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Bee-keeping

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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bee boles, Little Ashley Farm

Bee boles at Little Ashley Farm

The earliest reference to bee-keeping in the Hundred of Bradford is in the Domesday Book survey that was made for King William the Conqueror in 1086. The entry records “one servant who pays seven sesters of honey”. A sester is an old liquid measure, used mainly for wine and for honey, the equivalent of between 24 and 36 fluid ounces (682-1023 ml).

Bee colonies were housed in skeps -conical affairs made of woven straw, like an upside-down basket. Often the skeps were kept in special recesses in south-facing walls that are called bee boles. Boles survive in walls at Little Ashley and Turleigh in Winsley and in Bearfield and St Margaret’s Place, Bradford.

Modern hives are wooden boxes into which are fitted removable frames, on which the bees build the honey-filled wax combs. A separate box on top is where the brood  of young bees is raised. Extra boxes can be added as the colony gets larger and produces more honey comb.

Bees are essential in agriculture for pollinating crops of flowering plants, such as rape, beans and fruit. Despite this, they are threatened by poisonous sprays and by diseases that have crossed the world.