Our book has just finished a national blog tour, which is when bloggers who have requested a review copy of the book, post a review of it on their websites for all their followers to read. It’s been very exciting and the response has been fantastic. We thought we’d share some snippets with you:
Our new book is out today, with beautiful illustrations of some of the amazing bee species we spent the winter researching and writing about, from the world’s largest bumblebee, the giant golden bumblebee (Bombus dahlbombii) in Patagonia – dubbed the flying mouse – to the most northerly bumblebee (Bombus polaris) which sunbathes in Arctic poppies.
Nearer to home, we learned about the solitary bees living in our garden, including the delightfully named hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes). The furry black females are easy to spot in February and March darting among the lungwort and comfrey with their tongue sticking out in search of food. In April, red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) emerge from our bee hotels perfectly timed with the blossoming of the apple tree. Leafcutter bees (Megachile centuncularis) follow later in the summer flying through the air with a rose leaf clasped between their legs like a witch on a broom.
And we discovered a whole world of tiny black solitary bees, from the small scissor bees (Chelostoma campanularum) on our campanulas to the resin bees (Heriades truncorum) nesting in holes drilled into wood and the furrow bees (Lasioglossum calceatum) on our Geranium rozanne (the best flower for solitary bees, research shows).
We wanted to share our infectious fascination and awe for bees by highlighting their vital role as a lynchpin in the working of our planet and their relationship with us throughout history. We hope in doing so that people fall in love with nature’s wizards. But their existence is increasingly threatened. So the book also sets out simple steps we can all take to help bees, and explains how we need to make our countryside and our cities havens for bees to help not just their survival, but ours too.
It’s been another exciting year for Urban Bees. Here’s our highlights:
Lush’s bee-friendly roof terrace
On a freezing day in February Urban Bees started to create a bee-friendly roof terrace for Lush cosmetics’ head office in Soho. Not ideal gardening conditions, but we installed more than 20 hexagonal wooden planters lugged up all the soil and planted a Malus Evereste (Crab Apple) tree, some shrubs including Mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and some beautiful Hellebores. We’ve never gardened in skiing gloves before…but there’s always a first time for everything. And Lush were very keen to get the garden established for spring/summer 2018. Despite the Beast from the East Arctic conditions, by Marsh bumblebees had already been spotted on milder days out the heathers collecting early pollen. Yippee!
By late spring the terrace is starting to flower with sky blue Mytosis (Forget-me-nots), stunning white Allium Cowanii and the Malus Evereste (Crab Apple) in full blossom being pollinated by honeybees. We attached bee hotels to the crab apple tree to provide tubes for cavity-nesting solitary bees like Red Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) to lay their eggs in. By the end of summer tubes were sealed with mud, proof that they had been used.
We chose hardy plants that can cope with exposed, dry conditions but luckily an outside tap was finally fitted to which we attached an expandable hose. This meant staff were able to water every day throughout the heatwave which lasted from June right through to August.
We added a few hanging baskets (containing RosyBee’s wonderful selection of bee-friendly flowers for pots), plus some trailing mini Strawberries, a bee pond (a shallow tray of water full of stones that the bees can stand on when having a drink) and summer perennials. The trick is trying to get a range of different bee-friendly plants flowering throughout the year, which we more or less managed. And where there is bee food, there are bees. We saw honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.
Staff used the terrace a lot during the summer as somewhere to hang out and have lunch (when it wasn’t so hot). They loved seeing and hearing the bees buzzing around. Next year we hope to talk to them about the bees and maybe get an ID project going.
We ended the year planted hundreds of crocus bulbs that will provide much-needed early pollen and nectar for early flying bumblebees in spring 2019. Can’t wait to see them all. During the year, Lush were filming the roof’s transformation from a bee desert to a bee restaurant, so hopefully it will be ready to view soon.
