The London Honey Show…And Tell !

London Honey Show 2013
It’s London, It’s Bees And It’s Honey. What’s Not To Like ?

The 3rd London Honey Show will be held at the Lancaster London, W2 2TY (Lancaster Gate Tube) on Monday, 7th October 2013. Last year the Bermondsey Street Bees came first in the “Best Roof-Top Honey” and “Best Honey Packaging” categories at the Show, having won the “Best Restaurant Honey” prize in 2011.

This year, I’ve been invited to give a talk about: “A Year In The Life Of The Bermondsey Street Bees. Mostly.” at the Show. (Funny, people usually invite me to “take a walk” rather than “give a talk” when I start droning on about bees). It will also be the premiere of my 4-minute bee-movie: “The Day The Queen Came To Tea“. I fully intend to resume my day job the next day.

Fun for all the family…..and a film premiere for a £1 entrance fee (donation to Bees Abroad). Anyway, it’s no good pretending that you’re too busy to come along – it’s a Monday night in October, for heaven’s sake…what else are you going to be doing ?

Parley-voo BeekSpeak?

BeekSpeak – Beekeeping Riddles Explained

As a modern linguist (but sadly sans proboscis), I sometimes feel that the great British public (which I shall refer to as the gBp in future, for the sake of brevity) deserves a bit of help in understanding the peculiar lexicon of beekeepers.

To bridge that gap, Apis would like to offer a beginner’s guide to BeekSpeak (which I shall refer to as BS in future – again, for the sake of brevity). So here’s a handy primer: each section has 3 categories:

What the beekeeper SAYS:
What the beekeeper MEANS:

So let’s start with this example of BS:

BS SAYS : If you have three beekeepers in a room, you will have at least 5 opinions.
BS MEANS: We really haven’t the faintest idea what we’re talking about, most of the time.
gBP UNDERSTANDS: Gosh, this beekeeping lark must be really complicated! 

Got it ? Right, off we go:

BS SAYS : I’m so lucky that my bees don’t have varroa!
BS MEANS: I haven’t checked my bees for varroa.
gBP UNDERSTANDS: With all that talk about the dreaded varroa mite, this must be a genius beekeeper!

BS SAYS : Well, I’ve had the bees a while now, but I haven’t found the Queen yet.
BS MEANS: I’m praying that there’s a Queen in the middle of that lot, somewhere!
gBP UNDERSTANDS: Hmmm, perhaps this beekeeper should buy the Daily Mail – she’s always in there!

BS SAYS : It’s all about the bees – I really don’t care about the honey.
BS MEANS: For some reason, my bees swarm every year, so there’s never any honey.
gBP UNDERSTANDS: Behold! A true eco-warrior beekeeper!

BS SAYS : Colony losses were high for everyone last year.
BS MEANS: And I think that mine were wiped out by a mutant, bee-guzzling Santa around Christmas!
gBP UNDERSTANDS: Every day we hear about the plight of the honeybee. Hang on in there!

BS SAYS : I’m thinking about taking the British Beekeepers Association basic bee-exam next year.
BS MEANS: But only if I win the Lottery and become President of the United States of America first.
gBP UNDERSTANDS: This is the second genius beekeeper I’ve met today !

BS SAYS : I’ve been quoted in the Standard saying: “Hives should not be higher than a two-storey house.”
BS MEANS: I hate rooftop beekeepers and they keep running off with all the honey prizes!
gBP UNDERSTANDS: Better not go shopping for honey in Fortnum’s then, their hives are on the 6th floor!

BS SAYS : I write a bee-blog, which you might find interesting….
BS MEANS: Because writing about bees is easier than the actual beekeeping.
gBP UNDERSTANDS: So writing about bees must be easier than actually doing the beekeeping.

But that enough BS from me. I hope that you yourself may become fluent in BeekSpeak one day. And let’s face it: BS is already more widely spoken internationally than Esperanto ever was.

In The Apiary : Mid September : BIAS

You rang, mi'Lady ?
You rang, mi’Lady ?

Unlike the majority of free-born Englishmen (and women), when a beekeeper encounters BIAS, contentment reigns. BIAS is the acronym for “Brood In All Stages” inside the engine-room of the hive. Those stages are: egg, larva, pupa, emergence of new bee. In this particular case, that means that Thames hive has a healthy, laying Queen as the bee-year draws to a close.

