Crocuses and snowdrops

It’s felt colder recently; the temperature is forecast to be around 7ºC/45°F with some wind and rain for the next few days. This is cold enough to get me shivering at the bus stop, but I know it’s nothing compared to the weeks of snow some of the US beekeepers I follow have been experiencing.

Winter is here, but spring is coming. The proof is at the Ealing apiary. Behold, snowdrops!

Snowdrops in February

Snowdrops, with no snow dropping on them.

Snowdrops in February

Gorgeous purple crocuses too, containing vivid orange pollen. So important for bumblebee queens. Little clumps of them are scattered around the apiary, so it is a challenge for clumsy footed beekeepers like me not to tread on them.

In his classic book ‘Guide to Bees and Honey’ (2010), Ted Hooper says that crocuses are “Very attractive to the bees. They provide nectar and good quality pollen in the early season, when this is so important to the colonies’ spring build up.”

Crocuses

I brought two presents with me to the apiary – cake for the humans and mealworms for the apiary robins. I like to hear their excited chirps.

In a strange act of co-ordination, both Clare and I had made banana cake. Mine was the first cake I’ve made with my new Bundt tin. A Nordic Bakery recipe, it contains all sorts of spices – cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, ginger – along with five mashed bananas. I was a bit unhappy with it as I left it too long in the oven, so it seemed quite dense. Clare’s was great though, a banana loaf with juicy raisins and chocolate chips.

“Is anyone here to do any beekeeping?” chuckled Andy.

Clare's banana & chocolate chip loaf

Clare’s banana & chocolate chip loaf

Hmmm….

Going home time; seriously depleted cake and milk

Going home time; seriously depleted cake and milk

Well, Emma and I did heft our hives and check that their fondant hasn’t run out yet. The bees were wisely hiding inside, even though the sun was out. I was amazed when Clare told us that an escaped swarm from last year is still living in her neighbour’s tree – not in a cavity, but exposed to the elements. Combs are hanging from the tree and she can see a few bees still up there. Really hope they can make it through to summer!

John Chapple gave me a good tip. Some of the lectures from the UK National Honey Show 2013 were filmed and can be watched at honeyshow.co.uk/lectures.shtml. There are really high class speakers at the show, so I’m looking forward to watching these. They’re not just about honey but on all sorts of topics, including “Keeping Bees in Frozen North America“.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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37 Responses to Crocuses and snowdrops

  1. thomas73640 says:

    Groan, I missed the lovely cakes , a big mistake letting my friend have my van for the day. Did you see the bees licking at the fondant Emily as I always like that and it’s great to see the snow drops out a good sign that things are slowly improving. We must organise that prune and clean up of the apiary what about next Sunday?

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Unlucky but don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of cakes to come! No didn’t see the bees licking, ours haven’t eaten much of their slabs yet.

      Sorry I have things on for the next couple of weekends, going to Leicester and doing bowling for a friends birthday. Emma might be free? Can do all weekends in March at the moment.

      Tried to get into the Hanwell apiary last weekend. Got past a massive poo outside the first gate, but then the second gate seemed to have been deliberately jammed shut, have you been able to get in? Will have to contact the vicar’s son I think. If it’s going to be tricky getting in, Emma and I have been talking about moving the bees back to the Ealing apiary.

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      • thomas73640 says:

        Thanks for the reply Emily. Yes I checked the apiary at Hanwell the other week and noticed that I had to watch my step one of the drunks pointed it out and was more upset and disgusted than myself. The inner door was stuck and needed a firm push to open it but also it is possible the new vicar has welded it shut, I will take a look next time and if not locked I will wedge it open. I did notice that plenty of work has been started on the garden and the big lime tree has been cut down a shame as that was good for the bees. I think we need to contact the new vicar to see if they want the bees or not, I to have considered moving my hive but just may carry on for now it all depends on how the drunks are managed the old vicar tolerated them but also kept them in order but things could go bad to worse if they are left to do whatever they like.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Drew was with me and he probably could have pushed the second door through, but we were worried in case it had been deliberately shut that way. But it may have been just done by the strong winds. That is a shame about the lime tree.

          Think the new vicar won’t be arriving till about May, until then John’s son is looking after the place.

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  2. I’d love to see a colony living wild in nature.

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  3. We’ve had a few snow drops lately, haha!

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  4. hencorner says:

    It’s so encouraging to see the first spring flowers isn’t it?

    I wish I could stop our chickens digging up my pots of bulbs…. 😦

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  5. disperser says:

    7C/45F, eh? That’s balmy.

    This is no joke; we have 4-5 inches of snow on the ground, and the temperature right is 40F . . . I have my office window open because it’s too warm in the house (the heat is not running, that’s just the sun load onto the house), and I just saw a guy running outside with shorts and a t-shirt on. Every step he landed sprayed a bit of slush up around him.

    . . . and we will not have flowers for another 3 months or so.

    That said, glad you guys have flowers coming up. It does serve as a sure sign of changes coming.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I agree, we’ve been lucky this year. The wind chill factor does make it feel colder though. But you definitely have it tougher! Keep thinking of the return of your summer hummingbirds.

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      • disperser says:

        Had to open more windows, and it’s still 75 in the house, mostly due from the heat load from the sun.

        . . . but no, the winter is fine for now. Time enough for hummers later in the year.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Incredible that your house gets so warm just from the sun – you must save loads on your heating bills. How do you cope in the summer, do you have aircon?

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          • disperser says:

            That’s only in the afternoons, and as soon as the sun goes down, it gets rather chilly.