Solitary bees at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
We teamed up with River for Flowers to create a solitary bee garden in the education zone of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018. It was a fantastic opportunity to educate the public about how to create wildflower meadows and living walls for solitary bees and create nesting sites in a small urban space. We had a special bee box created by Nuturing Nature which allows visitors to see the stages of a solitary bees; development in the nest. We produced tote bags, postcards and leaflets to give away. Our brilliant garden designers, Kerrie McKinnon and Gabrielle Shay, won a much deserved silver medal and we had lots of visitors including Joanna Lumley, the BBC’s Martha Kearney, the gardening writer Alys Fowler and bee campaigner Samantha Roddick. Thanks to River of Flower’s Kathryn Lwin for her vision, project management and sheer brilliance to make it all happen. The living wall was installed on the Middlesex University Campus and planters went to brighten up a Royal Free hospital terrace.
We continued to work with clients including KMPG, Canada House and Amazon. And following the success of the hives on the Skyline garden at Coutts we began fortnightly ‘meet the bee’ sessions for staff during the summer.
In 2019, we will be working with a number of new companies and raising awareness about the importance of making our cities better for all types of bees.
Regents Park Honey
We had a bumper crop of honey this year from our apiaries in Regents Park following an extremely long, dry, hot summer which allowed the bees to get out and forage for longer than usual. In addition to the abundance of nectar the bees traditionally collect from the park’s lime trees in June, we think this year the avenues of tulip trees were also in full flower, adding to the nectar flow and giving the honey a delicious deeper flavour than previous years.
We also teamed up with the RAC to run our first Regents Park bee experience in September. Adapting our successful bee experience in King’s Cross, we introduced 20 members of the RAC to the different bees in the royal park and the flowers they feed on, got the visitors into bee suits and opened up a hive, and ended the tour with a honey tasting session in our storeroom. We hope to run more experiences in 2019.
The award-winning Honey Club King’s Cross Bee Trail App ran through the school summer holidays again. We were disappointed not to get any new partners on board. The King’s Cross development has hugely expanded since the App was launched four years ago, so now it covers just a small part of the site. We need new partners in 2019 with the technical expertise and know how to expand the App.
EU Pollinator Strategy
In March, we traveled to Brussels to impart some of our experience of raising awareness about bees in urban environments with policy makers, NGOs and academics across Europe as part of a consultation exercise to devise an EU-wide pollinator strategy. We met lots of interesting people doing some amazing projects. And an EU pollinator initiative was launched in June.
Special thanks to RosyBee for only growing and selling bee-friendly plug plants and researching which are the different bees’ favourites.
Limes (Tilia europaea) , sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) and the glorious Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides) all produce bounteous amounts of nectar during the summer for bees to turn into honey in our towns and cities. Mature lime trees, in particular, which have been planted in huge numbers in London parks and streets, with their tiny white flowers, are the main source of honey for the capital’s honeybees, producing a delicious light honey.
This summer, with the extreme heat and drought conditions the trees have all flowered much earlier than usual. The limes were out by mid June, if not earlier in some locations. Sweet chestnuts, to my surprise where not long behind, with their dramatic spindly, long white flowers blooming by the end of the month. And I nearly fell of my bike on the 26 June when the magnificent Indian Bee Tree that I pass on my way to work every day was in its full glory – displaying its enormous white blooms which usually don’t appear until early August!!! You don’t see many of them in London, but they usually stand out in late summer with their eye-catching display when other trees have long-finished flowering.
But not this year, coming out at a similar time as the others. Is this because they are stressed by the lack of rain and need to flower quickly to produce seed? As the name of the Indian Bean Tree suggests, its seeds are contained in long bean pods which hang from the tree after it’s flowers have been pollinated.
Whatever the reason for the early show of flowers, it unfortunately means the Urban Bees Trees for Bees guide is hopelessly out this year with the month the trees are flowering. More concerning, it means that there won’t be any late summer forage for bees if the trees have all flowered by July.
Urban Bees went to Brussels last month to take part in a consultation workshop on the EU’s proposed initiative for pollinators. With a reported dramatic decline in insects leading to warnings of ‘ecological Armageddon’ any initiative can’t come soon enough.
Our session – attended by NGOs, academics and policy makers – looked at how to best protect pollinators in urban areas. We introduced participants to our educational work in London, where we are raising awareness about the importance of improving forage and habitat for all bees and other pollinators through ‘meet the honeybee’ lunchtime classes, bee spotter sessions and our King’s Cross Bee App.
