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
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!
Today is Michaelmas day and I’m happy to report that there are plenty of Michaelmas daisies out around all of our hives! Our home bees have been bringing in bright orange pollen from these flowers.
I went to have a look at our hives in Hendon today and the hive entrances were very busy – the bees are certainly making the most of the good weather we’ve been having.
The hives there are surrounded by flowering ivy – the scent is almost overpowering and the plants are buzzing with insects – ivy is such a vital source of nectar for so many insects at this time of the year.
Finally, here is a sunflower that has self seeded itself in our garden. I’m particularly amused by this because I tried to grow a whole line of them earlier in the year in a completely different area, but they all got munched by snails. Anyway, it has been visited by loads of bees – particularly bumbles. Next year I’ll try again with my row…
The ivy is about to flower around here – which for me means I need to hurry and take off any honey that we’d like from the hives. We have lots of ivy around here and it normally provides enough nectar for my bees to have enough stores to get through the winter.
The hives we use are made up of a series of boxes stacked up on each other. The bottom box is the deepest and is called the brood box – where the queen lays her eggs to raise more bees. The boxes above are called supers and this is where the bees store the honey. Over the summer we add more supers as they are needed and remove them once they are full. I know without looking when they are full because I can barely lift them.
Last weekend we were so pleased to be able to take the first honey of the year from our hives. We’d been waiting for the honey comb to be capped, which means that it has a low enough water content to prevent fermentation.
The sweet floral smell that filled our kitchen was divine… Once the honey is extracted, we let it filter through a coarse sieve and then let it stand for a few days. We then jar and label it.
We are very happy to offer some of our first honey of the season for sale in our shop – I hope that you enjoy it as much as we do!
This week the bees have been working really hard. The long days mean they are out flying early and I’ve seen them still at work at 9:30 at night! The supers are starting to feel very heavy, but they are still working on capping the honey so it isn’t ready to take any yet.
When I took the roof off one of our home hives today I could see hundreds of bees packing nectar into the comb.
When I pulled out a frame it looked like this…
When honey is “ripe” the bees cap it with white wax, which seals it in and prevents any moisture or contaminates getting into the honey. I was impressed to see how quickly they have been working, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I’d put in this frame – back then it looked like this…
You can see that I have been using just a small strip of wax foundation as a guide for bees. They have built a complete comb, filled it and capped most of it!
All our home hives have several supers on at the moment. When I took the top layer off in one hive a small bit of comb that had been built between the layers of supers was pulled off. The picture below shows the bees springing into action and cleaning up the spilled honey within a few seconds – they don’t waste a drop.