In front of our house we had a small, north facing lawn. We never used it and it was a chore to keep it mown. I had always thought that because it is north facing, it would get a relatively small amount of direct sun, which would limit what can be grown there. However, being at home more than usual over the past year gave me time to watch how much direct sun it actually gets. I was surprised that from March until October it has around 6 hours each day, which is plenty for many flowering plants that bees like to forage on.
I didn’t like the idea of digging up all the grass, or using a herbicide to kill it off, so we decided to use the “No Dig” method advocated by Charles Dowding. We’ve used this method successfully in the past to create a vegetable patch in our back garden. It’s super simple – you lay down a layer of carboard over the entire area, then cover it with compost. You can then sow or plant directly into the compost. Over time the card will rot and the grass will die. I waited until our recycling collection day and collected all the card in the neighbourhood! There was more than enough to make a good layer.
I then added a layer of compost. Some I bought and some we’ve made. We compost nearly all our kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, so we had quite a good stash. Here it is layered up.
The plan is to sow a lot of flower seeds in March, which I’m hoping will then bloom right through until around November. To add some earlier flowers, I poked holes through the card board and planted lots of spring bulbs. They are now poking their noses through the compost layer, so it shouldn’t be too long before there is some colour in the muddy patch!
In the autumn I also sowed some biennials, such as Foxgloves and Sweet Williams, which are overwintering in our tiny greenhouse – I’ll plant them out once the risk of frosts have past.
The hope is that we will have a feast for bees and other pollinators from spring until late autumn – much better than a boring lawn!
We are always striving to plant more flowers that benefit bees – the trouble is that it can be bewildering choosing appropriate plants, so we have produced a one page guide to just 4 plants that you can plant right now.
If you’d like a copy then pop your email in the form below and we’ll send you a link to download the file.
4 Things to Plant Now for Bees
Sign up for free pdf download
You will shortly receive an email with your pdf
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @highgatehoney and join our Facebook group – Plants that Bees Love
It’s now the end of the beekeeping season for this year. We won’t be opening our hives for inspections until the spring now. At this time of the year wasps can be a real pain for honey bees – they will attack weak colonies and raid them for their stores. Thankfully this year our colonies are strong so have been able to stop any raiders from entering the hives. This morning I helped a friend who is looking after a small colony that was getting hammered by wasps. We came up with a rather Heath Robinson contraption to try a fool the wasps. The idea is that direct flight into the hive is now impossible, which confuses the wasps. The bees are smarter and quickly worked out that they could get in by going round the edge of the plastic plate. Let’s hope that this colony makes it through the winter.
A few weeks ago we entered the The North London Beekeepers’ annual show. Many honey shows have been cancelled this year for obvious reasons. I was so pleased with how our entries got on this year – we have very talented bees! We joined a Zoom call to hear all the results announced and then I ran another popular honey tasting session.
We have now extracted all our honey for the year – it is available to buy through our website shop. My favourite lot for the year is #80 – it is a very dark honey, with a tangy and spicy flavour. We don’t have very many jars of it, so I recommend that you grab a jar while we still have some available (or before I eat it all…).
The Book of Bees
Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski
Thames & Hudson
This is such a great book. Our copy was given to us as a present and since then I’ve bought multiple copies of it for other people. It’s a big book (about 40cm x 28cm) so you can’t slip it into your back pocket, but it’s perfect for browsing through at home. It is fully illustrated with large, clear pictures – I usually take it with me to schools if I’m talking to a small group of children about bees. It covers everything bee in a surprising amount of detail – ranging from the different jobs that bees do in the hive, to pollinating plants to beekeeping in ancient Egypt. It’s genuinely a book that appeals to all ages – every school library should have a copy!
This is an incredibly moving book, although it is a work of fiction it is apparently based on many of the stories that the author collected while she was working at a refugee centre in Athens. It describes how Nuri, a beekeeper, and his blind, artist wife flee from war torn Syria. It follows their perilous journey across Europe – flipping between Nuri’s beekeeping and safe family memories and the horrors of their current situation. The book is very easy, fast, but rather emotional to read – it has left a lasting impression on me.
This time last year I had fun putting together a little gift guide for honey lovers and I’ve already had some requests for another one for this year. Here are our ideas – we have used and love all these things ourselves.
I’ve mentioned this game before and we still really like it! It’s a 2 player game with easy to learn rules and doesn’t take long to play. It’s simple enough for our 6 year old to play and tactical enough to keep scheming adults amused. We have the pocket version and it often travels with us on trips.
