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.
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4 Things to Plant Now for Bees
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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…).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.