DIY Bee Hotel

Now’s the ideal time to make a bee hotel for solitary bees. Wooden bee hotels are easy to make if you’re good with a saw and nails (which I’m not).  You can also buy them in garden centres. But it’s easy to make a more simple type of bee hotel with an old water bottle.

There are more than 200 different species of solitary bees. All are vital pollinators. Many are cavity nesting, so they need dark holes in which to  lay their eggs in the spring onwards.  They nest alone, but often next door to each. They rarely sting. Red mason bees (Osmia bicornis), blue mason bees (Osmia caerulescens) and Leafcutter bees (Megachile centuncularis) are the most common solitary bees you’ll  be helping by putting up a bee hotel.

For our simple bee hotel, you’ll need String, or garden twine; a plastic drinks bottle; bamboo tubes between 4mm to 10mm, but mainly 7-8mm in diameter; a scalpel; a small hack saw if you’re going to cut the bamboo (You can buy it pre-cut here). It takes a long time to saw 50 pieces of bamboo!

How to make your solitary bee hotel Cut off the neck off the bottle with the scalpel so it measures about 16cm long. Make two small holes equal distance apart along the length of the plastic bottle. Thread the twine through allowing enough length to make a loop for hanging up. If you are cutting the bamboo, use a hack saw and cut to 15 cm. Avoid any nodules. Make sure the bamboo canes are hollow throughout including both ends.

Tightly pack your 15 cm tubes into the plastic bottle (you want them to be protected from the rain so ensure they’re not sticking out), so that they don’t fall out. You many need to push some smaller twigs or plant stems in between the tubes to wedge them in.

Where to locate your bee hotel A warm wall (south or south west facing), sheltered from the wind, 1 metre or more, off the ground. You don’t want the hotels to be shaded by overhanging trees or other vegetation, or to sway around. Suspend it with a slight tilt so the rain runs off the bottle and not into the open tubes. I’ve wedged this one into some trellis and attached the twine to a branch above.

 

We also use ready-made cylindrical bee hotels, which come with cardboard tubes lined with paper. Here, we have attached a number under the eaves of our south facing garden shed. We’ve also located them on corporate roof terraces alongside bee-friendly flowers.

When to put it up  End of March or early April, then you will hopefully attract solitary bees that are newly emerged, have mated and are looking for somewhere to lay their eggs, like this one in the photo.

Bed and Breakfast Solitary bees are more likely to check-in to your hotel if there’s also food and drink. So ensure you grow some of the following plants in spring/early summer:

  • forget-me-not (Mysotis)
  • wallflowers (Erisymum)
  • green alkanet (Pentaglottis)
  • Pieris japonica
  • Culinary herbs including rosemary, thyme, oregano, horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Cranesbill geraniums, such as Rozanne.
  • Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and St John’s Wort (Hypericum) and roses, for leafcutter bees which like to cut discs from their leaves of roses to make their nests.

You also need to leave some bare areas of soil, as red and blue mason bees will use this to make the nest, and a regularly topped up saucer/basin of water with stones in it that the bees can balance on while taking a drink. Bees can’t swim.

How do I know if my bee hotel is being used? When bees have laid their eggs in a tube, they will seal it with either mud or leaves. These tubes can be left out over winter and new bees should emerge the following spring. Looks like only one room in this bee hotel has been occupied so far.

Be patient. It may take some time for bees to know the bee hotel is there. The more bee-friendly flowers you grow the more likely you are to attract them.

Hopefully next spring you may see solitary bees emerging through the sealed mud like this little fellow. The males always emerge first …

Crocuses – early bee food

 

The crocus bulbs we plant in the autumn flower in February and early March. We love them because they bring early colour to the garden after winter. But  the bumblebees love them for food. I always buy a variety with a bee-friendly label on it just in case such as Crocus tommasinianus (Best to be on the safe side these days with so many sterile plants sold just for their looks rather their ability to feed bees).

When bumblebee queens emerge after hibernating they’re often starving, so they need all the food they can find. But they only eat nectar and pollen from flowers. Nectar gives them the energy to forage for more food and to look for a good place to make a nest. Pollen is the protein-rich food they feed to their babies, after their eggs have hatched into hungry larvae.

Crocuses are among the best early flowering food for bees if they’re planted in the sun where the bees like to forage. I also plant mine under our apple tree with snow drops, because they’re natural woodland flowers and look so lovely there, but in truth it’s a bit too shady for the bees.

  A patch of crocuses in a sunny corner will deliver a big meal for a queen bumblebee. And on warmer days honeybees (pictured) and solitary bees, such as the hairy footed flower bee may also come to forage on your crocus flowers.