We have a copy of this book and I’ve bought numerous copies of it as gifts. It is a large hard backed book with all sorts of information in it about honey bees. The graphics are fun and clear and the information is accurate and informative. It covers all sorts of things including pollination, hives and folklore. I particularly like it because it can be used as a picture book for young children or for information for older children and adults.
I first came across these particularly delightful bug houses when we were both featured in the same edition of the North London magazine Village Raw – (a subscription would also make a great gift!). Alan Briggs hand makes these insect houses in North London – they are fantastic for encouraging solitary bees and ladybirds to nest in your garden.
This little book is beautifully illustrated and has some great ideas about which plants to plant to encourage honey bees to visit your garden. There are tips for planting containers and balconies too, so there’s no restrictions if you don’t have a garden. There are ideas for plants by season, so it is possible to provide bee forage for most of the year. It is written by Sarah Wyndham Lewis, who is a London beekeeper.
Finally, I would also suggest our own beeswax wraps – we’ve been making these for years now and they are always make a popular gift. We are striving to use less plastic in our lives and these make wrapping sandwiches, snacks, fruit, bread, herbs etc simple and sustainable.
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.
We’ve recently watched the first episode of the new series called Rotten on Netflix. The episode concentrates on honey and pollination in the US. It reveals the rather shocking measures that people will go to in order to cut honey with various syrups in order to maximize their profits. It explains how huge quantities of Chinese honey is dumped on to the american market, often via an intermediary country to disguise its origin. Much of this honey is mixed with rice or corn syrup to make it go further. Some contains antibiotics that can be dangerous to humans. The program shows the elaborate testing that some imported honey goes through and explains that the tests are of limited value – they can only detect what they are testing for, other contaminants will remain undetected. The producers are always one step ahead – honey can even be filtered with incredibly fine filters in order to remove any pollen grains which would give an indication of the origin.
The episode also touches on the migratory beekeepers in the US – in February each year most bee farmers seem to take their hives to pollinate the vast almond orchards of California. They get paid well for this service, but at huge cost to the health of the honeybees.
It was all rather depressing viewing, but fascinating to see how large commercial honey companies operate. It is so far removed from how we treat our bees and honey.
If you have ever wondered about large scale beekeeping, or why supermarkets are able to sell honey so cheaply (product of EU and non EU countries) then I urge you to watch this.
January is a quiet time for beekeepers – there are no hive inspections to be done and the honey has all been bottled. If you look at any month by month guide to beekeeping then they all suggest that the beekeeper should spend their time reading up on bees.
We’ve been making some plans for the coming season. We’ve also pulled out some of our favourite bee books. I’d like to share one that I love that has been in my world all my life.
This book was published in 1947 and was given to my mother when she was a child. It has a series of cartoons that follow the life cycles of various creatures, including honeybees, silkworms, flies, termites and spiders. It is surprisingly detailed and accurate.
It’s long out of print, but I’ve noticed that second hand copies are available from www.abebooks.co.uk
If I need a gift for a honey lover – and I know a few… then naturally I often give them some of our own honey. I try and pay attention to which type they prefer- dark or light, runny or set, chunk or cut-comb… sometimes honey just isn’t quite enough, so here are a few ideas that I love:
I really like this honey pot – it is beautifully designed and made out of glass and stainless steel. My main gripe with most honey pots it that the lids have holes in them. Honey tends to absorb water from the air, which can eventually lead to it fermenting. Additionally in our house we need to be careful to keep any honey in sealed containers otherwise we end up attracting our own bees into the kitchen, this is particularly a problem in the summer if the windows are open! Bees have excellent noses for tracking down honey.
If your budget is a little smaller, then I highly recommend this spoon. It’s cleverly designed to perfectly balance on the rim of a pot of honey, so any drips fall back into the jar. We’ve had one of these for several years and it’s perfect for when you have a jar on the table and everyone is helping themselves to honey – no more teaspoons slipping into the jar and ending up with hideously sticky handles!
I hate wasting honey. The bees work so hard to produce it that I think that its criminal to waste even a single drop. That’s where these brilliant little spatulas come in. They are super flexible and somehow mange to scrape every tiny bit of honey out of the jar. They are particularly fantastic for getting into the corners of our hexagonal jars. We’ve had one for about 4 years and it looks as good as new. Ours was sent to us by a friend in Australia, but I’m pleased to see that they are now available over here.
If you love honey then you need to learn to love flowers too – without flowers there is no honey. These sweet tins contains a mixture of 1000 seeds specifically chosen because they’ll grow into plants that bees are attracted to. This would be an ideal gift for some one who loves honey and wants to do their bit for helping the bees along the way. It might be fun to combine this with one of these bee spotter’s charts from the RSPB (£3.99). Our children love referring to our copy when we are out in the garden.