Category Archives: Blog

My top 5 favourite books of 2022

I’m an avid reader with rather an eclectic taste in books. This year I’ve read novels, biographies, beekeeping books and lots of architectural history books. Here’s a rundown of my favourite few – I’d be interested to hear what your favourites were this year – I generally find that my top books are usually recommended to me.

1. Wintering by Katherine May

I have to admit that I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I really want to include it because it’s the perfect book to read at this time of the year. It focuses on how the season affects humans in different parts of the world and how we should see difficult times as personal winters. We are encouraged to slow down and simplify our lives during these darker times. This book is soothing like hot chocolate – I’ve been reading it just a few pages at a time and let the ideas swim around in my head for a while.

2. The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding

This book was highly recommended to me by a friend whose taste in books is similar to mine and it didn’t disappoint at all! In fact, it is probably my best book of the year. It is the biography of a summer house, built in the 1920s on the shore of a lake just outside Berlin. The book tracks the families who occupy the home right from when it was built, until the present day. Naturally, they are caught up in the Nazi regime, the second world war and its aftermath. I found the history absolutely fascinating and I learnt a great deal. Some of the stories are sad, some hair-raising and some hilarious – I really recommend it!

3. Beekeeping – Challenge What You Are Told by Roger Patterson

I attended a queen-rearing workshop run by Roger earlier this year. I came away full of practical bee knowledge, lots of ideas and new things to try. I know that Roger is sometimes seen as controversial in the bee world, but I loved his dry humour and generous sharing of knowledge. Following the workshop, I’ve read several of his books and they all are like having him talking to you. I’ve pulled this one out as a favourite because I think that it covers the most ground. In beekeeping there are so many myths and anecdotal “facts” – Roger demonstrates that many of these aren’t true and encourages the readers to not be afraid to test things out for themselves.

4. Grey Bees by Andrev Kurkov

This is a novel set in 2018 in the war zone between Russia and Ukraine. It is about a beekeeper and manages to be humorous and delightful in spite of the terrible circumstances. I’ve since gone on to read more of Kurkov’s novels, and I love them all. It was wonderful to discover a new favourite author this year.

5. Ten Poems about Bees introduced by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

This is only 20 pages long and was kindly gifted to me by a fellow beekeeper. It reminds me of how many people have been fascinated by bees for many thousands of years. The poems are a delight and it even comes with a matching bookmark. It’s perfect for dipping into while you have a cup of tea.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking about all the other books that I’d like to include as well! It’s tricky to pick just 5, but I hope that you find a good range of things to inspire you here.

If you are interested to see what my 2021 favourite books were, the link is here

Transparency time – if you end up buying using the links in this post I will receive a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you.

6 Bee Friendly plants that are flowering now in North London

When you plan a garden to support pollinators, it’s essential to focus on flowers for early spring and late autumn. These are pinch points in the year. In the spring colonies need to build up – they need plenty of food to feed their young. In the autumn they are building up their winter reserves so that they can survive until the spring. Here are 6 plants that are flowing now in our garden. They should all keep flowing until we get a frost – for us that can be well into November.

Calendula

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This is such a favourite of mine. Years ago I sowed some seeds in our garden and ever since they have seeded themselves around. They start flowering in the late spring and keep going until the frosts. They are officially annuals, so should only last a year, but we have several in our garden that overwinter in sheltered spots. It’s important to pick “single” varieties, otherwise, the bees can’t forage on them.

Autumn Raspberries

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This year our summer raspberries were dismal – probably because it was too hot and dry for them. Our autumn raspberries have been far more productive and the canes are still putting out more flowers – there are nearly always a few bees foraging on them every time I walk past. The bonus of these is, of course, the delicious fruit!

Cosmos

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I grew these from seed this year and they have been brilliant. I picked a short variety because I wanted them to grow under our washing line – I’ve fallen foul of too tall vegetables getting mixed up in our sheets before. They somehow survived being completely neglected through the super dry summer and since the beginning of September have been continually flowering.

Snapdragons

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Again, I grew these from seed this year and they have been flowing since the end of July. If anything, they are flowering more now than they did over the summer months. I love watching bees wrestling to get into these flowers to forage. These are a great colourful alternative to lots of the bedding plants that don’t produce anything worth foraging on (such as Busy Lizzies).