They’re also great for window boxes and planters on roof tops, like this one with primulas and wallflowers.

 

  

Bees in winter

I’ve not known a whole month like January when woke up to a carpet of hard frost in the back garden every day and had to put on five layers, including leggings under my jeans and two pairs of socks to cycle the 20 mins to work in central London!  The temperature has hovered around 5 C. So did the bees cope? Well actually this is better for them, than a mild winter when they’re out flying and using up their energy reserves. Honeybees huddle in their hive, keeping it nice and toasty by using their bodies and wings to create a shivering sensation that heats them and their home. (Rather like penguins on the ice). The cluster of some 10,000 worker bees and their queen will eat the honey left by the beekeeper. That’s fine if they’ve enough stores and it’s easy to get to it.  Problems can occur if it’s a mild winter when they need to eat more honey to fuel their flights outside the hive looking for the very few plants that are flowering.

FEEDING HONEYBEES FONDANT

Given the mild December, many beekeepers (even the ones like us that left each hive a super of honey) were out by mid January putting some bakers’ fondant on the top of their hives for the bees to eat if they were hungry.

For bumblebees, the cold weather is also good. Only the queen is alive at this time of year and she’ll be tucked away in a nest – probably an old mouse hole, or a compost bin, or under a pile of untouched leaves – ready to come out when it gets warmer. As long as she’s not disturbed, she’ll be just fine.

As for the cavity-nesting solitary bees that lay their eggs in hollow stems, or our man-made bee hotels, their babies spend the winter in a cosy cocoon before they emerge in the spring as adult bees. Here there’s just one tube in this cylindrical bee hotel that contains eggs. It’s the one you can see that has been sealed with mud.

 

 

FEEDING BEES EARLY POLLEN AND NECTAR

We can’t feed wild bees during the winter, but what we can do is think about how to feed them when they start flying by planting early forage, like this Sweet Box (Sarcococca),  which smells devine and was covered in honeybees foraging for pollen and nectar _ in preference to the Fondant – when the sun came out on Friday. I also spotted a huge bumblebee queen, but wasn’t quick enough to snap her on my phone.

 

 

Other early flowering beauties include:

  • Crocuses and Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) – good for window boxes.
  • Shrubs like Mahonia and the fragrant, Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima).

More details here.

Early flowering Trees for Bees include:

  • cherries, like Prunus x incam ‘Okame’
  • or Pussy willow (Salix caprea) or Musk willow (Salix aegyptiaca), laden with pollen-rich catkins.

Speak to your local council or park manager about ‘sponsoring’ an early flowering tree for bees as we did last year.

 

2017 – Bee London

January is always a good time of year to look back at what Urban Bees has been doing over the last 12 months and to anticipate the coming spring.

So, looking back to 2016, there were three main themes to our work:

  • raising awareness about bees and forage through lunch ‘n’ learn workshops, talks with beekeeper friends at Kew Gardens in the amazing Hive installation, and expanding the King’s Cross Honey Club bee trail App (see the launch video here) which got lots of publicity as far a field as China
  • maintaining bee hives for a number of clients and running ‘meet the bee’ sessions for staff
  • maintaining solitary bee hotels and forage for bees and clients. And advising clients on bee forage throughout the year that’s suitable for their locations, from roof terraces to window boxes. This involves ongoing research for our Trees for Bees and Plants for Bees and other pollinators guides and trials of flowers, shrubs and trees that produce lots of nectar and pollen and are hardy, long-flowering, drought resistant and like exposed conditions.

Looking forward to this spring, we’re going to be working with more clients in 2017 to share our knowledge, advising:

  • companies how to take steps to become more bee-friendly
  • and improving London’s green infrastructure so the city provides more food and shelter for bees and other pollinators.

As we said in our 2014 Tedx talk, if cities become better for bees they are also more attractive and resilient places for us to live.

Watch this space ….

Urban Bees improving bee forage and habitats in 2015

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We continued to work with our corporate clients Grosvenor Estates and KPMG to improve the landscape for honey bees and wild bees. A tour of Kensington Roof Gardens  showed them how it’s possible to have 125 trees on a London roof top in just 18 inches of soil providing year round bee-friendly forage. We are passionate about the potential for cities to have more roofs like this to help pollinators and ourselves by increasing flood resilience and reducing pollution.

Two roofs high above Canary Wharf are now providing more forage for bees; one large green roof managed by Willerby Landscapes, where we advised on replacing some of the plants struggling in the exposed conditions with other more robust varieties that bees like, the other roof where the hives are located at KPMG now has planters containing year-round bee flowers. And thanks to Alec Butcher, landscape manager at Canary Wharf management, the few green spaces in Canary Wharf are now planted with more pollinator-friendly shrubs and flowers including holly bushes, Pulmonaria and Erysimum bowles mauve.

