May was ridiculously dry in London – while we enjoyed the endless days of sunshine our poor bees were starting to struggle by the end of the month. The blossoms that they like to forage on were all blooming, but the plants were not producing much nectar because of the lack of rain.
A full hive of bees
Thankfully June has brought some rain, in fact it is pouring outside right now, so things are looking much better now.
The Blackberries and clover around us are in full bloom and we noticed the other day that the Lime trees have just started to flower. These plants usually give a significant nectar flow which allows us to take first crop of honey. It is always interesting watching the foraging bees as they leave the hives – when there is a good source of nectar they zip out without hesitation and zoom off with great purpose. Returning foragers arrive heavily laden, sometimes crash landing into the hive entrance.
What an extraordinary spring we are having this year. Lockdown has kept us at home, with only brief journeys out to check on the bees. The beautiful weather has meant that many flowers are early this year – our colonies have built up quickly and are busy piling in the pollen and nectar. The smell of spring nectar when we open the hives is intoxicating.
School from home has now settled down into some kind of routine for us – it turns out that my son is very enthusiastic about helping with the bees. He surprised me with his knowledge – it’s good to know that he does pay attention to some of the bee things that we discuss!
We are fortunate to live very close to Hampstead Heath – most days we venture out there for a walk. We’ve loved exploring areas that we’d somehow overlooked in the past. It has also been wonderful to see the trees coming into bloom week by week. This magnificent Horse Chestnut is currently plastered in flowers, all buzzing nicely with bees.
We try to have something in flower in our garden at all times of the year that will provide some pollen and nectar to any passing insects. January and February are often perceived as the gloomiest months of the year, but our garden still has a few offerings.
This lovely viburnum has been flowering for a couple of months now – It seems to like being in our shady North facing front garden – the scent is divine, I sometimes get wafts of it as we come and go from the house.
Also in our front garden, is this rosemary – which again has been flowering on and off for a month or so. It’s so handy to be able to pick a sprig when I need a bit for cooking.
I’m a big fan of hellebore and we have quite a few different colours of them – this is the first to flower this year.
These little charmers are just about to open too – so pretty, I just love them.
And just in time for Burns Night, we have some heather flowering!
The Book of Bees
Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski
Thames & Hudson
This is such a great book. Our copy was given to us as a present and since then I’ve bought multiple copies of it for other people. It’s a big book (about 40cm x 28cm) so you can’t slip it into your back pocket, but it’s perfect for browsing through at home. It is fully illustrated with large, clear pictures – I usually take it with me to schools if I’m talking to a small group of children about bees. It covers everything bee in a surprising amount of detail – ranging from the different jobs that bees do in the hive, to pollinating plants to beekeeping in ancient Egypt. It’s genuinely a book that appeals to all ages – every school library should have a copy!
This is an incredibly moving book, although it is a work of fiction it is apparently based on many of the stories that the author collected while she was working at a refugee centre in Athens. It describes how Nuri, a beekeeper, and his blind, artist wife flee from war torn Syria. It follows their perilous journey across Europe – flipping between Nuri’s beekeeping and safe family memories and the horrors of their current situation. The book is very easy, fast, but rather emotional to read – it has left a lasting impression on me.
This time last year I had fun putting together a little gift guide for honey lovers and I’ve already had some requests for another one for this year. Here are our ideas – we have used and love all these things ourselves.
I’ve mentioned this game before and we still really like it! It’s a 2 player game with easy to learn rules and doesn’t take long to play. It’s simple enough for our 6 year old to play and tactical enough to keep scheming adults amused. We have the pocket version and it often travels with us on trips.
We have a copy of this book and I’ve bought numerous copies of it as gifts. It is a large hard backed book with all sorts of information in it about honey bees. The graphics are fun and clear and the information is accurate and informative. It covers all sorts of things including pollination, hives and folklore. I particularly like it because it can be used as a picture book for young children or for information for older children and adults.
I first came across these particularly delightful bug houses when we were both featured in the same edition of the North London magazine Village Raw – (a subscription would also make a great gift!). Alan Briggs hand makes these insect houses in North London – they are fantastic for encouraging solitary bees and ladybirds to nest in your garden.
This little book is beautifully illustrated and has some great ideas about which plants to plant to encourage honey bees to visit your garden. There are tips for planting containers and balconies too, so there’s no restrictions if you don’t have a garden. There are ideas for plants by season, so it is possible to provide bee forage for most of the year. It is written by Sarah Wyndham Lewis, who is a London beekeeper.
Finally, I would also suggest our own beeswax wraps – we’ve been making these for years now and they are always make a popular gift. We are striving to use less plastic in our lives and these make wrapping sandwiches, snacks, fruit, bread, herbs etc simple and sustainable.
