Our garden is beginning to stir, green shoots are pushing their way through the cold soil. My goal is to have something in flower for bees to visit for as much of the year as possible. On warmer days our bees are out flying and I’m happy to report that we have a few blooms ready for them in the garden.
At the National Honey Show last year I picked up this book
and I’m so glad that I did. The first part of the book explains why it is important to plant for bees, about different types of bees and why it important that we take care of them. The main part is the part that I find most useful. It has a directory of the best plants for bees. Each plant has a clear photograph of the flower and a detailed description. It also tells you exactly which sort of bees benefit from each plant and whether they can forage for nectar and/or pollen from the flowers. So, I can see that my snowdrops are yielding pollen and a bit of nectar for honey bees, and my Winter Aconites are also yielding pollen and nectar for honey bees as well as buff-tailed bumblebees.
I’ll definitely be referring to this book when I’m next planning some planting.
Autumn is well under way here. The bees are still flying when the sun shines – there is still plenty of ivy and Michaelmas flowers around for them to forage on. We stopped doing hive inspections a while ago and will leave the colonies to their own devices until spring now. Every so often I’ll heft each hive to get a feel for the weight of stores that they have – if they feel light then of course I’ll put some feed into the hive, but I do prefer our bees to eat their own honey supplies – it has got to be better for them than sugar syrup.
We have been enjoying the beautiful Autumn colours and can’t seem to stop picking up leaves that are particularly stunning. In previous years we’ve pressed some and used them as decorations, but they always seem to fade and go a bit crumbly fairly quickly.
This year we’ve tried dipping the leaves in beeswax and I’m really happy with the results. It is such an easy activity to do – my children really enjoyed doing it with me too.
Here are the leaves we collected…
Here they are being dipped in the melted wax… Careful, it’s hot!
And here they are cooling. The colours and shapes have been preserved beautifully.
We stuck them on to a ring of card to make an autumnal wreath for our front door.
Oh, and someone made himself a leaf crown with the left overs!
This year has been a really good one for our bees. The colonies have flourished, they have raised some terrific new queens, have done a wonderful job of pollinating our fruit and vegetables and have produced a bumper crop of honey and wax – I couldn’t be more proud of them!
Last night was the annual North London Beekeepers Show. I am so chuffed that we came away with lots of prizes, including a few firsts and a cup.
There is a lot of polishing and preening that goes into the preparation of the entries and it was really the first time that I looked at all the different colours of honey that our bees have produced this year.
Absolutely beautiful – and they taste amazing too!
I have now taken off the last batches of honey this year, the bees are busy filling the hives with nectar to last them through the cold winter months. Around here the ivy is flowering – this is the main source of nectar at this time of the year. If you have some flowering in your garden I’m sure that you’ll see it teeming with busy insects.
Earlier this year our raspberry canes were buzzing with so many different kinds of bee including honey bees. Now we are enjoying the results of their work…
It is the third season for our patch and we have more fruit then ever before, I don’t think that you can ever have too many raspberries, can you? Last year I planted some Autumn fruiting canes too and they have already started to produce fruit.
We also have red and white currents, blueberries, cape gooseberries, gooseberries, loganberries, strawberries and grapes all ripening. We are so fortunate to enjoy this abundance – all thanks to the brilliant pollinators! Hardly any of our fruit makes it into the house, most of it gets eaten directly from the garden – what better way for children to learn the origins of their food?
I’ve just shared a video of one of our hives swarming on our Facebook page – take a look here.
Despite the amount of buzzing and bees swirling around, swarms are not aggressive – they are simply looking for a new home. It really is an amazing sight. Once the bees have left the hive they usually cluster together somewhere until scout bees have found a suitable new home for the colony.
I was lucky that the swarm decided to settle on a nearby oak tree and I was able to easily shake them into a box and then install them into a clean hive.