Hebe

Cosmos

The hebe family is absolutely brilliant because there is a member of the family that is in flower more or less at all times of the year. They are evergreen shrubs of various sizes and flowers can be a range of colours. My mother gave me this one. I’m definitely going to add some more varieties to our garden because they are so easy to look after.

Geranium

Cosmos

Like the hebe family, the geranium family is vast and generally pollinator friendly. This particular variety is called Rozanne and is especially good because it flowers continuously from late spring until the frosts. They are great at being neglected and are really reliable. I bought some lovely plants from https://www.rosybee.com/ I really recommend that website too – it has loads of interesting information about planting for bees.

I hope that this has inspired you to plant some pollinator friendly plants in your garden. Now is a great time to plan for next year – if we all make an effort to increase the amount of forage for bees and other pollinators it’ll make a big difference. If you are interested in finding out more about which pollinator friendly plants to grow where then take a look at our book “80 Flowers for Bees”

4 terrific reasons why honey lovers should support the first National Honey Day on 21st October

The British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) is trying to encourage the public to appreciate the benefits of British honey. As part of their campaign they have set up National Honey Day. This will be an annual event, the first will be in just over a week on the 21st of October. This is a great thing for small-scale beekeepers like us. We’ve put together 4 reasons why you should support this special day.

1. A great deal of “honey” that is imported into this country isn’t real honey

Honey is said to be one of the most adulterated foods in the world. Unscrupulous sellers have been found to cut honey with things like corn or rice syrup to make it go further. There is an excellent episode in the series called Rotton available on Netflix about this shady business. Buying directly from your local beekeeper means that you can ask them in person about how their honey is produced.

2. Honey is poorly labelled

At present, the rules about labeling honey for sale mean that the country of origin can be a complete mystery. Putting a jar of honey in a shop with a label that says “A blend of EU and non-EU honey” is perfectly acceptable. This gives no information about where the honey originally came from. The BBKA has started a petition to try and get honey labeling changed. You can sign it here: /https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/honeycake_67599

3. Learn to taste unblended honey

A lot of commercially produced honey is a mixture of honey from various places. The goal of these companies is to produce a consistant product. If you buy a jar of honey of theirs from anywhere in the country it’ll look and taste the same.

I think that this is such a shame – one of the great delights of honey is noticing the variation of flavours, textures, and colours from hive to hive and season to season. I always think that it’d be like collecting all the grapes in France to make “French Wine”. It would be crazy, yet this is exactly what happens with honey.

If you buy honey from a local producer it is likely that you are buying honey that has been made locally. You can always ask them where the honey is from. Lots of small-scale beekeepers now put the postcode of where the hives are situated on their labels, so you can see for yourself.

4. Support a small business

For National Honey Day the BBKA is encouraging everyone to buy a jar of local honey from the UK. If you do this, you will be supporting UK beekeepers, many are small businesses that will be so happy to introduce you to your local honey.

Honey and Apple Tradition for Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is coming up at the end of September. Traditionally, various symbolic foods are eaten over the two day holiday. One of these is apple slices dipped in honey – symbolizing hope for a sweet year ahead.

I’ve read many theories why honey and apples are used – I suspect the true reasons have been lost in the mists of time. It is an important reminder that honey was really the only availibale sweetener for thousends of years. It was available long before sugar and maple syrup was discovered. This is one of the reasons that honey was very highly valued.

Many people also have honey cake as part of their celebrations. There are numerous recipies available, but one of my favourites is this: James Martin’s Honey Cake

We have been supplying honey to our local Jewish community for many years, and are always so pleased when people choose our honey as part of their celebrations.

If you would like to buy some of our honey, which is all produced in North London, it is avaliable from our website shop here

Apples and honey

Free Webinar 20th May

To celebrate World Bee Day next Thursday, I’m partnering with Capital Gardens to bring you a free webinar called “Bees in the Garden – Planting Flowers to Attract Bees”. Colin Campbell-Preston and I will be talking about all things bee and will be giving lots of tips on selecting the best plants to provide quality forage and habitat for bees.

It will be taking place on 20th May at 12:30pm. It is completely free, but you do need to register. Sign up here

Lots of the plants that we will discuss are covered in my book “80 Flowers for Bees” – available to buy here

Edit: if you missed the live webinar, you can watch the recording here.

