Our bees need you

A shout-out to highlight a crowd-funding campaign by Newbattle Beekeeping Association up in bonny Scotland: Our Bees Need You. One of the Association’s members, Malcolm, left me the nice comment below asking me to mention their campaign to raise money for a hut for their Bee Academy which will house their library and microscopes. Well, I’m a librarian and my surname is Scott so I couldn’t really say no! There’s a range of perks available depending on the size of your donation, including getting to see a demo Flow Hive.

Hello Emily,

I read your Adventuresinbeeland Blog with interest. I find your posts interesting and helpful. I am a member of Newbattle Abbey Beekeepers Association in Scotland. Our teaching apiary is in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey College. We have an excellent relationship with the college and the principal does all she can to support us. We have been offered a WW2 ex army hut to use as our meeting place and to house our library and microscopes. We are very keen to take up this offer but it needs to be refurbished and the Association needs to raise the funds to do this. I am writing to you in the hope that you will find this story to be interesting enough to include in your blog. We are trying to raise £25,000 through crowdfunding and we have made a reasonable start but we need to widen our net to get our story out in the hope that those interested in beekeeping might be persuaded to contribute to our crowdfunding effort. To find out more please visit our campaign page at:

http://www.chuffed.org/project/our-bees-need-you

We attempt in our story to emphasise the importance of the honey bee in pollination of our food crops and how the Association is instrumental in training the next generation of beekeepers. Our proposed Bee Academy will help us to do this.

I do hope our story will interest you and that you will be able to give us a mention in the next posting of your blog.

Warm regards,

Malcolm Evans

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Photos and bee notes from a pollinator day at Kew

A couple of weeks ago I had a day off while Tommy was at nursery. Time to myself! Trying not to feel guilty, I went to a ‘Pollinator day’ on 20th July at Kew.

The day involved lots of talks by bee experts, along with display tables to visit, a chance to flutter between honey tasting to a nest of bumblebees to seeing hand pollination in action. My favourite honey was made from coffee flowers, a rich dark honey. You can see tweets from the day by looking at the #pollinatorday hashtag on Twitter. Kew were running a Twitter competition asking people to guess how much honey the average honey bee produces in her lifetime – as beekeepers reading this will know, it’s a tiny 1/12 of a teaspoon.

1/12 teaspoon of honey

Bee hotels talk

An expert from the University of Reading gave a talk on creating solitary and bumblebee hotels. I learnt new things at this talk and was happy to hear people with gardens asking for advice on how to attract bees. We were advised that garden centre solitary bee hotels often use bamboo tubes that are too big. The tubes should be between 4-10mm in diameter to attract British bees, although there is one British species that will accept tubes up to 12mm in diameter.

Solitary bee tube

A model of a solitary bee nest (not life-sized!)

Solitary bees have interesting life cycles. Each species is slightly different but their eggs are often laid in tube-shaped cavities which solitary bee hotels replicate – in the wild this might be holes in wood or dug in the ground. The females are laid first, as they are most valuable, followed by the more expendable males, which are laid closer to the entrance where predators are most likely to attack. The growing eggs are provided with food in the form of pollen and then each little chamber is sealed up by their mother with a wall of mud or chewed leaves. There might be 7-8 eggs inside each tube.

The adults only fly about 150 metres to forage, so having a good supply of flowers in that area is really important. The males hatch first and hang about the nest site waiting for the females to emerge. As soon as the poor females hatch out they are jumped upon by the eager males. Most of the females then stay in the area and lay eggs which will survive over the winter and hatch out the next spring. However around 30% of the females go into a ‘dispersal phase’ and fly further away to start nests in a new area. This presumably helps prevent in-breeding.

It was surprising to hear that the cocoons can survive a bleach bath! Indeed they can survive most conditions apart from being squashed. At Reading university the bee team clean solitary bee cocoons to remove parasites and then put them back into the wild (you don’t need to go this far with your own nests if you don’t want to!).

We were also given advice on creating bumblebee nests. Avoid most of the commercial bumblebee nests as they don’t get used. You can make your own using polystyrene and soft hamster bedding within a terracotta flowerpot. Bumbles in particular need to avoid moisture building up in their nests. Unlike honey bees they never collect water, as their nests create lots of condensation. They need somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight to nest but not somewhere damp or soggy. Their nests only last between 16-20 weeks.

Bee myths: Busted

I liked these snazzy postcards produced by the University of Reading, who had provided lots of the resources and displays available on the day.

 

 

I managed to spot plenty more pollinators on the way home – here’s a little bee bottom poking out of himalayan balsam.

Bee in himalayan balsam

Bee inside Himalayan balsam

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Messing about with wax

We all have tasks we put off doing. One of mine has been having a go at melting beeswax to make candles. I had a feeling it might be a long and messy job. And I wasn’t 100% sure how to do it either.

Well, I had some time off recently and Tommy was in nursery. So I finally had no excuse to put it off any longer. With the help of the brilliant book ‘‘The Bee Book‘ (co-written by several talented beekeepers including Emma Sarah Tennant) I improvised… not quite in the right way… but the wax did melt!

