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.
We’ve been making these for a a few years for our own use and for gifting. After much prodding from a friend we finally took the plunge and made a huge batch of beeswax wraps to sell.
They are the sustainable alternative to using plastic food wrap or plastic bags. We make them with organic cotton, beeswax from our own hives, pine tree resin and jojoba oil. The brilliant thing about them is that they can be used again and again, and when they finally collapse (we have some that are two years old and still going strong) they can be chopped up and composted – they also make terrific fire starters.
We use ours mainly for wrapping up after school snacks and sandwiches in lunch boxes. You just fold the wrap around the food and use the warmth of your hands to set the shape.
They are also great for covering bowls.
We’ve even made some huge ones suitable for wrapping a large loaf of bread.
When you’ve finished using one, you just rinse it with cool water (hot water would melt the beeswax) and some washing up soap, leave to dry overnight then it is ready to go again the next morning.
I really hate to mention the C word before December… I really do love Christmas, but hate that the season seems to be creeping ever earlier. There is a strict ban on any cards or decorations here until the 1st December with this one teeny exception!
As a child we often had an advent candle on the table at tea time – each day burning down a small section until the big day. Now I have children of my own I thought it’d be something fun to make part of our festive traditions. The problem was that I found it very difficult to find one made from pure beeswax. I’ve become dubious about health benefits of burning paraffin, soy and scented candles in our home and really wanted to have a beeswax version.
In the end, we decided to stop wasting time looking and make our own instead! We used our own gorgeous beeswax and a simple design for the number countdown – it was all quite a fiddle, but we are really pleased with the result.
I was so pleased with how they turned out that I thought we’d make a few more and offer them for sale in our website shop. There is a very limited supply, so please move quickly if you’d like one for this year.
We try and keep all our packaging as sustainable as possible and I’m delighted to have found these lovely jute bags with bamboo handles. They make the perfect container for a jar or two of our delicious honey. For the two jars bags we will put a jar from two different batches of our honey so that you can have the chance to taste the differences between them and appreciate their golden colours. These will make a lovely gift for a honey lover!
Each year after the last batch of honey is safely bottled, I like to line up a jar from each different lot number that we have harvested. Regular readers will know that we take off small batches of honey throughout the season, so that we can appreciate the diverse flavours and colours of the honey.
You’ll see from the pictures that there is quite a range in colours this year, and the flavours are equally as varied. The colour and tastes are determined by the particular nectars that the bees were foraging on at that time.
At the moment we still have some of each lot in our web shop The picture below gives the lot numbers for easy identification.
All of them are really delicious, but each year there are always one or two batches that are my particular favourites – they somehow have something extra in the flavour that makes them really special.
This year the Beekeeper’s Pick goes to Lot#33 and Lot#32!