More bee hotels for solitary red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) to nest in are now installed across London, including on the side of our garden shed. We put a bee hotel on the roof at Weils law firm in the City, having worked with the gardener last year to improve the bee forage on the terrace.  It’s used for events during the summer so isn’t suitable for hosting a hive but the company was keen to learn about how they could help wild bees instead. We gave a talk to staff about what they could do at home to provide shelter and food. We also encouraged KPMG staff at its Watford office to create a bee and bug hotel in their car park.

We gave talks and ran workshops throughout the year for corporates and local communities on how to provide better forage for wild bees (including a talk at urban gardening show, GROW  ) and how to build your own bee hotel out of recycled wooden organ pipes (kindly donated by St Peter’s Church in Hackney) or out of plastic water bottles and hollow bamboo canes. One of the most enjoyable events was at the Dalston Eastern Curve garden, a weekend of Bees, Butterflies and Blooms for the Chelsea fringe. The brightly painted bee hotels are now proudly displayed on a south facing wall. We hope they will be inhabited this coming spring. As part of the weekend, we created bee ID charts that allowed visitors to spot the different bees they saw.

In King’s Cross we continued to work with youth charity, Global Generation. This year, we partnered on a Bees for a Better World project,  funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which introduced young people to both wild bees and forage around the urban development and on an organic farm in Wiltshire.

The HoneyClub KX Bee Trail app, developed by Honey Club  members (Urban Bees, Wolff Olins and Global Generation) was the culmination of our educational work around bees and forage. The exciting app allowed visitors during August to tour London’s new development counting four species of bees at a various locations, learning about the forage and bee habitat en route and unlocking vouchers to use at bars and cafes in the area. Thanks to Des Smith, head gardener for Willerby Landscapes on the King’s Cross site, for working with us to map the bee-friendly flowers throughout the year across the development and Argent for supporting the piloting of the app.

The Urban Bees apiary continued to flourish at London Wildlife Trust’s Camley Street Nature Park, and we gave LWT volunteers an opportunity to learn more about the workings of a hive and to enjoy the honey that the bees produced over the summer.

We are also began training corporate beekeepers for a couple of new clients in central London this year.

As 2015 draws to a close with unseasonably warm weather in London allowing honeybees to forage over Christmas,  and flooding in the north of England, we have to make our cities more resilient.

One of the highlights of the year was meeting planting design professor, Nigel Dunnett at the opening of the first rain garden  in central London. It’s outside the HQ of the John Lewis Partnership in Victoria where Urban Bees has worked with Victoria BID to train responsible beekeepers to keep hives. The rain garden will capture rainwater runoff from surrounding buildings and slowly release it into soil, to be absorbed by 30 different types of plants and two Italian Alder trees.

By making cities more bee-friendly by planting more trees and shrubs to feed them and other pollinators, and to act as urban drainage we create a win, win for bees and for us.

Thanks to all our partners and collaborators and people that inspired us in 2015. We hope to work with more landscape managers across the UK in 2016, advising on better bee forage and habitats across their estates.

Nancy’s bee hotel occupied

 

Nancybeehotel

 

Nancy fixed the bee hotel she made at St Peter’s Church in February to her garden’s very warm south facing wall. We saw it today, when she opened her lovely garden as part of the Open Garden Scheme. And we were thrilled to see that about five of the bamboo tubes were sealed with mud, which means Red Mason bees have checked-in and laid their eggs here.

Next year there could be as many as 30 bees emerging from the nest in the early spring, like this one.

mason_bee_emerging

 

 

Solitary bees check-in to garden hotel

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Great to see Red Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) using the solitary bee hotels we’ve put up in the garden.

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The female bees emerged a few weeks ago, have mated, and are now busily laying their eggs in the hollow tubes. They  forage for pollen from the flowers and pack it around each egg so when it hatches later in the summer it has plenty of food. She makes a partition wall of mud between each egg.  After she’s laid eight to ten eggs in each tube, she seals the tube with mud she’s brought back to the hotel.  Then she does the same in a second tube. This bee seems to have completed two tubes. She’ll keep going until she’s laid all of her eggs, which could be another three tubes.

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Unfortunately we’ve still not heard of any reports of bees checking into the bee hotels we made at our workshop earlier in they year. They’ve been put around the neighbourhood in sunny spots but the bees have yet to find them. There may be too much dappled light in front of this second hotel.

masonbeeonmysotis

As well as suitable habit, the Red mason bees need food. Pollen and nectar from Alaknet and Myosotis, both of which grows abundantly in our garden and our neighbours, seems to be feeding them.