This year the BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) have to decided to have a special Asian Hornet week from 10th to 16th September.
Beekeepers are concerned about the spread of Asian Hornets because a large part of their diet is honey bees. Apparently each hornet can eat 200 honey bees every day – it is easy to see how a honey bee colony could be decimated very quickly by a nest of these hornets.
Asian Hornets originated from Southeast Asia, but has been steadily spreading. They were first accidentally introduced into France in 2004 and have now spread over the whole country. Significant numbers of honey bee colonies have been lost.
This year several nests have been discovered on Jersey.
Last week an Asian Hornet was spotted by a beekeeper in Fowey in Cornwall. The National Bee Unit was able to track the hornet to its nest, which was then destroyed. Today there is news that there have been two more sightings in Hull and Liskeard.
The BBKA are asking all beekeepers to take some time over this week to watch their hives. The Asian Hornets will hover outside the hive and grab bees as they head home.
It is important for us to be able to correctly identify the Asian Hornet correctly and not to confuse it with the European Hornet and other large insects.
If you think that you spot one, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org ideally with a photograph. Don’t try and catch one as they have a sting!
There is also a useful app which has pictures to help with ID – it’s called “Asian Hornet Watch”
This is a very serious threat to our honey bees and native insects – please do keep an eye out and report any sightings promptly.
This summer seems to have flashed past! We are now settling back into our school and work routines as the beekeeping season is winding down.
We’ve had some terrific honey this year so far, ranging from very pale yellow to rich deep almost red with vibrant flavours to match.
I’ve noticed that the ivy is about to start flowering, which signals to me that I need to hurry and remove any honey that we’d like from the hives for the year. Each colony will need about 40lbs of honey stores to get them through the cold wet months when they can’t fly so frequently. Ivy provides a good deal of those stores for our hives and also feeds a huge variety of other insects. If you have ivy growing in your garden, I implore you not to trim it until after it has finished flowering.
Finally, I’d like to share a delicious and super easy recipe with you. It’s fig season – what could be more delicious than a warm fig drizzled with honey?
Take a fig for each person and cut a deep X into the top
Put a dab of butter into each of the X’s
Grill the figs on a baking sheet until all the butter has melted and the figs are warmed through
Drizzle a generous teaspoon of honey over each fig
Sprinkle a few chopped nuts over the top – we used hazlenuts
We served ours straight away with a dollop of natural yoghurt
We had a pretty slow start to the beekeeping season this year. The cold wet spring delayed a lot of the forage and the hives have been relatively slow to build up their numbers. Sadly we lost a colony over the winter too. A beautiful May has completely turned our fortunes around though.
I was lucky to be called to collect this large swarm that had settled in a tree in Kentish Town a few weeks ago.
They were easy to collect and have since settled into their new hive. Their queen has started to lay eggs and the workers are busy collecting pollen and nectar. They seem a calm and easy to handle colony and I’m so pleased to have them to replace the one that we lost.
Here is a shot of them in the nuc box (a mini hive) that I caught them in. You can see several bees on the central frame with their bottoms up in the air – they are releasing the Nasonov pheromone from their Nasonov gland at the end of their abdomen – this is telling the other flying bees that this is their new home and that they should come and join them.
The past month has suddenly brought a huge variety of forage for all bees – this foxglove in our garden has had numerous types of bees visiting.
The good weather has given us ideal conditions for raising some new queens – here is our latest to emerge. She’s the big one in the middle that the others are all facing. Each colony has just one queen and her main role is to lay all the eggs. She does very little else, and completely relies on attendant worker bees to guide, clean and feed her.
We are hoping to take off our first batch of honey in the next week or so. If you’d like to be notified when it is ready, please fill in the contact form on our shop page.
The seemingly endless cold, wet weather this spring has prevented us from opening up the hives to see how our colonies are getting on so far this year. I don’t like inspecting our bees if it is too cold as it risks chilling the brood. Our roof top hives are pretty exposed, so we prefer a calm day too
We were finally blessed with sunshine this week and we went to work, carefully checking each hive for health, brood and stores. It always astonishes me how differently two adjacent hives can fare so differently. One, packed with sealed brood, nectar and honey, the other with barely any stores and the brood just starting to build up. A few swapped frames between hives quickly resolved the stores situation.
I was also really pleased to finally get hold of an enormous plastic box that is large enough to submerge a whole 14×12 brood box in. Our roof top hives are all poly hives and have to be washed to clean and disinfect them rather than the scorching that we do to our wooden hives. In the past I’ve faffed around with too small containers, only being able to soak a small area at a time. This new beast-of-a-box makes life so much easier and even has a snap on lid which holds the box under the water (they are extremely buoyant!).