Hive News (Jan/Feb 2015)

At this time of year there is little or no forage for the bees, and in a normal winter the temperature is too low for the bees to fly. The queen has stopped laying and the number of bees in the hive has fallen to around 5000 worker bees and the queen. The bees huddle together in a ball, clustering around the combs regulating the temperature by moving closer together when the temperature fall and spreading out when the temperature rises. One of the main pests that invade bee colonies is Varroa, a mite that feeds on the bee’s “blood”. One of our ways of managing those infections is to treat the colonies with a solution of oxalic acid, which irritates the mites and they drop off the bees.

This photo below shows a Varroa board to count the drop of Varroa mites after treatment.

This photo below shows a Varroa board to count the drop of Varroa mites after treatment.

This photo below shows a Varroa board to count the drop of Varroa mites after treatment.

The only source of food at this time, when the weather is too cold to fly and there is little forage available, is the food stored in the hive. We check the amount of stores and knowing that in the coming weeks the queen will be starting to lay we decided to supplement the bees stores with fondant icing which we lay above the brood comb for the bees to feed on. Later in February we may start to give them a weak sugar syrup to give the growing colony a good start to the Spring.

This photo below shows the fondant block being added to the hive, some of the cluster of bees can be seen.

This photo below shows the fondant block being added to the hive, some of the cluster of bees can be seen.

Diary of a House Elf: Winter Cleaning at Charlecote and Dust busting at Anglesey Abbey

As you will no doubt be aware if you’ve been reading this blog for a while or visiting National Trust places, winter is a time where our house elves are incredibly busy. The doors to our grand house may be closed but inside it is a hive of activity. But what is going on?

Winter is the time we ‘put the house to bed’, carrying out conservation tasks and checking inventories. Our House Elves have been building scaffolding and moving it round the house. All this for the simplest of jobs such as taking nets down to wash!

2013.11_Scaffold on stairs_with logo

Our conservation room turned into a laundry this week when the nets from the staircase were washed and ironed.

The House Elves hide out: the conservation-come-laundry room

The House Elves hide out: the conservation-come-laundry room

We came across this post from our colleagues at Anglesey Abbey and thought it might be of interest to you too…

Most of us are familiar with running a duster round the shelves and giving the carpet a quick vacuum – but how do you look after a 40 room house, packed with precious artefacts, which welcomes over 80,000 visitors through its doors every year?

Here at the National Trust, we face many challenges when it comes to cleaning our houses, but the types of challenges are not so different from yours or mine at home – they’re just on a slightly larger scale!

Take Anglesey Abbey for example, the former home of the 1st Lord Fairhaven, where the house conservation team (made up of staff and volunteers) spend a busy few months during the winter, inspecting and cleaning everything from floor to ceiling.

We use the winter months as an opportunity to check each item for signs of damage and record anything we find so it can continue to be monitored.

At the same time we’re busy cleaning items – the aim, to stop dust collecting. Dust can be abrasive, acidic or alkaline. It is also hydroscopic (attracts and holds moisture) and harbours and feeds pests, hence why we try so hard to stop it gathering. And it’s no easy task, last year we vacuumed up over 2000lbs of dust at Anglesey Abbey!

Read more < Dust busting at Anglesey Abbey >

Christmassy Charlecote

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’… or so the song goes, and who are we to argue! We LOVE Christmas at Charlecote. It can be a little stressful getting the tree in place in our Great Hall but once that is in place, the fun really begins….


This year we will once again be welcoming back our very good friend, Father Christmas. His reindeer might well enjoy a catch up with our fallow deer herd whilst the big man is busy finding out what the children of Warwickshire would like to find on Christmas morning. As ever, we are asking families to pre-book their visit as it can be a very popular event.
Call our office on 01789 470 277 to make a date with Santa. He will be here from 11am – 3pm on:

– Saturday 7 December
– Sunday 8 December
– Saturday 14 December
– Sunday 15 December
– Saturday 21 December
– Sunday 22 December

Tickets are £4 per child and there will be a small gift to take home!

On these same dates we will be opening the house which will be decked out for the festive season. This time last year we were amid our massive rewiring project so our House Elves are determined to make this year really special! Come along to enjoy music playing through the garden and see what the elves have achieved in the house.

Our Victorian kitchens will also be open and our cooks will be trying out some traditional yule-tide recipes. The smells will no doubt be drifting into our Servants’ Hall shop tempting our retail team! They’ve been busy getting all their Christmas stock out on display so do pop in and see what goodies are for sale.

Why is it so cold?

This week sees many National Trust places changing to winter opening hours. For us, this means the house closes on weekdays and our House Elves get busy putting the house to bed. But we do open the house on weekends, although some rooms are closed or have restricted access.

Opening hours are shorter to take account of the darker evenings and chilly weather (admission prices are changed to reflect this). Do check our website before visiting especially if you are travelling some distance. If we get very bad weather we are often in a position when we have to close the property but we will endeavor to update the website and our answer phone message.


A wintry day at Charlecote

But that leads me to another point. National Trust houses are notoriously cold – even in the summertime they can be chilly – but they are especially so in the winter. So why don’t we just bung up the heating and get the place nice and cosy? We’re not being tight by leaving the heating turned down. Honest. But there is a reason for the chill and it is quite a balancing act for us.

Beth, our Visitor Experience Officer, explains more…

detail of cast iron radiator in Charlecote Park

The radiators in the house are very decorative, but do they warm the rooms much?!

“It’s coming to that time of year once again, when the temperature in the house is a bit of a talking point, so we thought we’d explain how we go about the balancing act of comfort heating verses conservation heating.

During very cold weather (throughout December, January and February), we do ensure the heating is turned up during opening hours. However, as all of our Room Guides will know, the radiators do not heat the house very efficiently! Whilst we try to keep doors closed as much as possible, with the large unshuttered windows, and without the open fires of old, it’s a bit of a battle to keep in the warmth.

During the shoulder months (autumn and spring) we do need to try and stick to conservation heating standards as much as possible. This means that when it is damp, the heating will be on to try and drop the humidity levels inside the house.

In the coldest weather conditions, humidity levels are very low and excessive heating makes this worse, so this is why we limit the comfort heating to opening hours only (although we still maintain a minimum temperature to help stop pipes from freezing).

Our House Elves closely monitor the humidity levels in the house.

Our House Elves closely monitor the humidity levels in the house. Find out how here.

Our aim is to try and keep humidity levels as constant as possible throughout the year. As many of you will know fluctuating humidity levels are a major threat to historic materials, particularly furniture, as the resulting swelling and retraction results in terrible damage over time. High humidity also allows mould to thrive (a particular threat to our Library and textiles) and pests like warmer, damper conditions.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but the damage caused to objects by not controlling the environmental conditions is real and serious. The comfort of our team and visitors remains our highest priority, however in large old houses it’s always cooler than we’re used to at home. Please come wrapped up well, and we’ll all keep our fingers crossed that this mild weather continues.”

Charlecote Park: A chef cooking in the kitchen

The kitchen fire can be a popular spot on a cold day!