First rain garden in central London

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Great to meet Nigel Dunnett at the opening of the John Lewis rain garden in Victoria, yesterday. Professor Dunnett is responsible for making wildflower meadows popular again following the success of his beautiful creations at the London Olympics .

The rain garden couldn’t be more different from the vibrancy and wildness of the planting in the Queen Elizabeth park.  It’s smart, tidy and clean, but still includes more than 30 plants selected for their attractiveness to pollinators, and ability to cope in shade and have their roots in water. They include lots of pink Bergenia ‘Overture’, forget-me-not like blue flowers and sliver follage of Brunnera macrophylla  ‘Jack Frost’,  and the white brush-like flowers of Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’. All these are in flower now. They’ll be followed later in the summer by Rudbeckia, Kniphofias (Red hot pokers) , Asters and the architectural Acanthus hungarlcus.

bergenias1

This is the first rain garden in central London; “a pioneering project that be the shape of the future as we adapt our urban environment to climate change”, said Dunnett. He thanked the John Lewis partnership for being “courageous” in taking the risk.

The cobbled area in front of the JLP HQ had seen problem flooding in recent years. The rain garden will help use rainwater runoff from the surrounding buildings, as well as create a biodiverse, attractive green space for people and wildlife to enjoy. It will look more attractive as it matures.

How it works – instead of rainwater runoff going into the drains which can lead to flooding after a torrential downpour, guttering has been diverted so rain water is collected and stored in a large raised planter (rather like a water butt, but with plants in it) with any overspill then slowly running into the garden itself where it will be soaked up by the plants, soil and two newly planted majestic Italian alder trees.

This seemingly simple idea took two and a half years to come to fruition and about £50k to create. It’s been designed by Nigel Dunnett, who is professor of planting design and urban horticulture at Sheffield University, and The Landscape Agency , and delivered by Landform consultants  for the Victoria BID.

The project received funding and support from the Mayor of London’s Greening the BIDs project and Natural England via the Cross River Partnership regeneration agency.

Signage will be going up soon to explain to the thousands of people who pass by the area each day what the rain garden aims to achieve. Let’s hope it will set an example that many more companies will follow.

Dunnett suggested to the JLP that they may want to consider installing the next rain garden in a Waitrose car park!

 

Haggerston hotels

haggerston1 Two bee hotels from the bee hotel workshop at St Peter’s have now found a home in Haggerston Park. LBH gardeners, Andy and Brian, helped Brian from Urban Bees, put them in a nice sunny spot.

haggerston3 They are high up,  away from dog walkers and other park users.

haggerston4 The hollow bamboo stems should attract the lovely Osmia bicornis (Red Mason Bees) who will shortly be emerging from their winter slumber. Hopefully they will be checking into the wooden-framed hotel filled with bamboo stems later this month.

This is what an Osmia bicornis looks like.   redmansonbee She’s browner and slightly rounder than a honey bee, but a lot smaller and less cuddly than a bumble bee.  She does have a sting, but hardly ever uses it.

 

Home… sweet home

The first solitary bee hotels – made at last week’s community workshop –  are put in place in De Beauvoir Square.

securingbeehotels1

securingbeehotels3

Brian at Urban Bees and Craig, the Hackney gardener who maintains De Beauvoir, are putting up a couple of the bee hotels on the south facing wall of the building in the square. It’s a nice sheltered sunny spot.

Craig is proudly showing off the new hotels he made with bamboo from local gardens and the wooden organ pipes kindly donated from De Beauvoir church.

showingoffbeehotel5showingofftwobeehotels6

Now we just have to wait for some warmer weather to see if the solitary bees, mainly Red Mason bees, will come and nest there in the spring.

Creating homes for solitary bees

Twenty five new solitary bee homes will be going up in gardens, parks and on balconies around De Beauvoir in the next few weeks following a  ‘how to make a bee hotel’ free workshop yesterday run by Urban Bees for the Hackney community.

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Held at St Peter’s Church, the frames for the bee hotels were made from old, wooden organ pipes kindly donated by the church. Old floor boards were srewed in for the backing.

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Local residents donated the bamboo stems,  from their gardens,  in which the solitary bees will hopefully make their nests come the spring.

Those confident with a hack saw cut the hollow stems into 15cm length pieces.

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For others, Brian had cut hundreds of pieces earlier in true Blue Peter style ready to fit inthe frames.

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Young participants painted their bee hotels fantastic bright colours. A budding Pollock and Rothko perhaps!