If you ever are lucky enough to see a swarm clustering like in the picture above, you can contact a beekeeper, who will be able to come and remove them for you. The British Beekeepers Association have an really helpful website to help the general public identify a swarm. It also has information about how to contact a local beekeeper who will be willing to collect them. Link here
Between the rain showers our bees are busy bringing pollen and nectar back to their colonies. Pollen is a vital food for all bees, and it is fascinating to see the variety of different colours that they are bringing in at the moment. Different types of plant produce different colours of pollen, so it is possible to get an idea about what they have been foraging on if you know what you are looking at!
I recently bought a set of pollen identification cards. There is a card for each month which shows the most common pollen colours for that time of the year. I’ve laminated my set, so that they will survive being toted around in my bee suit pockets. We’ve had some fun watching the bees arriving at the hives and trying to match up the colours. We think that they are currently bringing in bluebell, dandelion and cherry pollens.
It is a good reminder that bees do really rely on some “weeds” like dandelions, so please think twice before mowing them off or pulling them out of your garden.
The hives that we have at home are situated up on our roof terrace – it is a great spot for them – facing south, with no shade. Being up high the bees are already at their cruising altitude, so we don’t have them streaming through the surrounding gardens to get in and out of their hives. The problem with being so high (and on the side of a steep hill) is that it is pretty exposed up there in the winter.
We chose to use Poly hives, which are made from dense polystyrene, for their high insulating properties. They have been a great success so far – our colonies seem to thrive in them. We buy them from Paynes.
Over the winter I took advantage of their winter sale and bought a couple of spare hives – it is always useful to have places to put bees when you need to do splits etc. This week we had some sunny days, so I have got on and painted them. I find that they need 3 coats to cover them properly.
when I went out to put the second coat on I found that someone had been “helping”…
The culprit was soon identified… luckily this naughty boy didn’t leave any footprints inside the house!
As well as growing lots of fruit and vegetables in our garden we try and provide plenty of forage for bees and other pollinators. Last year we collected quite a lot of seeds from our garden and we’ve just started to take stock of what we have ready for sowing.
One of the the bees favourite flowers that we had last year were marigolds. They are also one of my favourites too – they are such bright, happy colours and they keep on flowering for ages as long as you keep up with the dead heading. I’m planning to sow lots of them!
Bees can only make use of the simple single or pot marigolds – they cannot reach the nectar of the more fancy double kind, so keep that in mind when buying seeds.
Last autumn my children loved collecting the seeds heads from the Love-in-the-mist plants and sprinkling them all over the place like pepper pots. This week they were excited to see that some feathery little plants are already growing – our front garden should have an interesting mix of lavender and love-in-the mist later this year!
Back in October I wrote about planting lots of bulbs in our front lawn. It is a shady north facing patch – when we moved here a few years ago there was absolutely no spring colour at all and I was determined to change that! Over the past few years I’ve added all different types of things and I pleased to report that they are starting to flower now! Take a look:
These miniature Irises were some of the bulbs that I planted last autumn
The snowdrops were planted “in the green” a couple of years ago and are bulking up nicely. The Hellebore was a gift from my mother.
We have lots of primroses in our back garden, I often see the bees visiting them. They do self seed into the lawn, so I’ve moved the seedlings round to the front of the house – they seem happy in their new position, I hope that they spread around too.
I planted these crocus two years agao – it is lovely to see them again this year. The ones that I planted last autumn are only just showing a little colour, so my season should last for at least a month. These are a particular favourite of bees – I was very excited to see my first queen bumble bee of the year visiting them the other day.
Our Camellias have plently of buds on them this year, but I think it’ll be a while before they open as they are in such a shaded spot – I have seen plenty out already around this area.
It is only February, yet things are starting to move in the garden. The bees are out in force whenever the sun shines and warms the air a little – roll on spring!
Yesterday I went up to visit our Hendon hives. I took some sugar syrup in case their stores needed topping up. I also took some insulated dummy boards to put into the brood boxes if there were any empty frames. This makes keeping the hive warm a little easier for the bees as they don’t need to heat space that isn’t being used.
I needn’t have bothered though – both hives are still very full and very busy. There is plenty of honey packed into the combs and even some brood. The hives both smelt strongly of ivy nectar, so I can guess that most of the honey has been made from that. I’m really pleased that they didn’t need any molly-coddling, with luck they will come through the winter.