As Autumn advances, Queen Primrose of Thames hive is now laying only Worker bee eggs, and in limited quantities. The normal cycle of development is unaffected: eggs will hatch 3 days after laying for Worker brood (and for Queens and Drones alike, at expansive times of the year). These “Winter Bees” will have a wholly different physiognomy from their sisters and half-sisters. Notably, winter bees have a higher fat body quotient. That’s not an insult, it’s a biological fat-body-fact.

Fat bodies are tissues which contain lipids, glycogen, triglycerides and some protein, storing and releasing energy according to the conditions. Winter bees are better adapted more to shivering-in-a-cluster-in-the-hive than to derring-do-on-the-high-seas-of-forage. Which is another way of saying that they don’t flap their wings off in a search for ever-diminishing returns outside the hive in late Autumn, but settle down to over-winter in the warm, pulsating rugby-ball of a winter bee-cluster. These bees will be next Spring’s foragers, working like a team of six-legged centaurs, voraciously gathering in snowdrop, willow and crocus pollen to feed the swelling brood chamber in the early months of 2014.

So let’s take a closer look at Thames hive’s winter bees, starting with the recently-laid eggs:

Eggs = Small White Lozenges

Spotting eggs is an important part of the Beekeeping’s Got Talent! You have to get the frame at the correct angle for the right light to pick out these little white dashes. It’s about 7 out of 10 in degree of difficulty on a cloudy September day, while virgin Queen spotting is definitely a 10. (Thanks to Penny Robertson for her 10/10 last weekend!).

After the standard 3-day egg phase, the development cycles of Worker, Drone and Queen bees start to diverge significantly. As mentioned earlier, at this time of year, winter Worker bees are the only sort produced in a healthy hive.

Larvae 1
Curled White Larvae

Once the egg has hatched, the nurse bees energetically feed the curled, bright-white larvae with bee-bread (a concoction of pollen steeped in honey) to supplement their small starting dosage of royal jelly. As the egg-phase ends, the larval stage begins, like a starting gun going off. The timing of the progression to “sealed cell” status and pupation runs like clockwork: for a Worker its 6, Drone 6-7 and Queen 5 days. What could be simpler ? Finally, the larva is sealed in her hexagonal cell with a cornflake-light wax capping, permeable to the air, to commence pupation. Here’s some sealed brood which Thames hive made earlier…

Sealed Brood 1
Sealed Brood

Once sealed with wax, the bees leave each cell occupant alone to spin its cocoons in the pupation phase – until emergence, another 12 days for Workers (and theoretically 14-15 days for Drones, but only 8 days for Queens). Then the Workers nibble their own way out of the wax bee-hole cover on top of each cell and emerge to be greeted by the nurse bees and are immediately assimilated into the sisterly tide.

And there the BIAS ends: Bees In Amazing Sequence!

Wannabe Honeybee

Wannabe Honeybee – A Pug May Dream !

With the Bermondsey Street Bees all tucked up for the winter, you will be pleased, no doubt, to hear that I’m getting out more !

And given the recent excitement about Eddie the Pug’s cameo role in “Red Hot Pokers” (click on the link and see the two Comments below the post), I’m temporarily surrendering to those of the canine persuasion by posting this unfathomable exercise in bee/dog cross-dressing from But that’s it your lot, dog-lovers, we have to draw the line somewhere, or the feline-fanciers will be demanding equal blog access for cats, too, (can you imagine: scratch-posts!) and before we know it, it’ll be raining catti et canes on this blog ! So we’ll be getting back to bee-basics on Apis directly !

But for this one weekend of every year, I forsake the cosy comfort of the Bermondsey Street Bees and camp out in mysterious hinterland of the hound: I’ll be the chief barker in the show-ring for the insanely popular Holly & Lil Dog Show at the Bermondsey Street Festival between 1-3pm on Saturday 21st September in Tanner Street Park. (I used to do the Bermondsey Street Fashion Show, too, but the dogs are much less demanding to work with than the models !)

Thanks to Louisa McCarthy (and Nero – get well soon, you brave black pug!) for getting us into the whimsical Festival vibe with a glimpse of

And finally, please accept my assurance that only the boundaries of good taste were harmed during the making of the website.