7.jackpainting8.Pollockbeehotel     9.Rothkobeehotel    10.lovebees

It’s no good just taking your hotel home, fixing it firmly to a shed or wall or fence in a warm location, at least 1 metere above ground.  The red mason bees  need forage from March to July. It’s as  important as proving habitat where they can nest and lay eggs.

So everyone left with a bee-friendly plant, mainly Forget-me-nots (myostis) from my garden which supply the solitary bees with nectar and pollen. And some pulmonaria from Diana Jackson’s garden.

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Everyone had a fantastic afternoon. I gave a short talk about solitary bees – the unsung heros of the bee world.

“I never knew bees were so fascinating,” said Julia Porter, St Peter’s vicar and now a proud owner of  a bee hotel made with her own hands that will go into the vicarage garden.

Hackney council gardener, Craig Davies,  will be putting three up in De Beavoir Square.

Special thanks to Gillian Borrie  for helping with the refreshments and Ruth Napolitano for taking donations to cover the costs of the event. And for Diana Weir for coming up with the idea in the first place.

Everyone went home very happy to be doing something positive for bees locally. The red mason bees and leafcutter bees will be emerging next month and looking for new homes. Workshop participants hope to share photos of bees checking-in to their hotels.

13.russelbeehotel completedbeehotel

This is the first of a series of events that Urban Bees will be involved in, designed to make the De Beauvoir neighbourhood of Hackney more bee and pollinator -friendly. (Hopefully Steven King has some better photos that will be printed in forthcoming newsletters.)

The event was run under the banner, Giving nature a home in De Beauvoir, with the De Beauvoir Association, St Peter’s Commmunity Partnership and Dalston Eastern Curve.

 

 

 

 

 

Valetine’s beekeeping

Around Valetine’s Day is the beginning of the beekeeping calendar.

With the days getting longer, and the catkins on the alder and hazel out, the honeybees are starting to fly on milder days like today when the temperature hit 12 degrees at our apiary in Camley Street. Here’s a bee having a rest on the roof of a hive after a short flight.

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So myself and Brian took a romantic walk around the apiary to check how the bees have been doing over the winter.

He opened up the roof of all the hives and placed a feed of fondant over the hole in the crownboard for bees who may need it as a food supplement until more flowers are out.  And if we have a cold spell, they may not be able to forage for a few weeks.

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A couple of hives didn’t make it through, but the majority are looking good at the moment. The queen will be laying now and swarming season could well be only six weeks away…

 

 

2014 – our highlights

The year kicked off with Alison giving a successful Tedx talk at Warwick University on the Urban Buzz; why we need to create bee-friendly cities to benefit both humans and pollinators.

Our work with corporate clients Grosvenor Estates and KPMG allowed us to put some of this thinking into action. We were not only teaching beekeeping in Mayfair and Belgravia but raising awareness with head gardeners from Eaton Square to Canary Wharf about the importance of year-round forage for bees in cities and the need for bee habitats. And by partnering with roofing company Wild about Roofs we were instrumental in getting lavender roofs installed as a retro-fit on Grosvenor properties in Mayfair.

We have also helped a law firm and its gardner to change their planting scheme to begin transforming its large roof terrace into a haven for bees. Will see the initial results in late spring.

A month by month Urban Bees’ Plants for Bees guide online as well as a pull-out leaflet now accompanies our updated popular Urban Bees’ Trees for Bees guide.

We worked more closely with River of Flowers, creating bee pastures, wild flower meadows and fragrant walks on the Clapham Manor housing estate in south London with the help of Lambeth council and some fabulous local residents; young and old.

We also created an attractively packaged Urban Bees and River of Flowers pollinator seed mix which will be on sale this coming spring.

Urban Bees continued to support the Honey Club in King’s Cross with meet-the-bees sessions at the Skip Garden for Global Generation’s young people and business members of the Honey Club. Brian also inspired many construction workers on the King’s Cross development with his stories about the amazing workings of the bee hive. Some of which was captured on film.

Taster days at Camley Street Nature Park continued to prove popular. We also ran a few at Regent’s Park this year as well, including one all day out-door course as it was such a warm September day.

The highlight of the year for the bees was without doubt the delightful weather. After a few bad years, the spring and summer of 2014 couldn’t have been better; an early warm spring, followed by a a long, very warm summer that carried into October giving bees the chance to collect an abundance of ivy pollen and nectar before the onset of winter. They also produced copious amounts of delicious honey after the disappointing yields of previous years. As a result, 2014 King’s Cross honey should be available well into next year.

The other good news was the launch of the government’s pollinator strategy. While it fails to call for more independent research into bee-toxic pesticides, and has little clout when it comes to turning the countryside and cities bee-friendly it does make some good suggestions and government produced this great ‘call to action’ video.

