Growing my bees

Not bigger bees, but more colonies! I have doubled the amount of hives I have – not too difficult when you only have one to start with.

New hives being put back together

I’ve purchased a colony (the one on the right in the photo above) from a very reasonably priced local source.  This gives me options if one colony goes queenless at some point.

The colony on the left is the swarm I took from Drew’s parents’ tree. They have been moved from a six frame poly nuc into a new National hive I’ve purchased from a Cornish supplier, Heather Bell Honey Bees. The hive cost £134 ready assembled, which is a good price. I just had to paint it with a special low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paint as the wood isn’t cedar – I chose a cheery yellow colour.

New hives

Here’s the hives all closed up and secured with ratchet straps – there are badgers in Drew’s parents garden. I left the nucleus propped up against the hive for a while so that the last few bees would leave and walk up into the entrance.

Back at home, I have been enjoying July’s balmy weather and the arrival of solitary bees in the garden. I had thought my Stachys byzantina (Lambs ears) purchased from Rosybee -plants for bees were a bust at attracting bees. How wrong I was! The wool carder bees I was hoping for haven’t arrived, but what I believe is a species of Anthophora (flower bees) has.

Solitary bee Anthophora on Lambs ear

A whizzy, high pitched little bee has been visiting the Lambs ear. It zooms up and down between the flowers, hovering hummingbird-like for a second before its long tongue darts in. When you get a momentary look at the tiny face – before it disappears again into a flower – the eyes are pale green.

I’ve been told by @apiculturalLdn and @rosybeeplants on Twitter that it may be Anthophora furcata, Anthophora bimaculata or Anthophora quadrimaculata. You can see a little video I made of it in action – Anthophora flower bee. Check out that tongue!

I am very pleased with the Lambs ear plants. Their silvery, elegant leaves feel so soft and velvety – perfect when you have a toddler running about. Lambs ears never seem to be plagued by aphids and need no watering as the furry leaves are so efficient at collecting rain droplets. And they are said to be good for soothing bee stings too!

In the recent unusually hot July evenings I have been enjoying pottering about in the garden, watching the local creatures – our fish nibbling at the pond surface, cooing wood pigeons, fledging thrushes being fed by their parents, the neighbours’ cat rolling in our catmint. And most of all the buzzing bees, going busily about their business. I think the plant below might be purple loosestrife and the cuddly gingery bee is a Common carder bee.

Common carder bee

Is there any greater pleasure than sitting out at 9pm reading about bees, no need for a coat, a mini magnum in your hand, while solitary and bumble bees patrol your Lambs ear?  Surely not.

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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28 Responses to Growing my bees

  1. disperser says:

    See? This is more likely to get someone into bees than some of the other posts. Nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norabridget says:

    I love your blog. Many thanks for sharing the wonderful joys of your life in the garden and with your bees also. I have tried growing the plant lamb’s ears a few times in my garden but it seems to disappear. Something is eating the plant or roots maybe?? I don’t know what happens it but I have got some more in a pot so will try & give it another go. I am also growing my bees too! A bit more to it I think and I am still learning and hopefully my bees will benefit without too much stress from me. All the very best with your writing and thanks again. I live in mid-west Ireland.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thank you, hi over there in Ireland! I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been to Ireland – I must go sometime soon. Funny about the Lambs ears disappearing. It’s said to grow best in full sunlight and well draining soil with not too much water – we get tons of rain in Cornwall but it’s managed to thrive despite that! Don’t water unless it’s been very hot with no rain for ages. Good luck with the bees too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now yer in Kernow, yer in reach of DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group).Though the title sez Debn we have members from Kernow, Summerzet and Darzet as well, Our next meeting’s this Sunday at the Quantock BKA’s apiary and big shed where we’ll be playin’ wi’ microscopes an’ pollen. If yer int’rested lemme know an’ I’ll send ye the details, or else I spect you’ll find it on the DARG website.


  4. Erik says:

    Love the yellow! Congrats on the second colony. We have Lamb’s Ear as well and the bumblebees love it. In past years we have had a European Wool Carder bee as well, but the patch is getting overgrown with the oregano (which blooms later and the bees also enjoy) so the Lamb’s is getting pushed out. Need to find another spot for it with more room.