Melting wax 2

I set up a bain marie over a Thornes double boiler. I was surprised about how long the wax took to melt and turned to the kind beekeepers of Facebook’s Beekeeping Questions UK group for advice (a really helpful group which has just one rule that so many beekeeping forums lack: ‘Be nice to people’). This is what they revealed to me:

Simon Croson screenshot

 

Yep. I had completely missed that water went in the spout. There are even instructions on the Thornes website which explain this! In my defence, I did buy the boiler pre-Tommy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also got some great advice from lots of other beekeepers, such as Candida Williamson’s comment below. It’s important to use rain water if you are in a hard water area because hard water causes soap to form, which affects the quality and appearance of the wax (Reference Mid Bucks Module 2 study notes 2015, p.34).

Double boiler info

 

 

 

 

 

Well, as you can see from the photo below, eventually the wax did melt, even using my botched method. And one little candle was produced! It’s on the dark side, but still a candle.

How do you melt your wax? In an oven, a bain marie, steamer, microwave or perhaps a solar extractor? Perhaps you use tights or baked bean cans? Many of these methods remain very mysterious to me but I know the best way to learn is by doing.

Candle making

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 24 Comments

A day spent talking about bees

I started July off by helping out at the annual Northfields allotment open day. Tom usually goes along with his observation hive and honey for sale but he couldn’t make it this year. He had warned me it would be busy but I hadn’t realised quite how busy. There were over 700 visitors and it felt like nearly every one came to see the hives! I’d borrowed a deckchair but it went unused as I was on my feet for four hours straight with queues of people waiting to come by.

Me at Northfields allotments open day - photo by EalingToday.co.uk

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

What do people ask about bees?

There were some common themes…

  • Do you get stung?
  • How much honey do you get?
  • How do the bees find their way back home?
  • What are the bees in my garden/wall/floorboards?

Some of the children were budding honey experts; one little boy was telling me all about his visit to France where he visited a honey farm. A few children didn’t like honey but most did and wanted to try some – I had a couple of different honeys for them to try. I discovered I should have brought wet wipes as towards the end everything got very sticky!

I had some photos up of some of the different solitary and bumble bee species and it was nice to see how amazed people were about the number of bee species we have here in the UK. It’s around 250! And only one of those is the honey bee.

Most people were very friendly and interested by the bees. I did get a bit frustrated by people who got grumpy about me not selling honey. That’s my personal choice! And I’m quite glad not to have spent days before hand labelling up honey and then an afternoon having to find the right change for people. A recent charity event I helped out at where someone ended up scamming us over a cash payment has put me off that kind of thing.

Many visitors were telling me that local honey helps their hay fever, privately I wonder if this is mere placebo effect but I wasn’t going to tell them not to buy it. Even if it doesn’t help it’ll taste good! The Apiarist has just published a blog post – Honey and hay fever – which sums up some of my reasons for being skeptical about it. For instance, most hay fever sufferers react to grass pollen – which of course honey bees don’t collect, because grasses are wind pollinated.

Anyway, it was a nice day, good to see people enjoying the allotments and appreciating the bees.

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Bee equipment review: National multi function crown board

I’ve been lucky enough to be sent a special crown board to review by a small beekeeping business in Kent called Bee Equipment Ltdwww.bee-equipment.co.uk. As well as selling beekeeping equipment online they also keep around 300 hives in the Kent area and sell nucs and queens.

As its name suggests, their multi function crown board (£16.65) can be used for several purposes: feeding, treatments and swarm control.

  • Feeding – Rapid top feeders fit easily onto this crown board. The depth allows shallow feeders.
  • Treatments – Treatments can be carried out when you turn the board over – so that there’s room for Apiguard trays, for instance.
  • Swarm Control
    1) Firstly find all the queen cells and allow to reduce to a single visible queen cell. Using the normal position, cover the hole in the Multi Function Crown Board.
    2) Find the queen! (easy, right?)….
    3) Place two frames of brood in a brood box above the Multi Function Crown Board and shake as many bees as you can from the box. Fill the bottom box with frames or replace existing ones.
    4) Release the queen into the bottom box, put the Multi Function Crown Board on followed by the second box full of bees with the yellow cap facing the opposite direction to the bottom box (there is a hole with a yellow cap on the side of the crown board).
    5) Take out the yellow cap, place the Multi Function Crown Board on top and close.
    6) Flying and foraging bees will leave the top box with only nurse bees remaining. Leave for approximately two weeks for the cell in the top box to hatch, and hopefully your queen will be laying.

Multi-function crown board

The swarm control idea is pretty exciting… especially if you are stuck for space and want to be able to do swarm control vertically. It’s too late for us to try it out this year, but I shall have a go next year if I can. Think it’s a similar concept to the Horsley Board.

I can’t review the swarm control function properly yet, but I can review their customer service – and I have to say their delivery service was maybe the best I’ve ever had from any company.

First I received an email to say the delivery date, giving a 1 hour delivery time slot and the option to change the delivery date, collect from a pick up point, deliver to a neighbour or have the order delivered to a safe place at my address. In a matter of seconds I was able to change the delivery date to a day I’d be at home. Brilliant!