We will have to wait and see what impact the first year of the temporary EU ban on some bee-toxic pesticides has had in 2014.

Community bulb planting for bees

Urban Bees and River of Flowers’ spring bulb planting weekend on Clapham Manor Estate went a treat last month. The bulbs had been carefully chosen for their attractiveness to bees and other pollinators, to provide food in the spring and throughout the year.

Jim, 10, helped to plant round headed leaks (Allium sphaerocephalon) and Ruby Giant crocuses in raised planters, and masses of native English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with mum Nina in the more shady beds. He said it was better than doing his homework…. and he’d learned a lot about botany and planting from Kathryn at River of Flowers.

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On Sunday more residents, including Rosemary and Tammy Sharma and her two lovely children, Alex 8, and Shanti, 4 , were out in force clearing a large L-shaped bed that was overgrown with Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum). Greg Thompson from Lambeth Living, which manages thousands of council homes in the borough, was very popular when he came down with a large bag of cultivated bulbs that the kids enthusiastically planted in the now bare soil.

The L-shaped bed was also the perfect place for some larger shrubs that the bees will like; Dogwood (Cornus), which produces small, creamy-white flowers in May and June, and St John’s Wort (Hypericum) which will have masses of yellow butter cup like flowers which the bees adore from July to October.

 Fragrant Walk

We kept the Fragrant Walk free of bulbs. The bay trees, Lavender and Rosemary bushes looked good once we’d done a huge amount of weeding so you can actually see them!

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 Bee Pasture

The Bee Pasture (which was certainly attracting bees with its wild flowers) was also attracting the ire of some residents who clearly  felt intimidated by the far too tall sunflowers and thistles that needed pulling out.

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To keep residents on side, beds need regular weeding and  any green rubbish this creates needs to be disposed of quickly. But for this project to work long-term residents themselves will have to nurture the flowers beds and maintain them….

 Plant Locks

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Six Plant Locks, two on Brayburne Avenue and four on Victoria Rise were cleared  of rubbish and ‘weeds’ and planted with white Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), ruby Crocuses and purple/bue harebells (Campanulas). There was a giant nettle in one of the Victoria Rise Plant Locks – great for butterflies but not so good for passersby!

Plant Locks need regular maintenance so hopefully the school on Victoria Rise will take could care of the ones outside its gates.

Unfortunately, the Plant Lock at the junction of St Rule Street and Wandsworth Road was also full of weeds and rubbish. Luckily there is group that has planted bee-friendly flowers in the triangular area at the junction, so they could take care of the Plant Lock which is only about 1 metre away from their bed.

With winter fast approaching the bulb-planted beds and planters are looking a bit bare now, apart from a few purple Penstemon’s, but come next spring they will be bursting with colour for us to enjoy and for the bees to feast on with their nectar and pollen-rich flowers.

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Urban Bees and River of Flowers have been working with Lambeth Council and residents around the Clapham Manour Estate in 2014 to create  a colourful, bee-friendly corridor (Bee-line)  through the estate for residents to enjoy, and where bees will be able to find more year-round forage  in a dense, urban environment.

Varroa alert

Our bees in the urban landscape of London have it pretty good. They have good forage due to the variety of flora in the gardens of the human residents, plenty of wild areas along the railway tracks and canals and no blanket spraying of pesticides as effects our rural counterparts. But our urban bees, along side all the western honey bees, is still plagued by the varroa mite, a slow and silent killer. A parasite that has taken a stranglehold of our colonies in Europe.

This year, 2014, saw a great spring and a pretty decent summer. It was a very swarmy year, possibly the species making up for the losses seen in the past couple of years when the season’s weather was more inclement, and it was a good year for honey.

Unfortunately lots of strong colonies producing lots of brood (eggs and larvae) is a haven for the varroa mite. So it is no surprise to find that after I treated my bees with thymol, (a varroa killer) there was a huge number of dead mites on my varroa tray. The thymol did its job and killed varroa in the hundreds, if not thousands. I must admit I was surprised the colonies had that many varroa  since they didn’t show many signs of being infested. Glad I did the treatment otherwise I would certainly have lost the colonies over the winter or spring next year.

New beekeepers often wait until the summer has ended before turning their attention to varroa, but  I try and treat against  the mite as early in August as possible – as soon as the honey is extracted at the beginning of the month. For the thymol to be effective the temperature needs to be above 15 degrees during the 4 weeks of the treatment.  This year I got the thymol on in the 2nd week of August, so it has nearly finished the course.