We suggested the best approach the EU could take would be to:
- regulate that all new developments in cities must be pollinator-friendly with living roofs and parks and green spaces that are good for pollinators as well as for people
- ban the sale and use of pesticides and weed killers.
Policy makers made it clear that the EU can’t legislate on city developments as this is up to individual member states. They also said the EU doesn’t ban things, which seemed odd as they are about to introduce a field ban neonicotinoids across the EU.
Ten years ago, when honeybees started to vanish in alarming numbers in the US mainly due to what was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, any pesticide ban was completely unthinkable. Pesticides were dismissed by most scientist and politicians as having little to do with the problem. Conveniently for the manufacturers no independent testing was done at that time, and the public was unaware of all of this. But that soon changed. The mobilisation of millions of concerned people across the globe, together with the potentially huge economic impact of bee losses on the food supply, led governments to invest in independent research and take the protection of bees – honeybees in particular – seriously. A temporary ban on neonics followed in 2013 after plenty of research showing they were part of the problem and pressure on politicians from NGOs from Friends of the Earth to 38 Degrees, and their millions of members to ‘save the bees’. Now it’s even clearer that they are a major problem for bees’ health a total field ban looks likely.
So the moral of the story is to exert pressure and don’t give up until the politicians start to listen.
Other good suggestions to come out of the workshop included introducing:
- an EU award like the Blue Flag scheme for clean beaches for pollinator-friendly spaces
- a kitemark like FairTrade for food manufacturers and their suppliers that support pollinators.
To have your say on the public consultation on the EU initiative for pollinators which ends on Thursday 5 April.
Here’s my brief look back at the year’s highlights for Urban Bees.
Airbnb Bee Tour
While the honey bees were still tucked up in their hives during winter, people were coming on the Airbnb bee tour of King’s Cross, getting to exploring London Wildlife Trust’s Camley Street Nature Park and the Skip Garden and to taste delicious honeys from across the capital.
Their numbers increased throughout the year, with more than 100 in total enjoying the tour from all over the globe, as far as Australia and China to much closer to home in London. Time Out even made a short film. With an average 4.9 satisfaction rating (out of 5), everyone had a fantastic time and it was great for us to be able to spread the word about how to help all bees in urban environments across the world.
Bumblebees and solitary bees
With the arrival of spring we ensured the Savills planters on a roof at 111 Buckingham Palace Road were full of early flowering crocuses, wallflowers, primroses and heathers for any queen bumblebees venturing out on mild days in search of food.
We also looked out solitary bees, with managed bee hotels on the Savills roof and on the Weils roof terrace off Fleet Street. And we ran a DIY bee hotel workshop for pupils at Friars Primary School in Southwark where Weils’ staff volunteer. The 30 plus pupils also got to learn how to identify bees using our bee spotter guide on the terrace.
The Museum of London also hosted an Urban Bees bee hotel workshop as part of its sustainable cities festival.
We continued to work with clients such as Grosvenor estates and Canada House, where we introduced beekeeping to the new high commissioner’s husband. Other existing clients, included KPMG in Canary Wharf, where our weekly ‘meet the bee’ sessions for staff during the summer continue to be oversubscribed. For those who didn’t get a peek at the hives this year we ran some very popular lunch ‘n’ learn sessions about bees and forage and gave away wild flower seeds and Urban Bees leaflets on the best forage to plant for bees.
Among our exciting new clients were Coutts the bank who asked us to install and maintain a number of hives on its amazing Skyline garden above the Strand where executive chef, Peter Fiori has been growing exotic fruits and vegetables for a few years. Now many of those plants will be pollinated by their own bees which are also producing exclusive honey for the bank’s executive restaurant.
We will be working with a number of new companies in 2018, raising awareness about the importance of making our cities more bee-friendly.