  5. Ray says:

    Excellent Emily, thanks for sharing. You are well on your way now, just don’t be surprised when your 2 colonies decide to grow even bigger. I got the usual 1 hive (from a friends swarm) in year one, then I got another for the same reasons you did in year two, and that became 4 last year and this year I am on nine! Better get another spare box, that’s all I’m saying! hehe


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Ray! I’ve had that problem before too! Don’t want to have more than three or four colonies though – don’t have enough space or time for that. My plan is to sell any extra colonies. Still, you can never have too many spare boxes!


      • Oh how I know that addiction. 🙂 I had to grow well beyond my exhaustion point before I reigned in my desires for more. But it was nice to have gone there. Now, like you, I am setting a more realistic set point.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. simoneharch says:

    Hon emily. The hives look amazing! I love the yellow! Could you please let me know what paint brand you found best? Thanks. Simone


  7. beatingthebounds says:

    The bees are really taking-off now! I’m not sure that the flowers are Purple Loosestrife, which is usually associated with wet ditches or the margins of streams or ponds. I have some photos which I took earlier this week which will eventually appear on the blog, so then you can make a comparison.


  8. One thing you should treasure is that Maisemore poly nuc. I find that polystyrene hives give bees such an advantage. I encourage you to paint it up with masonry paint, as Maisemore recommends, and in theory it should last 30 years!!!! I just got a Maisemore brood box and roof and it is amazingly easy to construct, much much easier and quicker to assemble than the wooden equivalent. Anyway, good luck with your new bees. 🙂


  9. Brian Skeys says:

    Sounds like an ideal life to me both for you and the bees.🍷


  10. Bee Halton says:

    Thanks for this great post. We live at the Norfolk coast and I feel that the bees are a lot smaller this summer. Is it the same where you live?


    • Emily Scott says:

      Hello! I haven’t looked at that many local hives this year, but the ones I have seen actually have been doing pretty well, I’ve even seen some with three supers on. It seems to vary depending on location a lot though, those near the sea obviously don’t have so much land to forage over. Maybe smaller is not such a bad thing – smaller colonies = less brood = less varroa! Often it’s the big colonies which seem to be most vulnerable to varroa.


      • Bee Halton says:

        Hi Emily, sorry I did not mean the hive size I meant the sizes of the bee’s. We have a lot of borage, marigolds, heather and lavender which bees, bumblebees and hover flies seem to love. The bees I see this year on our plants seem to be smaller than those last year. It was very dry here. Didn’t have any rain between June 5th and last week Friday. All is dry and not much flowers to feed on. But even before they seemed to be smaller. We have a bee keeper close by whom we meet when we walk our dog. Will ask him too next time I see him. Thanks 🐝


        • Emily Scott says:

          Oops got you now! Well, we only have one species of honey bee in this country and individual honey bees do not vary much in size from year to year/between colonies so I expect you mean the bumblebees look smaller (bumbles are the big furry ones).

          Worker bumblebees can vary quite a lot in size even within an individual colony, with the first workers laid by a queen being smaller than later ones. Also smaller bumble bees within a bumblebee colony tend to stay in the nest and carry out nest duties like cleaning/feeding the larvae, whereas the larger ones will go out foraging. Possibly the bees you are seeing this year have not been able to collect as much nectar as usual which has affected the size of the developing larvae in the nest.

          However different bumble bee species also vary in size, so it may be that for some reason you are seeing more of a particular small species of bumblebee this year. The early bumblebee is one of the ‘Big six’ most common species and is a small bumble bee – you can see a picture of this one on p.3 of this flyer –


          • Bee Halton says:

            Hi Emily, thanks for the explanation. No, the bumble bees seem to do rather well. They are as big and fluffy as usual. We have a nest in the ground in our garden. But what you said about the bees not being able to collect as much makes sense. It has been so dry here and many flowers just dried up. We have a flowerbed which is most of the day in shade. So the borage, nasturtium and heather was ok for a long time and it was buzzing with bees, bumble bees and hover flies. Thanks again for the explanation. Have a lovely evening.


  11. theresagreen says:

    Lovely to read that you and your bees are happy and thriving and making the most of this wonderful summer. I love your little buzzy bee- did you get any wool carder bees collecting the fluffy stuff from your Lamb’s ear leaves? Only improvement I can think of on your perfect evening is going for a full-sized magnum so it lasts a bit longer!


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