If you have started yet, don’t delay. We have been promised an Indian summer, in which case the thymol should be effective if you get the first batch on the hives this week.

So get your treatment on and count the dead varroa.

It will save your bees.

For more information about varroa go the National Bee Unit’s varroa calculator

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding the bees together

Kathryn's loving our wildflower meadow

Kathryn’s loving our wildflower meadow

Two months after laying wildflower turf and sowing wildflower seeds on Clapham Manor estate in south London, this is the glorious result. Not only is Kathryn Lwin from River of Flower ecstatic but the bees love it too.

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We’ve just had our second planting day on the estate, where Lambeth council has invited River of Flowers and Urban Bees to work with residents to improve forage for bees and other pollinators.

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Here are some of the children planting a new raised bee pasture.

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Watering

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and with the Mums

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There’s a lovely combination of native, wild flowers including black knapweed, hedgerow cranesbill and purple betony, with bee-friendly ornamentals such an early flowering clematis armandii to trail along the wall, a winter flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and a Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) which should flower in the spring and again in the autumn to provide the bees and other pollinators with year round foarge.

After just a few hours of digging, planting, watering and mulching, adults and children had transformed the empty raised beds into a haven for pollinators.

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And here is one we did early…

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The food and flowers square that we planted at the end of April was teeming with Horseradish,  wild carrrot, wild red clovers and more. These photos don’t really do it justice. It looked so much more beautiful than the sterile bedding displays that local parks and civic offices still go in for.

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We also filled a Plant Lock with wildflowers. This is probably a first.  More will follow across the estate.  Each will be adopted by a resident.

Thanks to everyone who made the day such a success, particularly to Tammy Sharma and her family. Sonny’s DIY skills were invaluable for putting up the trellis for the clematis, Shanti’s skill with the watering cans ensured no plant went thirsty – and she’s only 41/2, and Alex, 8, was  keen to learn about the plants.. until the snacks arrived. And to Crispin at Father Nature and his family crew who supplied plenty of hands, bunting and music.  And not forgetting Rosemary and Alison for getting their hands dirty, not least weeding the existing beds (which is really important) and for adopting the first Plant Lock. And as always to Nina for publicising the event and having the extra long hose at hand.  Oops, nearly forgot Josh at Lambeth council, without whom non of this would have been possible.

River of Flowers and Urban Bees will be back in the autumn to plant bulbs that will give bees early spring food next year, but I’m sure we’ll pop along next month just to see how it’s all looking…. A lot depends on the watering.

 

 

Curtains for neonics?

The international taskforce on systemic pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists including Professor Dave Goulson at Sussex University – has spent four years analysing all the peer reviewed studies on neonics and fipronil and has today concluded that there is clear evidence of serious harm to honeybees and other pollinators worldwide as well as earthworms and birds. There’s a good video of their findings here.

Neonics are the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a 40% market share and sales worth more than US $2.63bn in 2011. They include imidacloprid which is also used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats.

Alarm bells were first raised about this new class of pesticide 20 years ago when French beekeepers accused Bayer’s seed dressing for sunflowers, sold as Gaucho, of killing their bees. Ever since the industry has been denying the harmful effects of its products on bees, claiming that every independent piece of research is flawed in some way or another; lab tests feed too high a concentration of the pesticide to the bees;  field tests have too many other variables so you can’t pin higher bee mortality on their products.

When we were researching A World without Bees to try to get to the bottom of what was causing the huge collapse of honeybee colonies in the US in 2007 and 2008, we found time and again that the relevant tests hadn’t been done by the regulatory authorities to determine the real risks the neonics posed to honeybees. So it was impossible to say that they were safe. Yet they were being licensed all over the world and sold in their millions.  Until the tests were done we argued that we needed a worldwide ban, using the precautionary principle. Last year, the EU introduced a two year ban and just last week President Obama set up a task force charged with saving bees from mysterious decline which could well lead to a temporary suspension while better tests are undertaken.

The US have been looking into bee die offs since they were first reported on a massive scale seven years ago. Beekeepers pointed the finger at the neonics straight away but the US department of agricultural didn’t want to know.  It blamed poor beekeeping, parasites, such as the varroa mite, and poor nutrition. All of these play a major part in bee health, but the role of pesticides should not be underestimated.

Response from the pesticide manufacturers to the latest report, called the Worldwide Integrated Assessment report on the use of neonics and fipronil,  is entirely predictable. It fails to acknowledge the report on its website. But Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the industry lobby, the Crop Protection Agency, told the Guardian: “It is a selective review of existing studies which highlighted worst-case scenarios, largely produced under laboratory conditions. As such, the publication does not represent a robust assessment of the safety of systemic pesticides under realistic conditions of use.”