One of the most exciting events of the year, was recognition for The Honey Club King’s Cross Bee Trail App. Now in its third year, the App won a Defra Bees’ Needs Award for raising awareness about bees and pollination. What was particularly gratifying about being nominated by our peers and winning the government award in 2017 was that it had been challenging to adapt and relaunch the App this year. The App designers, Wolff Olins,had moved from King’s Cross at the end of 2016 and so it was left to the remaining two members of the Honey Club (youth charity, Global Generation, and Urban Bees) to continue the work with little experience of designing and building Apps. After many hiccups along the way, it was eventually launched just in time for the summer holidays and was loved by everyone who downloaded it and got to count bees, explored the area, and got money off at participating restaurants and cafes along the way. Thanks again to everyone who made it happen, especially Nicole at Global Generation, Des Smith at Willbery Landscapes and Penny Metal, bee photographer extraordinaire (all pictured above).
Urban Bees was delighted to be able to support Penny’s amazing book, Insectinside – incredible photographs and wry observations of the hundreds of insect species in her local park.
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.
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. avis 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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,
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.
The first bee has been spotted on the roof. It’s a fluffy white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) collecting nectar and pollen from a Cosmos flower. This exciting news comes a few months after Urban Bees Ltd was contracted by Savills to install four planters on a corner of the roof. These wooden planters have been gradually filled with a variety of plants that will flower in succession from early spring right through to late autumn, which is when bees are out looking for food if the weather is mild and dry. Bees only eat nectar and pollen from flowers. The nectar is their energy drink ( turned into honey by honeybees), pollen is the protein food they feed to their babies.
We don’t know where this bumblebee lives, but by making a corner of the roof on 111 Buckingham Palace roof bee-friendly, we are providing a nectar refueling stop for her and any other London bees on their way home after a hard day’s foraging for food. The lose of flower-rich land as a result of urban development in towns and cities means there is less food for bees and other pollinating insects. The planters are helping to create a B-Line through Victoria by linking existing green spaces, like parks, together. It’s easier for the bees to fly from one big green space to another if they can stop off for a snack en route.
The National Pollinator Strategy for England 2014 set out a ten year plan to help pollinating insects. The planters on the roof are playing their part by feeding bees and raising awareness about their importance . Bees pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables we eat and in cities they pollinate trees and bushes that produce fruits and berries for birds, so they are a vital part of the eco-system and contribute massively towards biodiversity.
There are more than 200 species of bees in the . The honeybee lives in man-made hives, but the 24 different species of wild bumblebees and the hundreds of solitary bee species need to find a home in undisturbed holes in the ground, soil or old masonry. New construction makes nesting sites more scarce. We can help by providing ‘bee hotels’ for cavity nesting solitary bees.
Two bee hotels are attached on stands to the rooftop planters. They are packed full of small hollow tubes where solitary red mason bees (Osmia bicornus) can check in during the spring and lay their eggs. The following spring, when the weather warms up and the apple blossom is out, the new generation or red mason bees will start to emerge from the nest. They will find a mate, forage for pollen and nectar nearby, and then the female bee will look for new tube where she can lay her eggs and start the cycle all over again.
When the bees have laid a number of eggs in a tube they seal over the entrance with some mud. When the new bees emerge they eat through the mud to get out (like the pic right). Urban Bees placed some sealed tubes from another bee hotel into these ones in the hope we would see bees emerge this spring. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see any this year. We hope to see solitary bees checking in next spring.
In the meantime we’ll keep a look out for bees snacking in the planters. With the catmint (Nepeta) and lavenders coming into full bloom, there should be many more sightings over the summer months.
For a list of bee-friendly flowers you can grow throughout the year, go to Urban Bees forage guides.
Anyone can make a DIY ‘bee hotel’ for a garden or even a balcony.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For others, Brian had cut hundreds of pieces earlier in true Blue Peter style ready to fit inthe frames.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great to see Red Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) using the solitary bee hotels we’ve put up in the garden.
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.
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.
As well as suitable habit, the Red mason bees need food.
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.
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,
The first solitary bee hotels – made at last week’s community workshop – are put in place in De Beauvoir Square.
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.
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 Mayfand 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. 90 femme gris rose 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.
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. avis 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.
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.