We were able to take both a Spring and a Summer harvest while still leaving plenty for the colonies in our Hives.
If you want Honey from the Abbots Langley area (i.e. Local Honey) then please do get in touch with the society via the contact us email.
Some Thoughts on How to Plant for Pollinators
With Spring approaching, you may be mulling over purchasing new plants and, hopefully, I will have been nagging you so much about planting for pollinators that you will be looking specifically at pollinator friendly shrubs, bedding plants, trees, etc.
If only it was as straightforward as that!
Reading January’s BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) News, an article by Gerry Collins on “Why are Honey Bees Ignoring the Flowers?” caught my eye. I will try and summarise his research findings:
Planting ‘bee-friendly’ plants will not necessarily result in an increase in the number of honeybees foraging in your garden, and if you see honeybees in your garden, they may not be that interested in many of the flowers you have so lovingly planted.
· Plants sold as ‘bee friendly’, may not be suitable for honeybees, but could be a good forage source for other pollinators.
· Many plants and packets of seed bought from garden centres and supermarkets provide little or no nectar.
· Some flowers are physically inaccessible to honeybees, needing the weight of a bumble bee to open them – such as antirrhinums
· White flowering garden pea plants are self-pollinating and inaccessible to pollinators
Competition is a major factor – scout bees will search out a mass of flowers and will return to their colony with a nectar sample and will instruct, by way of their ‘waggle dance’, all the foragers where to find this new abundance of forage. Once foragers find that source, they will work it until it is exhausted. They will probably fly over many flowering gardens to reach it, but they work as a super-organism and will rarely be diverted from following their leaders to the recommended forage source. This is not new knowledge; it was noted by Aristotle in 340BC, and is known as ‘flower constancy’ behaviour.
Another factor is the sugar content of available nectar; this is a product of photosynthesis. Pollinators will not bother with flowers with little or no nectar on offer, unless they are foraging specifically for pollen. I was surprised to read that although we often see bees on, e.g., poppies and gorse, these are nectar-free and the bees are only there for their pollen. I was also surprised to read that dandelions provide nectar with a sugar content of 40% or more, so are more attractive to pollinators than, say, fruit trees in bloom whose flowers provide nectar with a sugar content of around 10%.
Weather plays its part, of course. Some flowers don’t even open up during cold, wet, windy or overcast days. The warmer and sunnier the day, the more nectar will be produced through photosynthesis. You can see this if you see two bushes of the same variety with one in the shade and one in the sunshine. The shady plant will have fewer insects on it compared to the one in the sunnier position.
Time of day is also important. Honeybees have a strong sense of time and will only visit some flowers that have a time limited period of nectar production, such as Allium flowers which produce a peak of nectar in late morning and early evening, re-absorbing nectar during the afternoon and overnight.
During periods of drought, forage is hard to find and the best source for nectar at these times would be from deep-rooted trees such as sweet chestnuts.
Blackberries apparently produce different amounts of nectar depending on whether the flowers are on thick or thin stems; the thicker stems carry flowers that are richer in nectar.
Once a flower has been pollinator it will cease producing nectar, the petals will fade, scent will be lost and the flower will change colour, indicating to passing pollinators that they won’t find anything to forage on.
Flowers and bees ‘communicate’ with electrical signals: flowers have a weak electrical field around them and tend to be negatively charged; the hairs on bees are positively charged. Visiting a flower changes the electrical potential of the flower temporarily, which can be detected by other passing pollinators who will know not to stop.
I am sure you will have been as surprised as I am, and continue to be, to find out just how clever our pollinators are, and how much goes on in our gardens that we really know nothing about. Beekeeping has opened up a whole new world for me and I do wish I had started out when I was much younger! If any of this information sparks an interest in you in beekeeping, do contact Chris or me (via the website or Facebook page) and we would be very happy to introduce you to the most fascinating world of pollinators, and to our apiary bees if you want!
Happy New Year and happy gardening!
If you would like details of getting involved then please get in touch via the contacts us page (hit the button below).
If you’ve been spending a few minutes some mornings lately scraping ice off windscreens and waiting for your car to warmup before setting off up the road, spare a thought for our honeybees. While all other bees, wasps, ladybirds, etc. have hidden themselves away to hibernate, our honeybees are still awake and still working. Workers will be clustering together around their Queen; some workers are designated ‘heater bees’, dislocating their wings to vibrate the wing muscles and thereby creating heat in cells around the cluster. Some workers will take advantage of some winter sunshine to go out to forage on any available flowers, looking for fresh pollen to supply the colony with their protein foodstuff to go with their stored honey (their carbohydrate food). And they will need to go out on ‘cleansing’ flights from time to time.
Chris and I have had plenty to do. We do have to disturb the colonies again before the winter really closes in. We have to remove the varroa treatment strips from the hives but need to wait for a window of opportunity when the temperatures rise a little into double figures and the rain stays away, and we want to replace some stored honey frames under the hives for the workers to access when the weather prevents them from flying. There is equipment to clean up and store away for Spring. All the honey we have extracted is now jarred, labelled and ready for sale. Hives need to be readied for winter. This involves
· protecting them from woodpecker attack by placing chicken wire round each hive,
· putting mouse guards across the hive entrances to keep out over-wintering mice,
· insulating the hives with, e.g. Celotex in the roof, to save the bees using much-needed energy resources
We will be trying to ensure food supplies are not getting depleted as the cold weather advances and will feed the bees with fondant if necessary.
We were intending to reduce down to 2 hives by uniting 2 and 2, thinking that 2 large colonies would be stronger than 4 smaller ones, but changed our minds after a lot of deliberation and head-scratching, so all 4 colonies are going through the winter. We may well do the uniting in early Spring once we get an opportunity to inspect again in the New Year.
We have had a reasonably good year, with a good amount of honey for sale. If you are looking for something special to give friends and family this Christmas, what could be better than a jar of honey which may well contain nectar foraged from your own garden or window box? There are a lot of nasty viruses around at the moment so a spoonful of honey 3 times a day (don’t use boiling water if putting it in a drink as this kills off all the medicinal properties in the honey) could be just the ticket to ease that cough.
Honey is available for sale each Saturday morning at the Depot, or at our Social evenings at the Manor House. If you can’t get to either of these venues, you can contact us via our website, on our Facebook page or you can ask Chris or me. Jars cost £2 for 4oz or £4 for 8oz.
On behalf of all our wonderful pollinators, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to sow seeds and buy plants that will supply nectar and pollen for foragers in the coming year, especially during the times when there are breaks in the usual blossoming times.
Gardening at the Apiary