Category Archives: Blog

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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January in our garden

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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These little charmers are just about to open too – so pretty, I just love them.

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And just in time for Burns Night, we have some heather flowering!

Asian Hornet

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¬†alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk¬†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.

Autumn already

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.

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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.

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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?

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  • 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

June Update

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.

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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.