Red Hot Pokers

The Heat On Tanner Street – Red Hot Pokers

Tanner Street Park is a particular favourite of mine. It is just 20 yards away from my front door. Tanner Street Park is also the epicentre of next weekend’s Bermondsey Street Festival (“The only London Street Festival where the sun ALWAYS shines“). And although it is modest by London park standards (2 1/2 acres, I guess, with 3 hard tennis courts in the middle), it occupies the site of the infamous St Olave’s Union Bermondsey workhouse (built in 1791) but is now full of Christmas roses, crocus, cherry and horse chestnut, allium, honeysuckle, clover, snowberries, ivy and, still ablaze in patches, red hot pokers (plant name: Kniphofia).

Forgive me this aside, but wherever I go I am sure to hear the remark: “There can’t be much for your bees to eat in London“. Hmmm. For the record, I only ever get irritated by that tiny minority who refer to our fine capital city as “that London“.

Back on topic – here is a delightful video from my younger son, Maff, featuring bees on Red Hot Pokers in Tanner Street Park. The colours, noise and mood are redolent of summer – and the video also provides visual evidence that Bermondsey Street Bees can walk backwards!

Hedera Helix : Love Her, Or Loathe Her?

Question Mark
Hedera Helix – Love Her, Or Loathe Her

As controversial as a X-Factor judge thrust into the spotlight, opinion about Hedera Helix is, as they say, sharply divided.

To her detractors, she’s a a demi-monde diva, a licentious celebrity climber, brazenly using others for her own gain. It’s all about her, you know….one look at her sinuous limbs, her sultry charms and you can just guess at the shady goings-on-behind-the-scenes. She’s a serial home-breaker and no stranger to intoxication, either, this femme fatale. Always craving a new high – and then spiralling higher still, is our Hedera. She’s out of control, that one – they say she smothers her partners in her clinging embrace ! Well, over in America, her cousin’s a notorious poisoner ! That’s Hedera Helix all over for you !

On the other hand, compare her to Ivy – now she’s what you’d call a model of discretion. Understated, cool and elegant, she’s an evergreen symbol of fidelity. She is aspirational, but tenacious; ambitious, yet demure. Unforthcoming, her understated beauty often takes people by surprise, glimpsed in passing, but never forgotten. She wears her image lightly, often appearing on her own in public. And her generosity goes almost unnoticed, as she digs deep to provide for total strangers. Hang around long enough, and Ivy will grow on you….

But what if – shock horror! – the Hedera-phobes and the Ivy-adulators were both talking about the self-same individual ? Hedera Helix aka Ivy ?

Ivy About To Flower
Hedera Helix alias Ivy

Believe it or not, glamorous Hedera Helix and coy Ivy are synonymous. Shocking, I know. It’s a bit like discovering that Cleopatra and Clarrie Grundy are one and the same. But it’s true – Hedera Helix is just the botanical name for common Ivy.

And guess what? For the Bermondsey Street Bees, Ivy is a green god-send, cladding the naked city in a shimmering green fabric. Her flowers, pale pollen pom-poms, are just coming into bloom in September, ripe with nectar in abundance for the bees to build up their stores just before autumn sets in.

But for beekeepers, there’s a snag. Hedera Helix honey is the beekeeping equivalent of chewing gum on your shoes. It sets, like a bullet, in the honeycomb and resists all attempts to spin it out from the honeycomb. So I am keeping a close eye on Hedera to see when she bursts onto the scene – but I’m not taking any chances with this alluring, verdant vamp – my honey supers are already off the hives!

Love her or loathe her ? I have a foot in both camps. But one thing’s for sure: call her Hedera or just plain Ivy, she’s got the HeliX-Factor !

Hitting The Road

Hitting The Road - "Ventura Highway".
Hitting The Road – “Ventura Highway”.

Sometimes you hear a song which makes you smile. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing. “Ventura Highway” by America does that for me.

It’s almost the end of the bee-year: I’ve taken the Bermondsey Street Honey off the hives. The MAQS varroa treatment is on the hives. So while I hit the road on holiday (dodging any hot hives of “alligator lizards in the air” mentioned in the song lyric!), I just wanted to broadcast that carefree, wind-in-my-hair optimism to all you Apis apostles out there.

A Pinch Of Saffron

Sativus crocus
Saffron crocus

Just planted 120 crocus sativus – great for the Bermondsey Street Bees, since these beauties flower in October, late in the season. And great for me, since the long reddish stigmas on the plant are saffron, that precious and delicious spice !