Increasing bee forage

Went to the launch of the Bee Collective last night in Victoria. Using a honey extraction service for beekeepers to fund more bee-friendly green spaces in London is a really neat idea. I hope it catches on. Urban Bees supplied the honey for the launch. You can read my Guardian blog about it here
Good luck the Bee Collective.

Newcastle bees

I’m going to Scotswood Natural Community Garden in Newcastle tomorrow. Newcastle featured strongly in Bees in the City because the council was leading an initiative to make the city bee-friendly. When I went up to research the book, Scotswood had just got European funding for 6 hives on its 2 acre site and to offer free beekeeping classes. It will be fascinating to see how it’s going. Is urban beekeeping as popular in the north-east as it is in London? Do they face the same challenges and how are their bees coping with this wet summer? They have a good blog about their bee project with useful information about bee-friendly plants. They’ve asked me to speak about urban beekeeping but I’ve got lots of questions to ask them. I’m really looking forward to seeing the garden. It sounds similar to the wonderful Camley Street Nature Park in King’s Cross where we keep our bees.

I am also going to meet up with Geraldine Wright from Newcastle University to find out how her research into the nutritional value of different pollens is going.

Starvation Risk for our bees

Message from National Bee Unit

April 2012 – Starvation Risk

With the on-going poor weather, there is a real risk of bee colonies starving. Please check for stores in the colony and if in any doubt feed your bees. You should feed with either a fondant or a thin syrup.

Further information on feeding bees can be found in Best Practice Guideline No. 7, on the Advisory Leaflets page of BeeBase (click here).

Thank You

see https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/public/News/news.cfm#125

 

Bees working the early pollen of the hazel trees.

London 23rd Feb 2012

I knew that the bees were going to be out today since the temperature reached 18 degrees today in London (Feb 23rd) and indeed all the hives were busy with bees flying and bring back pollen.

I had a look around to see what they might be working and no surprise to see the bees on the hazel catkins. They were loving it. It is such an important plant for early pollen.

So I took some snaps which can be seen on the gallery pages of our website. www.urbanbees.co.uk/gallery

 

 

 

 

Out comes the hammer and nails

The crocus are just coming out, the winter honeysuckle has bees on it and the hazel catkins are nearly ready with their pollen so it time to clear some space and make up some brood frames in preparation of the brood comb change and the spring clean.
And that is what I have been doing for the past hour.
I’m getting itchy now to get on with my beekeeping.
No more cold weather now, please.

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Hosting a beehive in 2012?

We know our bee map  is widely used. But we’re never quite sure how successful it is matching beekeepers without a suitable hive location with hive hosters, so it was nice to hear from Kate Ulrick at the Quaker Meeting House.
After putting up a marker on the map earlier this year she was contacted a few weeks later by Louis who had a hive full of bees and all the equipment. Kate is the warden at the Quaker Meeting House just off St Martins Lane in London’s west end. She lives on site and wanted to keep bees in the garden there. Louis was delighted to have a location so near to the abundant forage of St James’ park. He’d been using the map for a while to find a site for his bees. “It was a pleasure to discover the map contained a wealth of good locations with friendly and enthusiastic people”, he says.
Members of the Quaker community have been invited to look at the hive which is an usual apemaye hive – a big plastic box designed in Turkey – which some predict is the future of beekeeping.
In the spring, Kate says they may engage a small interested group to help with basic hive maintenance. “I recognised the potential of developing beekeeping into more of a community project,” she says. “There is lots of interests from the community of Quakers. However, the space that the hive is located in at the moment, doesn’t leave much room for crowding round”. Louis says he will be collaborating with his hosts on all aspects of beekeeping including the harvesting and consumption of any future honey.

We look forward to hearing about their progress in 2012. Hopefully their story may encourage other people to use the Urban Bees map to provide a home for a beekeeper and his beehive.

Bumblebees in late November

A colleague just told me that  he had a fright on Saturday night when he hard a noisy buzzing sound coming from his right shoulder. He run into the garden, pulled off his jumper in a panic (he is not a beekeeper) and shook the jumper until a large bumblebee fell to the ground. It was sunny during the day in London, so I assume she’d be lured out of her nest by the warm rays and then ended up in his house later attracted by the central heating. She would obvioulsy die from the cold after being shaken from my colleagues jumper, so this mild weather can’t be good for the bumblebee population. Yet bees have been around for millions of year and this can’t be the only warm November they’ve experienced. So let’s hope they’ll be OK.

Beekeeping in Mumbai

The latest city dwellers to embrace urban beekeeping are residents of  Mumbai. Courses have just began at a local nature park in the Indian city attended by 25 people. What’s interesting is the reasons the potential urban beekeepers give for wanting to keep bees. There’s the health-conscious chartered accountant who wants to produce his own honey, the resident who has read that antibiotics are used in the honey manufacatured by big brands in India (that’s why it’s banned coming in to the EC) and wants a pure honey, and the young woman who wants to sell honey at an organic farmers’ market. So it seems to more about honey than the reasons people give in the UK about reconnecting with nature, increasing the number of pollinators and saving bees.

The programme is run by social enterprise Under the Mango Tree and uses the indigenous eastern honey bee, Apis cerana, rather than our more profilic honey-making but poorly western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Using indigenous honeybees should be encouraged in projects all over the world whether they are promoting urban beekeeping or alleviating poverty through the keeping of bees. Under the Mango Tree’s main project in India is teaching subsistance farmers to keep Apis cerana to increase yields of their crops. They have had some amazing results: 227% increased yield of green peppers; 160% cashew nuts and 128%  beans. The farmers’ sell any honey to UtMT which then sell it on to delis, restaurants and hotels in Mumbai and use the profits to reinvest in training more farmers. Some 1500 have been trained so far.  In five year, it aims to have 10,000 farmers keeping Apis cerana.

Income for the farmers, who are tribal and marginalised, has increased by an average 40%. The project is all the more remarkable because the Indian government continues to import and encourage the use of the western honey bee by farmers. That may change, however, as the man who introduced Apis Mellifera to India is now an advisor to Under the Mango Tree and could be coming round to the idea that indigenous is best.

So should we all be using the black bee in Britain? No, according to the BBKA which recommends we use a local hybrid from a local bee breeder but with some Italian or Carniolan in them to improve their temperament.

History of city beekeeping

We didn’t have much luck researching the history of beekeeping in London for our book Bees in the City, but Mikey at Capital Bee has unearthed these amazing British Pathe news reels from 1937  and 1952 and 1958  that clearly demonstrate what we suspected all along, that people have been keeping bees in London for some time. Adelaide House, near Tower Bridge, a building on Fleet Street, and Waterloo Station are the locations for these city hives. 

Urban beekeeping maybe not have been on the scale we are seeing now in the pre and post war years, but an interesting figure quoted in one of films of there being 116,000 beekeepers in Britain, show  we’ve still got a long way to go to top the heyday of  British beekeeping.

Solitary bee habitats

Following the article  in The Observer on 7 August about the importance of our 200 odd solitary bees as pollinators, we’ve been contacted by a number of people asking for more information about how to make bee hotels (houses) and nests for bumblebees. There are a few websites with some good step by step guides. The Bee Guardian Foundation has details on how to build a bee house and a bumblebee box, though my understanding is that bumble bee boxes have a low success rate – better to leave a pile of leaves in the garden or try burying an upturned tea pot – the queen bee may go in the spout and make her nest in the pot.  Conservation charity, Bug Life, also provides a blueprint for making bee nests and bee hotels. While the BBC’s Bee Part of It campaign shows you how to make a wood pile in your garden as a  wildlife habitat.

A reader of the article, SteB1,  also pointed out that  many species of solitary bee need other types of nesting site other than bee hotels. Mining Bees, for example, often like sandy banks and exposed soil in which to make their underground nests. He also says; “The other thing to note, is that whilst called solitary bees, because they don’t have a complex multi-individual nest society. In some ways they are anything but solitary. They often nest very close together.” 

For amazing photos of solitary bees, check out his flickr photos of Andrena fulva, (Tawning mining bee) and others.

Mad About Meadows

Went to the launch of Mad about Meadows yesterday, a project to increase meadows across London, that draws its inspiration from the wildflower meadows that will form a centrepiece of the Olympic Park.  Thank goodness however that there were no plans to create a gimmickie  2012 new meadows by 2012 . This project is about pulling together and encouraging and promoting groups already doing this work such as London Wildlife Trust and River of Flowers and trying to get Londoners to create mini-meadows in their gardens, window boxes and on roof terraces.

One brilliant suggestion was that we should also use the project to help  the struggling Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) which is endangered and is now only found in the Thames Gateway area where the Olympic site is located. It likes to eat red clover of which there is not currently enough.