Honey Tasting Workshop from the comfort of your own home

Over the past few months we’ve been running some honey tasting workshops – it all started last year, when a friend asked me if I would run a session to do with bees over Zoom for her team – they were all fed up with working remotely and wanted something fun and interesting to do together. Since then we’ve run lots of sessions – it has been so much fun meeting new people and sharing the wonders of pure honey. We pick high quality honey for our samples – we are keen to demonstrate the wonderful diversity in colours and flavours of pure honey.

Honey Tasting

Recently I’ve been getting quite a few questions about how it all works, so I thought that it might be helpful to put something here for everyone to see.

We can either run a private session for groups of up to 20, or you can join one of our regular workshops (available to book from our on-line shop here).

A week before the workshop, we will be pack a box with your honey samples, spoons, tasting notes, sensory wheel, honey colour chart, pollen chart and some of our favourite honey based recipes. We will then post them to you, leaving plenty of time for them to arrive.

Honey Tasting

On the day, we all join the Zoom call. Helen, our beekeeper, will talk through the history of human’s relationship with honey, how honey bees collect nectar and make honey, how it is extracted, how to avoid buying poor quality honey and single origin honey. We then taste the samples, learn where that honey is from, why that honey is unique and analyse the smells and tastes.

Honey Tasting

At the moment we are using all pure honey from the UK. The sessions lasts around 1.5 -2 hours. The sample pots are large enough for 2 people from each household to take part. (You only pay for one place).

Do come and join us, or get in touch if you’d like to arrange a private tasting.

80 Flowers for Bees

Way back at the beginning of the first lockdown, my mother and I started a little project.

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This year we decided to pay extra attention to which plants in both our gardens seemed to be particularly attractive to bees. As we couldn’t meet, we frequently discussed what we saw when we spoke on the phone. I would often send her photos of flowers, which she quickly identified. I kept lots of notes – she would tell me which position the plants would thrive in, how tall they would grow and all the essential information needed to successfully grow them.

My parents live in rural Oxfordshire and over the years have created a large, beautiful and productive garden. My mother is an extremely knowledgeable horticulturalist – growing up, our home phone was always ringing with people wanting gardening advice from her. We would joke that it was like a continuous episode of Gardeners Question Time.

I started drawing the flowers and I realised that we were putting together a useful tool that would help people make good decisions about choosing plants for their gardens. The idea for 80 Flowers for Bees was born.

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Bees (not including honey bees) around the world are declining in numbers and it is understood that this is partly caused by lack of food – which means, lack of flowers. Everyone, wherever they live, can do something simple to help this situation – all we need to do is to plant more flowers. 80 Flowers for Bees helps you pick plants that will help nourish bees. I aim to have something in flower in our garden at all times of the year that is useful forage for bees. In the book we give information on flowering times, where to plant flowers, how big they will get, when to plant them and which varieties of the plants are particularly popular with bees.

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I’ve been assured by the printers that we will have the first batch of books with us for our launch date, 17th December. We will post all the pre-orders out on the 18th, which means they will be with you in time for Christmas. So, if you know someone who is interested in wildlife, bees or plants, or who just enjoys eating honey, this little book will make a perfect present or stocking filler. It is available to pre-order in our online shop here. Happy planting!

August

We are in the middle of a heat wave in London. I can’t even contemplate putting on a beesuit and inspecting our hives – This sort of weather makes me really respect beekeepers from warmer parts of the world – it is no fun being in your own private sauna while trying to properly check through hives.

We’ve been steadily taking off batches of honey for the last month or so. The yield this year is down on last year, but we are thankful to have some. It has been such a delight comparing the different batches – the colours and flavours are so variable depending on which flowers the bees have been foraging on.

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We have also taken our first cut comb honey of the year – to me nothing beats eating honey directly from the comb. It really is the most natural and simple way to enjoy it.

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Last month I had great fun giving a talk to the Stroud Green WI. I had originally been scheduled to do it in March, but it was postponed due to the lock down. We eventually got everyone together via Zoom. I talked about beekeeping in London, then we did a honey tasting. I sent them each small samples of various types of honey and we tasted them together. I think that they were amazed by the huge variations between the different types of honey and I was delighted that they appeared to enjoy our honey the most! London honey is particularly flavorsome because of the huge variety of plants that the bees are able to forage on.

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This year we decided to change the material of our label – for sometime we have been trying to decrease our use of single use plastic and we felt that our clear plastic labels could no longer be justified.

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June

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.

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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.

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Lime flowers

Lockdown

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.

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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.

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