, anything that goes to seed for instance leeks that have gone to seed because it’s like a big ball of flowers. They like things like hollyhock and poppies too.

There’s lavender in the Richmond Barracks garden too, so you could get lavender honey. [The flowers the bees take nectar from will affect the taste of the honey.]


How much honey do bees produce?

It depends on the weather and the run of food for the bees and whether it’s a strong hive. 

A bee in its lifetime only produces an eighth of a teaspoon of honey. So you’d need eight or 10 bees to get a teaspoon of honey.


What type of bees are in the Richmond Barracks hives?

They are a local bee, Apis mellifera – honey bees.

The males don’t contribute anything much in the hive apart from maybe cooling the hive down with their wings. They die after they mate, and if they’re still there at the end of the summer, just before the hive goes into hibernation, they’re generally pushed out.


How can you safely visit the bees?

Keep your distance, you can stand by the hedge and look at them from a distance and they won’t bother you. But I wouldn’t go any closer unless you’d like to get stung.

They have bees on guard, they’re keeping out wasps or other bees that didn’t belong in the hive in case they were trying to take their food.


Huge thanks to Joan for chatting with us and sharing some of her bee facts. We’re really looking forward to the time when we can welcome you all back to the Richmond Barracks garden, where you can admire some of the lovely flowers, just like the bees!

Note: This interview was condensed and edited for brevity.