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!
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!).
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!
As a beekeeping family we receive lots of lovely bee themed cards and gifts from our kind friends and relatives. Last Christmas my children were given a game called Hive and we have all become a little addicted to it! It’s too good not to share here.
It’s a two player strategy game and each round only lasts for a few minutes, so it’s perfect for filling an odd bit of time between other things.
Each player has a number of tactile hexagonal tiles which have various creatures, such as grasshoppers or ladybirds on them. Like the different chess pieces, each insect can only move in a prescribed way. The idea of the game is to completely surround your opponent’s Queen Bee tile. The rules are simple but the tactics can be fiendish!
Our set is the pocket version, which comes with a handy bag. The playing area that you need isn’t any bigger than an A4 bit of paper, so it’d be perfect for taking on trips.
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!