            But yes, sunny days (of which we have a lot) help in the winter. Remember though that at night there might be as much as a 20-30 deg differential from the day because of the altitude.

            And yes, we do have AC for summers, but there also there is some good . . . there’s usually a breeze, often a substantial breeze, so unless it’s in the 90’s outside, the windows are open and it keeps the house comfortable.

            The problem in the summer is that the house retain a high heat load after the sun goes down, so even if it’s a cool night out, the house still gives off heat. Sometimes, when the house fan is not enough, we run the AC at night more than the day because at night the breeze usually dies down after sunset.

            It’s all complicated, but my heating bill last month (a cold month) was 232 dollars. Electric in the summer can run about as much.

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  6. Just want to say how much I enjoy reading your blog, Emily. This will be my first full year of beekeeping. I got two nucs last summer and fed them like mad. They seem to have overwintered fine in their 14×12 hives. They come out on warm days. As their numbers built up in late summer, my bravery when looking through the brood box weekly waivered. Hope I cope this year…

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Rachel. Well done for getting the nucs through the winter. What was their temper like last summer? Just remember that as long as you’ve done your bee suit up ok, you’re safe inside!

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  7. I love your communal beekeeping! And now I’m thinking of planting crocus in the beeyard. My patch of crocus near the house got trampled from beneath by moles last year. They came up, but in weird places!

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  8. I would love to send them to you if I could! And the chipmunks, too. I tell people that they have tunneled the Paris metro system under our yard. For you, Emily, we’ll compare it to the Tube.😉

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  9. Jonathan Harding says:

    It does give a beekeeper some heart to see the snowdrops crocuses aconites and Mahonia out for those bees that can dodge the wind and rain. A large queen bumble was working Apricot blossom in our greenhouse this week. It has been very mild winter in Sussex so far.
    On your previous blog Did you say you were gathering pine Cones for you smoker? I use a mixture of pine needles and tobacco(grows wild in the garden) but I would have thought pine cones too resinous

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    • Emily Heath says:

      How lovely to spot a queen bumble. I have collected some pine cones as other beekeepers have told me they work well. I’ve yet to try it myself though as we haven’t needed a smoker since I found them. Would never have thought of using tobacco, intriguing.

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      • Jonathan Harding says:

        Dry pine needles are very good and burn slowly and gently unless bellowed..
        Dutch and German beekeepers however used to use a special flat and broad bowled tobacco pipe with a long stem that protruded through the veil. They would then BLOW smoke gently across the frames as necessary leaving both hands free to work the frames.
        Gentle tobacco smoke drops mites but over-smoking damages the brood and US.
        I keep a cigar in my swarm taking kit when taking high swarms using a ladder..allowing me to puff smoke.for protection with both hands free.
        I have never smoked otherwise

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Will look out for pine needles. Impressed by your cigar technique! I have often seen clips of European beekeepers using a cigarette as a smoker, but not being a smoker I don’t fancy it myself.

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  10. P&B says:

    It’s nice to see that you already have some blooms. Thank you very much for posting “Keeping Bees in Frozen North America”. It’s very helpful.

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  11. theresagreen says:

    Hope the recent spell of stormy weather hasn’t flattened your pretty flowers! It’s been really wild up here – took me 7 hours to get home from London on the train on Wednesday & more to come we’re told. The bees are wise to stay tucked up in their cosy hives.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I fear it may have! Sorry to hear that you had such a long journey. Listening to the wind howling outside, I am nervous for my hives. I’ve never had one blow over yet, but still I worry…

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  12. cecilia says:

    Emily, do any of your people have Russians. i have ordered a package. I think they may have a better chance out here in the boonies.. I need help HEEEEELLLLPPPPP!..they are evidently different to manage. c

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Cecilia, I saw that you were getting Russians, will be interested to hear what they’re like. Most people here don’t buy imported bees, but if they do it’ll be the New Zealand bees that are meant to be better honey producers (but I find don’t overwinter well). Some people also buy the hardy Buckfast bees in, a strain originally developed by Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey in Devon (see http://www.buckfastbeekeepersgroup.co.uk/)

      I think our winters are not nearly as harsh as yours, for instance we haven’t had any snow at all this year. So the mongrel bees I keep overwinter fine and I’ve not lost a hive yet. How are the Russians different to manage, do they require vodka supplies close by? 🙂

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      • cecilia says:

        Other than the voddie, they make queen cells all the time but just as a matter of course, they only start brood when there is pollen, not on sugar. Then they grow at a fantastic rate evidently – you have to make sure to keep the supers coming. We are frequently as cold as -20F and they keep themselves warm in a small tight bundle but are more likely to survive our swings in cold temps because they do not have a toilet break until it is much much warmer. The Italians come out too early. PLUS and the big one – they have a natural immunity to mites mainly because they are very clean and will groom each other frequently and are fastidious about house keeping. Though I will have russian mated queen and italian bees, so we will see how it pans out. I think these guys may be better suited to this area. Though as you may have read the Italians are still alive. We are popping up above freezing in the next few days so i will check their food supplies. glad that all yours are doing ok in your wet winter. Dad said the honey season in NZ is a disaster, too much rain, not enough warmth. c

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Sounds good. Wonder if you will need to keep buying in Russian queens if you want to maintain the genes. Really feel for you in those temperatures. Read the news about Meadow and just hope you can get through it together.

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          • cecilia says:

            Thank you.. As to the russians the new queens is a very good thought, any new queens would be russians buut i wonder if i should be forcing replacements.. I shall enquire.. c

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