Some warm weather has finally arrived in North London! Our garden is suddenly bristling with spring flowers and the bees are making the most of it, working until dark.
I don’t mind having dandelions growing in our garden – we eat the leaves and the pollinators benefit from the nectar and pollen. There have been studies done that show that honey bees who collect dandelion pollen exclusively aren’t able to raise brood successfully because the pollen lacks some essential amino acids – I think that like us, bees need a wide and varied diet!
The last few weeks have been rather gloomy, yet I’ve seen the odd bee out when the temperature is warm enough for them to fly. There aren’t many flowers out at this time of the year – here are a few that I’ve spotted locally that give pollen or nectar for bees…
Mahonia – this one is just coming into flower down the road from our hives. The blooms will give nectar on days when it is warm enough for the bees to be out.
Gorse – this was spotted on Hampstead Heath this week. There is a saying, “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season”. Luckily it seems to flower for most of the year! It’s a useful early pollen source for many types of bee.
Hellebore or Christmas Rose – This one is a bit battered, but will still be a great early source of nectar for many types of bee.
Hebe – The are dozens of different species of hebe and most of them tend to flower in the late spring and summer. However there are a few, such as ‘Autumn Glory’ that flower in the autumn and winter. They produce pollen and nectar and are foraged on by a variety of bees.
There are plenty of green shoots poking up everywhere in our garden from all the bulbs that we’ve planted – it won’t be long until spring now!
While I was sorting out our jars of honey to take to the Fortismere Christmas Fair on Sunday I noticed that some our honey has started to set. Some people seem to have very strong preferences about whether they like set or runny honey and many people ask me about why honey goes through this process.
Nearly all honey will naturally set eventually. The time that it takes to set depends on which flowers the bees have been foraging on. Lime tree honey sets extremely slowly, whereas ivy and oil-seed-rape honey can set in the comb before the beekeeper has a chance to extract it.
Simply put, honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Nectar from different flowers contains different proportions of the two sugars. Setting of honey is caused by the crystallization of the glucose, so honey with a low proportion of glucose will set more slowly than one with a higher proportion.
There are a couple of other factors that will influence the crystallization speed. Low temperatures will speed up the setting process. Honey with plenty of pollen grains tends to set more quickly too. The reason is that the microscopic grains act as starters for the crystals to grow around. Commercial honey is often fine filtered at high temperatures in order to remove the pollen in order to slow down the setting rate and increase the shelf life of their honey – set honey apparently doesn’t sell so well! I’d suggest that the opposite is true as we often have people asking if we have any set honey…
The good news is that set honey is perfectly edible, and is another delicious way to enjoy honey! If you really must have runny honey, then you can stand the jar in a bowl of warm water, or warm it extremely gently in the oven. I’d never recommend using the microwave as you’ll end up with hot spots.
If you’d like to try some of our set honey, Lot #34 is available in our website shop
I’ll make a note in the descriptions of the other lots if they set too.
The beekeeping season is winding down now. The colony size is reducing for the winter – all the drones have been evicted from the hives and the queens have dramatically reduced the rate that they are laying eggs.
At this time of the year it is important that we make sure that all our colonies have enough supplies of honey to make it through the colder months when there aren’t many flowers open and the temperatures are too low for the bees to fly.
We took the last of the honey off the hives over a month ago – we like to give the colonies plenty of time to build up their winter stores.
Around our apiaries we are lucky to have loads of ivy in full bloom at the moment, which is a fantastic source of nectar and pollen. We usually find that our bees forage enough now to maintain themselves through the winter, meaning that we rarely have to feed them with sugar.
I’ve just got round to bottling up the last couple of batches of honey – beautiful golden honey that matches the colour of the autumn leaves.
I love watching the honey running out of the settling tank into clean jars.
Now it’s time to give everything an extra good scrub before packing it away until next year.
Over the spring and summer we take honey from our hives in very small batches whenever there is some ready. This allows us to really appreciate the variety of colours and tastes of honey that result from the different flowers that the bees forage on at different times of the year.
This is a shot of just a few of the different colours of honey that we’ve extracted this year. Naturally they all taste quite different too.
I’ve been particularly intrigued by the very dark honey at the bottom of the stack – it has a really delicious rich flavour. I know that Sweet Chestnut honey is very dark – There are a couple of small, newly planted Sweet Chestnut trees locally, but I wasn’t convinced that there had been enough flowers to yield much honey.
Today, cycling across Hampstead Heath, we discovered several huge Sweet Chestnut trees which are dripping in chestnuts – I think that these may well be the source of our fabulous dark honey.
We’ll enjoy the chestnuts and the honey – what wonderful creatures bees are, collecting the nectar and pollinating the flowers.
If you would like to try some of our dark honey we still have some jars in our on-line shop – it is Lot#33.
The summer seems to have flashed past this year, our bees have produced some wonderful honey – which is now available in our shop.
While the main nectar flow has died down there is still quite a variety of flowers still out in our neighbourhood for the bees to enjoy.
This Patty pan in our garden is still producing flowers and the bees emerge drenched in pollen – they look like yellow ghosts!
This sedum plant has been covered in bees for weeks, often it has 3 or 4 different types of bee foraging at the same time.
Another popular plant at the moment is our goji berry bush – it is covered in these sweet little purple flowers. We’ve never had any berries on it before – perhaps this is the year!
This year I’ve discovered a few snowberry bushes locally – I first noticed them when I heard a terrific buzzing sound when I was walking past. I stopped, thinking that there was a swarm in the bush, but it was just hundreds of bees busy gathering nectar. Apparently the honey made from this nectar has a strong butterscotch taste.
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.
Over the weekend I made the most of the fine weather and planted the spring bulbs that I’d bought. I find this time of the year a bit gloomy – with the clocks changing soon and the thought of those dull grey days… I like to think on to the spring. Last year I planted lots of crocus bulbs in our front lawn and in the spring they were so lovely (and really appreciated by the bees). This year I’m planting even more and some miniature irises and daffodils. With luck we will have a good display early next year.
It took me about 40 minutes to plant 300 bulbs – a relatively quick job for several weeks of spring colour – definitely worth my while I think!
I really enjoy standing near our hives and watching what is going on at the hive entrances. It is a good way to get an idea about the fortunes of a colony. I have noticed lots of wasps around over the last couple of weeks and I was pleased to see that the bees were quick to dispatch a couple that were trying their luck to try and get into a hive. I’m relieved that we made the decision to combine some colonies earlier in the season, which means that the colonies that we have now are large and can easily defend themselves.
I also noticed that many of the bees were arriving with lots of bright orange pollen – they carry it in pollen baskets on their back legs – I believe that they are collecting it from Asters. I must replace the plants that died in our garden as it is obviously a favourite at the moment.
There are plenty of sedum plants in our neighbourhood – another late summer bee favourite. You can see in the picture below that the bees are willing them to flower more quickly!
Another season of beekeeping is starting to wind down. Last night we were busy preparing cut comb and spinning out the last frames from our favourite hive – Hive 2. For some reason the bees in that hive make more honey than any of our others and they forage on different flowers, giving a more flavoursome honey. They are also sweet natured.
The bees have been busy in our garden – there aren’t so many nectar giving flowers at this time of the year, but they have managed to seek out these ones…