Category Archives: Foraging

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.



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


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!



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.



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).



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.



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 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”

Springtime beekeeping

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!).


A host of golden Dandelions!

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!

January flowers for bees

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.

Winter flowers for bees

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.

Winter flowers for bees

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.

Winter flowers for bees

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!


Winter flowers for bees


Do you prefer Set Honey or Runny Honey?

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.

Set honey

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.

Last North London honey of the year

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.

Dark Honey from Hampstead Heath

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.

2017 honey colours

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.

Dark 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.



Late summer foraging in N6

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.

Sedum and honeybee

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.

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Promise of Spring

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.

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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!