Honey for Hayfever

Every year I have people who return to us to buy our honey to alleviate their hayfever symptoms. I’ve read many articles that condone the use of honey and many that condemn it – it is all rather confusing.

I started thinking about hayfever the other day when I noticed that the Hazels suddenly seem to have catkins on them. I’m always pleased to see them at this time of the year as they are a great source of pollen for our bees. However, my friend that I was with was groaning as she is sensitive to Hazel pollen and it triggers her hayfever.

Thankfully I don’t suffer form hayfever, but from what I’ve read different people are sensitive to different species of pollen, from grasses to birch.

Honey bees collect pollen from many, many different flowers, this means that their honey will usually contain a rich selection of pollen grains. The pollen grains are so minute that it is impossible to see them floating about in the honey. The theory behind eating honey to stave of hayfever is that if you eat a small quantity of honey each day that contains the pollen that you are allergic to, then your body builds up a resistance to it. Then, when the flower that you are sensitive to does come out, your body is better able to cope.

From what I understand people should start taking their daily honey dose several months before the pollen that they are allergic to is flowering. This allows the body time to build up some immunity.

If this theory is true, then it is important to eat honey that is likely to contain the pollen that you are allergic to. There is no point in taking honey produced in Central London if you live next to an oil seed rape field that sets off your hayfever. There aren’t fields of rape being grown where the bees are foraging, so there won’t be any of that type of pollen in the honey.

Honey bees are said to travel up to about 5 miles to forage for food. You can imagine what a huge range of different pollen could be being brought back to their hives!

Shops usually choose to sell clear runny honey because apparently that’s what people prefer to buy. However, the process of heating and filtering under high pressures used to produce honey like this has the detrimental effect of removing the tiny pollen grains. This means that a lot of honey is not going to help with the hayfever issue.

We don’t heat our honey and do not use any kind of fine filtering. We don’t mix our honey from different hives. On our jars we always state which hive that the honey was collected from and the postcode where the hive is situated. Sometimes our honey is a little cloudy and sometimes the honey will set – but it is always delicious!  Who minds taking that kind of medicine?

 

February Flowers

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.

Winter aconite

Winter Aconites

Snowdrop

Snowdrops

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.

Waxed Leaves

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…

Untitled photo

Here they are being dipped in the melted wax… Careful, it’s hot!

Untitled photo

And here they are cooling. The colours and shapes have been preserved beautifully.

Untitled photo

We stuck them on to a ring of card to make an autumnal wreath for our front door.

Untitled photo
Oh, and someone made himself a leaf crown with the left overs!

Untitled photo

A good season

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.

Untitled photo

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!

Untitled photo

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.

Thank you for the pollination

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…

Untitled photo

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.

Untitled photo

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?

Swarm Season

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.

Untitled photo

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

Pollen

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.

Untitled photo

IMG_6853

IMG_6852

IMG_6849

New Hives

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.

Untitled photo
when I went out to put the second coat on I found that someone had been “helping”…

Untitled photo

The culprit was soon identified… luckily this naughty boy didn’t leave any footprints inside the house!

Untitled photo

Sowing the seeds

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!

 

 

Front garden flowers

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

Untitled photo

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.

Untitled photo

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.

Untitled photo

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.

Untitled photo

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.

Untitled photo

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!