Hunting for flowers and sunshine

Many days this week have been sunny and I’ve been able to enjoy sitting outside to eat my lunch, basking in the sunshine before descending back into what feels like a dark office. I have started spotting a few insects zooming about, including honey bees. Below is a photo of my latest discovery – magnolia trees have started blooming. The flowers were not quite open yet when I passed by, but the white candles were reaching skywards in preparation.

There is a sea of crocuses on the green in front of Ealing Broadway station, but the crocuses at the apiary are past their best now. Spring blossom will take their place; many white and pink cherry trees are starting to show off their pretty little flowers.

Crocuses ealing broadway

On sunny days I hear the excited chattering of birds. They sound happy to have the sun’s warmth around them. It is getting light when I leave work at 5pm now and sometimes I can hear a blackbird calling by Liverpool Street station, even above the noise of rushing footsteps and traffic.

Below is a honey bee I watched as I ate a huge burrito from a local food market. Getting food is so much easier for me than for her. If the burrito would have done her any good, I would have shared it.
Bee on hyacinth

Being the weekend, of course the sunshine turned to overcast skies and a chill wind when Emma and I went along to the apiary. We were hoping to take a couple of frames of brood from our stronger hives and use it to strengthen the two weak ones, but sadly even the two stronger hives, full of bees though they are, had little brood to take. We left them alone apart from adding Nektapoll, a pollen substitute that the bees love.

On quickly inspecting Chamomile’s hive I realised that the frames were extremely light and they had gone through nearly all their stores. We took a frame of honey from Chilli’s hive and gave that to them, as though they have syrup they may not want to leave the cluster to reach it. This may actually be part of the reason that Chamomile is not laying very much. It’s a difficult situation as the old winter bees cannot survive for ever and we need new young bees to replace them, but a weak colony is not going to be able to raise a large amount of brood. The hope is that slowly, slowly we can help them build up to a reasonable size.

We are using dummy boards to try to keep the smaller colonies warm, though they are not the insulated ones you can get. Does anyone have any recommendations for UK suppliers of insulated dummy boards?

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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19 Responses to Hunting for flowers and sunshine

  1. Lindylou says:

    Emily is it possible to squirt expanding foam into the dummy boards you already have? If they are closed hardboard on all sides this should work I think. It will be less expensive than new ones anyway.


  2. beatingthebounds says:

    Blimey, we live in very different countries! It’s been cold and mostly wet up here this week. But it is light till about 6.30pm. I read Dave Goulson’s ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’, I think you recommended ‘A Sting In The Tale’ which I haven’t seen cheaply (or at the library) yet, but which I will read. ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ is fantastic, but also deeply alarming. Orchard trees in China are pollinated by children with brushes, because there aren’t enough bees to do it. Scary.


    • Emily Scott says:

      It doesn’t feel like it’s been light when I leave work for that long now, maybe a few weeks? For quite a while over winter it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I return, so I crave sunshine all the time. Sorry to hear it’s been so cold and wet for you!

      Ask the library if they can order it in ‘A Sting In The Tale’ as an inter-library loan for you, depending on how much they charge it may be cheaper than buying it.

      The China human pollination thing is very depressing. There’s a whole industry now built around collecting the pollen and selling it to farmers. You can see photos of the process taken by the famous bee photographer Eric Tourneret at


      • beatingthebounds says:

        I hate that time of year when we spend all the hours of daylight at work – light arriving morning and evening is a great cause for celebration!
        The plight of bees and insects is not just depressing but also very scary in terms of our own survival. The problem with a library loan for a fascinating book like ‘A Buzz in the Meadows’ is that I won’t be able to refer back to it later – there are so many fascinating details, about aphids and ants for example, that I know I will want to read those parts again.


        • Emily Scott says:

          Yes, it’s so much more fun being able to walk round the park or have a picnic after work. I understand about wanting to refer back to the book afterwards, I do that with a lot of my bee books.


  3. Grower says:

    Only the very tips of squill are showing as the first signs of plant life right now. The bees have been flying on these warm days. Yesterday I left a pan of crushed pollen on their landing board and they went crazy on it moving every speck inside. I’ll give them more today. There are mites on my mite board so I have to figure out what, if anything, to treat them with right now.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Hope you start getting more flowers following the squill, it’s always exciting finding the first flowers of the year.

      Once the weather gets warmer and more flowers are about, doing a shook-swarm is a possibility to get mite numbers down, you shake the bees onto new foundation and destroy the brood comb with mites in, then feed lots of sugar syrup so they draw new comb out quickly. The break in brood production as well as destroying the brood with mites in really gets mite numbers down, but it’s not a suitable method for a weak colony.


  4. It must be nice seeing the plants awake for Spring’s arrival. We still are snow covered. I anxiously await the bees. You mentioned having an easier time getting lunch than do the bees. I had that very thought the other day. It humbles me thinking how an insect has to work so hard to make a living with no guarantees.


    • Emily Scott says:

      I do hope the snow thaws for you soon, it must feel like an endless winter.

      When I think of all the obstacles a bee must dodge to find food in central London – the tall buildings, the cars, the crowds of people – just to find a few scattered flowers – I really do feel for them.


  5. Spring flower spotting lifts the spirits at this time of year. The weather is seasonable over here i.e. changeable. However, very bad news from local bee keepers. They have suffered unprecedented losses. Some 100% dead, my friend found three alive out of thirty hives. There was plenty of honey left. He has never known losses like that. I wish things were better organised here than they seem to be in the U.K. to find out what has happened. It was a rainy winter but not colder than normal. The news has been well covered by local newspapers and radio but I have not heard of any initiatives to find out what the cause is. Amelia


    • Emily Scott says:

      Awful that the beekeepers lost so many hives, they must be devastated. Without knowing more it is difficult to guess what might have happened. Varroa is often the culprit behind dead hives. Here we can send dead bees to the National Bee Unit for testing, but I don’t know if there’s a similar system in France. So many bee bloggers I follow have been losing bees this winter.


  6. molly says:

    What beautiful pictures, thank you for sharing. Imagine that honey bee would have been very happy and content among those flowers in the sun!


  7. helenatnabend says:

    Beautiful magnolias – they are ahead of ours here! And lovely to see such a big patch of crocuses for the bees.


  8. There is a steady increase in the number of flowers in bloom here in Devon although it remains quite cool.
    The bee crisis in that part of China was caused by pesticide use so it’s an important cautionary tale.


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