He added: “Importantly, they have failed or neglected to look at the broad benefits provided by this technology and the fact that by maximising yields from land already under cultivation, more wild spaces are preserved for biodiversity. The crop protection industry takes its responsibility towards pollinators seriously. We recognise the vital role pollinators play in global food production.”

 

 

Honeybee survival rate greatly improves

Honeybee colony survival rates over this winter are the best they have been since the British Beekeepers’ Association started  its annual survey six years ago. Hurrah…

This winter an average of just one in 10 hives perished according to the BBKA survey of close on 1000  members across England, compared to more than a third dying out the previous winter (2012/13)and an average of around 16% not pulling through across each of the previous four years?

So does this mean that bees are out of the woods and no longer need our help? It’s not quite as simple that. The threats to honeybees – the varroa mite, lack of forage and pesticide use – have not diminished. The big difference during last winter was the weather. We had an extremely mild winter and spring came early which allowed bees to get out and collect available forage early preventing starvation and allowing them to build up their strength to deal better with their foes.

In addition, many weak colonies were wiped out during the long winter and late spring the previous year, so the ones that made it through to summer 2013 were strong going into last winter.

The good weather conditions this spring and summer have encouraged much swarming and brood development. Since varroa feed and breed on honeybee brood we could see a build up of the mite in our hives which could weaken our colonies going into this winter. So beekeepers need to stay vigilant, or come this time next year we will  be lamenting significant hive losses again!

Bees’ choice at Chelsea

beeatchelsea2  BeeatChelsea

The bees’ choice at the Chelsea Flower Show 2014 was this lovely crimson thistle-like flower that was all over the show gardens.  Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum‘ or plum thistle. It attracted all the bees, including this honeybee, when I visited on Tuesday.

It usually flowers in July and August so not to late to order some for a sunny spot in the garden.

Glad to say the foxgloves were out in force so plenty for the bumblebees to feed on. And there was a wild feel to many of the smaller gardens so fairly bee-friendly with favourites including Nepeta and Anchusa Azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’, both of which are flowering in our garden.

 

Planting edible bee pastures and fragrant walks

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Chloe watering the Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) plugs she has planted on the Clapham Manor estate as part of the bee-friendly planting day organised by River of Flowers and Urban Bees on Saturday.

The day was a great success. The weather was perfect and some 50 local residents and children came out to help plant three raised beds on the estate to create one end of a ‘river of flowers’ . The three beds each had a different theme:

Chloe’s at the Food and Flowers bed, where edible wild flowers including tufted vetch, red clovers and wild carrots are planted in clumps to create swathes of tasty forage for bees and other pollinators.

kendifoodflowers Kendi, 6, was another budding gardener. He came with his grandmother and said he really enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning about bees and plants.

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Sid and his 3 year old daughter, Rose, are helping to plant up the Bee Pasture bed with a mixture of wild flowers such as white campion, yarrow and lesser knapweed, with one of my favourite bee and butterfly ornamental plants  Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’.

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Two enthusiastic young helpers on the Fragrant Walk, a long planter filled with ornamental plants that smell divine and are hugely attractive to bees and other pollinators.  The two best bee-friendly varieties of lavenders: Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘intermedia Grosso’ are accompanied by rosemary, mint, and marjorams, with bay trees down the middle.

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As well as transforming what was a dark area on the estate to a much brighter, open space , this bed will provide much-needed forage from June to September. And residents can use the plants for culinary purposes. This bed also needs less watering as the plants are used to a dry Mediterranean climate.

Each of the wildflowers and garden plants  were carefully selected for pollinators and people so we hope they will be enjoyed by both immensely.

josh,kathyrn, alison, kerry

Some of the happy organisers at the end of the day’s planting:  L-R Josh Kerry (Lambeth council), Kathryn Lwin (River of Flowers), myself Alison Benjamin (Urban Bees) and Kerrie Mckinnon (River of Flowers). Thanks to Josh for inviting River of Flowers & Urban Bees to participate in the Clapham Greenways project and for getting the water butts on site, and to Kerrie for her invaluable planting plans for each of the beds.

Other thanks go to Crispin at Father Nature, whose volunteers and workers cleared each of the beds of tired old bushes and shrubs and prepared them with top soil.  And all the residents who came along, including the aptly named Rosemary, and especially to Nina who galvanised a lot of support.

Residents involvement is key.  Now the beds are planted,  two of them will need constant watering during this dry, hot spell.

It’s the  first community planting days that Urban Bees has been involved in. With forage such an important issue for all bees, we hope to do many more.

A second planting day on this estate will be held in June.  Dates tbc …  I can’t wait.