Bee equipment order

On the delivery day I was sent another email giving me a 1 hour delivery slot – and it was delivered during that slot.

So useful! There’s been so many times I’ve had to stay in for hours waiting for orders from companies because their delivery time slot was all day. Especially not fun when you’re with an extremely active, easily bored toddler.

Order delivery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The product itself feels sturdy and well made. It’s good to support small local companies so if you want excellent customer service and competitive prices, plus a wide range of products, why not give Bee Equipment a try.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

‘Neonics: everything you need to know’ infographic

I’ve been in contact with an outdoor shelters company called Sun Leisure, who designed the infographic below and asked if I would share it. The graphic originally featured some US stats on honey bees – I gave feedback suggesting that stats on bumbles and other bee species should be included too.

To my surprise, they have been incredibly willing to listen to feedback and do further research, the outcome being that Chris at Sun Leisure updated the infographic stats. You can see an interactive version of the infographic at sun-leisure.com/blog/neonics-bees-infographic – I’m sure they would be interested to hear what you think. If you ask they might also reveal why an outdoor shelters company is creating bee themed infographics!

I also recommend reading Philip Strange’s recent blog post ‘Perfect poisons for pollinators‘, which highlights the results of Dave Goulson’s research into whether flowering plants sold in UK garden centres have been treated with chemicals which are actually toxic to bees. Unfortunately the results were not good, but at least as a result of the research B&Q have announced they will be going neonics-free (but not necessarily free of other bee-toxic chemicals) from February 2018.

What are neonics? infographic
Copyright Sun Leisure 2017

EDIT: Since publishing this post, new 2017 research has been published in Science that found negative effects from neonics on honey bees studied in Hungary and the UK:

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Our bees surprise us again

It had been roughly a month since queen cells hatched in our three hives. Emma had seen big new queens in all our hives – so far, so good. Two of the queens were happily laying away – great. Yet there was still no sign of eggs or brood in Patience’s old hive. We asked a couple of more experienced beekeepers whether a virgin queen could appear as large as a mated queen. The answer may surprise you – yes they can! David Evans, writer of the brilliant The Apiarist blog, told me “I’ve seen some teeny tiny mated and very successful queens and some great big bloated virgins”.

So we knew that the large ginger queen Emma had seen may not have been mated. As we were going through the colony there was no signs of eggs or brood. On the other hand, there were no laying workers and the bees were in a good mood. But the colony was getting smaller and had few stores. We were talking about either trying a test frame from one of our other hives to see if the bees would try and raise another queen, or recombining with another colony to save time, when I saw what we were looking for. A queen! A beautiful fairly dark queen, not the same ginger queen Emma had originally seen. And then Emma saw something fantastic – she had an egg coming out of her bottom! As we watched, she began to lay.

Seeing this lovely sight reminded me that jumping to conclusions in beekeeping is a bad idea. Sometimes you get an idea in your mind about something and you ignore the evidence pointing the other way. I was thinking the colony was queenless because it seemed like the new queen should have been laying by now, but I should have taken a lesson from its old queen Patience. I was ignoring the other signs that the colony was queen-right – the lack of laying workers, the good temper of the bees.

We looked through the other two hives and found plenty of brood and stores. Below is a beautiful frame of capped honey. England is having a crazy heatwave so the bees are having a good time. We need some rain though as I’m not sure how much nectar the plants can produce in such dry, hot weather.

Frame of honey

Emma has come up with some lovely new names for our queens. The queen in the hive which was ruled by Hope is Everlasting, as we’ve had that line of queens since 2008. The nucleus hive which we split half Hope’s colony into when we found queen cells is now headed up by Angelica, as our bees are always angelic. And our other hive, which Patience was once the queen of, has Rose-Jasmine (RJ). Welcome to our three new queens!

Below are a couple of wasps nests in an empty hive. Wasps are not a beekeepers’ friend come autumn, but they create such beautiful intricate constructions.

Wasp nests

The bees in some of the apiary hives are producing a beautiful dark honey which you can see John Chapple holding below. He thought it might be hogweed. There are also plenty of horse chestnut trees round the apiary.

John with honey - possibly hogweed

John with a honey frame – possibly hogweed

And here’s a special rose I saw a honey bee enjoying in the spectacular gardens at Winston Churchill’s house, Chartwell in Kent. It’s called ‘Rosa Masquerade’ and the sign said that its buds ‘unfurl a delicate shade of yellow, mature through soft pink to deep raspberry’.

White and red clover are out now. A lot of the clover is wilting in the heat but where the flowers are coping you can always see bees visiting them.

And finally… I know that a lot of beekeepers are very attached to their sheds. Well, Waltons are running their prestigious 2017 Shed of the Year contest. You can check out the previous winners’ sheds and find out how to enter at https://www.waltons.co.uk/blog/enter-your-shed-into-the-2017-shed-of-the-year-competition. One of the 2016 winners has a whole ‘shed village’ at the bottom of their garden which includes a mini theatre, pub and railway station!

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments