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.

Robert Elms Show

The Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London was great on 5 August. He got caught  a few weeks ago in that swarm of bees on Regents Street on his bike, but he seemed genuinely interested to know more about bees in the city and urban beekeeping. You can listen to him chatting to Alison here. The interview starts at  around 40 minutes into the show and lasts for about 12 mins.

Woman’s Hour Radio 4

Bees in the City is officially published today and Alison was interviewed by the great Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour this morning about urban  beeekeeping.  You can listen to it here. Emphasised that you don’t have to keep honeybees to save bees, just have a pile of leaves for bumblees to make their nest and attach bamboo canes to a sunny wall for solitary bees to lay their eggs. Thought she’d ask if men and women took different approaches to beekeeping and when’s the best age to get children involved, but she seemed more concerned about the neighbour’s kids getting stung. Oh well, let’s hope it helps to spread  understanding about the importance of  bees for pollination.

Our new book is available on Amazon

Bees in the City

Our new book is being published on 4th August but Amazon are already selling our book.

Book Description

Compelling tales from the front line of urban beekeeping

Product Description

Beekeeping – once seen as an old-fashioned country pursuit – is increasingly attracting young metropolitan professionals, and new hives are springing up all over our cities. Whether you’re attracted to beekeeping because you want to produce your own honey, do your bit to combat the threats that honeybee colonies face today, or simply reconnect with nature, Bees in the City provides a comprehensive guide to the subject. Written by the authors of the bestselling A World Without Bees, it:

- introduces you to the school teachers, inner-city youngsters, City professionals and budding entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of this exciting new movement

- suggests creative ways you can help bees in your own back garden without keeping a hive

- provides extensive, practical information for the novice urban beekeeper, including tips on getting started and a month-by-month job guide

Packed with invaluable advice on how to understand and support these extraordinary creatures, Bees in the City will inspire you to join this new urban revolution.

COOP session Tuesday 6th

We were rained of on Tuesday so we didn’t have a look at the bees ( I had a look yesterday and they are all expanding in the brood box nicely).

We heard the stories of the group’s bees – they have been there over a week now. All seemed to be ging well.

We had a look at The Natioanl Bee Units website which is full of usueful information and advisory leaflets –

Also home to the varroa calculator which lets you know the level of infestation and wether treatment is needed.


Wolff Olins Bees

This Wednesday there were 5 of us on the roof of Wolff Olins for our weekly sessin with the honey bees. The colonies had expanded really well in their brood box so a super was added to encourage the bees to store the much needed winter food.

Hive 2 is the stronger of the 2 colonies but it is very aggressive. Not a lot of fun. I think the queen will need to be replaced for a more gentle variety.

1st honey of the year for Capital Bee at Camley Street

It was a great night at our training session with the Capital Bee 2011 trainees. We had a good look at the hives and then we stole 2 frames of honey from hive 2.

Back at the classroom the frames was rapidly scraped clean of its golden honey and everyone had the chance to taste the first fruits of the bees’ labour.

It was glorious.

Wolff Olins bees

Another Wednesday brought the group together to have a look at the bees on the roof of Wolff Olins .

After a rainy day the weather cleared enough for us to have a look at the 2 hives.

Hive 1 is developing well. Expanded onto more frames and were well behaved.

Hive 2 wasn’t so well behaved and were a bit touchy. Still on the whole they are doing great.

Global generation and the team were taking it in their stride.

Capital Bee’s Wednesday’s 23rd session.

Before going out to look at the bees we had a chat about swarming and supercedure. Nice article on supercedure and queen cells here
I swapped a couple of the groups so that they would have a chance to see the difference between a new nuc colony and an established colony.
Hive 1 is coming along well.
Hive 2 had more queen cells. Since the queen was seen as well as eggs and young larvae we decided to tear down all the queen cells. We can then have a look next week to see what’s going on then. Next weke may take the queen away and put her in a nuc box and let the colony develop a new queen.
Hive 3 strong and busy. The super we put in last week was 75% full of nectar.
Hive 4 is building slowly.
room for a few bees
tickets please

Capital Bee – inspection of the hives on Thursday 16th

Due to inclement weather on our regular Wednesday night’s session we didn’t get to look at the bees so I dropped into Camley Street on the following day to have a hive inspection.

Paul and Silvio managed to find the time to join me and we looked through the hives together.

Hive 1 (nearest the entrance). This hive had swarmed earlier in the year and the new queen had started to lay around 12 days ago. We saw 4 frames of brood in all stages (eggs, larvae and pupae). They have still to fill out the brood box which they are doing niceley. The super box had some honey in it but there are still a few frames that need to be drawn out. I took of the 2nd empty super since they don’t need that now.

Hive 2  – I found 2 capped queen cells and 3 uncapped queen cells with larvae in it. We saw the blue marked queen. This might mean that they are superceding. I left it as it was so we can see by next week what happens.

Hive 3 was very strong. It has a brood and a half (brod box and a super box as the brood chamber). They super was full of working bees so we added another super.

HIve 4 (the new nuc) is developing slowly. I gave them some sugar syrup to encourage wax production.

I wrote up the notes in each hive.

Co-op 2011

This year’s cohort of Co-op sponsored London beekeepers – as part of the company’s Plan Bee campaign - are at their early stages of hands on beekeeping.

The nucs arrived 2 weeks ago and the group are getting to grips with handling the frames and the bees.

Our Tuesday night session was all about finding those elusive eggs and young larvae.

Having a torch really helps to see in the dark honeycomb.