Fading Light

Bees CloseUp
Lengthening Shadows

The sun has started slanting towards Autumn. Inspecting the comb requires a little twist of the wrist to catch that glint of light which can delve to the bottom of each wax cell. The year is moving on and it’s time to nod to the inevitable and commence preparations for the end of the season. It’s a sad capitulation, but it has been a great bee year, abundant and forgiving.

Now the honey harvest is here, which means long, secluded hours in the light-industrial zones of honey extraction, bottling and labelling. Not to mention the drudge of defending hives against wasp attacks, varroa and nosema treatments, preparing for the honey shows, stall management, invoices and accounting, feeding bees, the scrubbing and cleaning of equipment, running repairs to clothing and hives, not to mention those blustery autumnal beehive inspections between sharp showers.

All in the knowledge that what follows is the silence of the winter months, the mute separation of bee and beekeeper until the first thaws of Spring.

Hey-ho ! It’s just as well that I’m a natural optimist…

River Of Flowers

River Of Flowers - Kathryn Lwin
Kathryn Lwin Of River Of Flowers At White’s Grounds

I met the delightful Kathryn Lwin of River Of Flowers on site at our Leathermarket Gardens community planting on my birthday lunch-hour.

Her expert eye picked out a number of wildflowers which I had not spotted: first off, the birdsfoot trefoil outside our planting area. Kathryn was also a big fan of the white yarrow and the purple mallow. She gave me very valuable advice about apple pollination (multiple cultivars for cross-fertilisation and up to 15 pollination events) and wildflower seed propagation (transplant the whole tray contents direct onto opened ground in Spring).

Kathryn recommended taking some seeds of the birdsfoot trefoil into our area this Autumn, as well as introducing wild red clover, cornflowers, field scabious and dandelion-like rough hawkbit to our wildflower area.

I also took Kathryn to see the Tyers Gate Estate plantings and the White’s Grounds Estate plantings, where we had a long chat with Jim Anderson, who is the prime mover behind the White’s Grounds plantings. Not only had Jim received 1,100 plants from Alan Titchmarch and Kate Gould’s garden after the Chelsea Flower Show 2014, but Jim had just heard the news that White’s Grounds was awarded Gold in this year’s “Britain in Bloom” awards. Congratulations Jim – a just reward for six years of solid endeavour!

I pointed out to Kathryn that there was already a “River” of Bermondsey pollinator-friendly plantings, starting at St Mary Magdalen Churchyard (Southwark Council awarded me a £5,000 Cleaner, Greener, Safer grant for making and planting the flowerbeds there in 2012),  linking to Tanner Street Park, White’s Grounds, Tyers Gate Estate, Leathermarket Gardens, Guy Street Park and terminating at Melior Street Gardens.

Kathryn agreed that this flow of established, new and prospective pollinator-friendly greenery was an impressive urban corridor of plants, so “River Of Flowers – Bermondsey” was born. Kathryn said that she couldn’t wait to depict this daisy-chain of SE1’s greenery – and I agree that it will make impressive map-reading !



Hurricane Bertha made it a little blowy for the Bermondsey Street Bees on their fourth-floor rooftop – but there were some small jobs to be done. Welcome to the gentle craft of breezekeeping!

Swarm – Show And Tell

Swarm July 2014 (2)
Swarm On Sawn Branch, About To Be Hived

Terror is terror. Abrupt and intense. Suddenly shunted into your face, indifferent to your rapt fear.

Swarm Flying – School House

Like a swarm of bees, ancient and implacable: 20,000 spirographing projectiles ripping the air, weaponed with venom.

But the ancestral adrenalin reflex is awry. The reality is that a bee-swarm is about as menacing to human beings as a maypole dance.

It is simply the way bees reproduce; orthodox and customary. It’s a ceremonial procession, with the venerable Queen abdicating skywards with her followers, leaving a clutch of heirs to usurp her in the hive. It’s nothing more than a flash-mob choreography on a grand scale, an impromptu insect threnody.

Slowly, this soft shrapnel of bees implodes to cluster on a branch, whirring together to weave a taut bivouac. From this insect pelt, scout bees adventure out to locate a new home, where their cargo of honey will be turned to wax, hexing new comb out of thin air.

Swarm – School House – July 2014

This is the time for me, ladder and saw in hand, bee-suited, to grip and cut the branch. I remove the swarm, adhesive and uncomplaining, down the ladder, along the lane and back to my bee-yard. I raise the roof of their new residence, steady the bees and rap the branch on the hive. A split-second waterfall of bees sloshes into the brood box. Hived!

Those full honey-stomachs and house-moving vocation make them as terrible as a Tunnock’s Teacake, as pugnacious as Christmas Puddings. No, really !

Swarm On Sawn Bough, About The Be Hived.


Time Capsule

With Bees, No-One Can Ever Say: “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore”. They Do.

I have previously commented on Barnet, my birthplace (Barnet FC is nicknamed “The Bees”), in a post entitled: “The Beekeeper’s Fear Of The Apiary” , but here is a gem of a time-capsule called: “A Year In The Apiary“, filmed by the Barnet Beekeepers’ Association in 1936.

It can be viewed in four enchanting, wobbly, b&w episodes on YouTube:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Having viewed the beekeeping attire of the 1930s, I am seriously considering putting on a tie before my next bee-inspection. Something natty to make an impression on the ladies, I rather think.

Honey Buzzard

Honey Buzzard
Honey Buzzard In Flight

A beautiful bird, the Honey Buzzard. Can’t help preying on bees, but quite partial to wasps, too. Fair play to it.

Hear its call – and learn about its tenuous connection to honey – on this link to the BBC’s “Tweet of The Day“.

The Honey Buzzard is more closely related to the Kite than it is to our common Buzzard. It gets its name for its fondness, not for honey, but for the grubs of bees and wasps. The bird locates their nests by watching where the insects go from a branch. It then digs out the honeycomb with its powerful feet and breaks into the cells.”

In The Apiary : Early August : Work And Play

As an epic beekeeping season winds down, it’s about time to consider what bees do when they’re not being busy.

People often ask what bees do at night. Well, they don’t exactly sleep. More like relaxing their muscle tone and folding legs away, giving in to gravity. Unsurprisingly, sleep happens more regularly as bees age – not only are their outbound foraging and honey-shifting assignments more arduous than the house-keeping chores of younger bees, but they are also dependent on daylight to go about these tasks. So evening ushers in a higher degree of somnolence to the hive. Mostly.

A picture is worth, they say, a thousand words, so let me illustrate the difference between Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive diligently at work on the comb during the daylight hours:

Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive
Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive At Work

And how she really smashes it up on her nights off:

Queen Grunhilde of Thames Hive At Play

Back to a more sensible Apiary update in September, once this year’s honey-harvest has been gathered in.