Planting edible bee pastures and fragrant walks

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Chloe watering the Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) plugs she has planted on the Clapham Manor estate as part of the bee-friendly planting day organised by River of Flowers and Urban Bees on Saturday.

The day was a great success. 2012 The weather was perfect and some 50 local residents and children came out to help plant three raised beds on the estate to create one end of a ‘river of flowers’ . The three beds each had a different theme:

Chloe’s at the Food and Flowers bed, where edible wild flowers including tufted vetch, red clovers and wild carrots are planted in clumps to create swathes of tasty forage for bees and other pollinators.

kendifoodflowers Kendi, 6, was another budding gardener. roshe run He came with his grandmother and said he really enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning about bees and plants.

sid&rosebeepasture

Sid and his 3 year old daughter, Rose, are helping to plant up the Bee Pasture bed with a mixture of wild flowers such as white campion, yarrow and lesser knapweed, with one of my favourite bee and butterfly ornamental plants Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’.

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Two enthusiastic young helpers on the Fragrant Walk, a long planter filled with ornamental plants that smell divine and are hugely attractive to bees and other pollinators. Backpacks The two best bee-friendly varieties of lavenders: Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘intermedia Grosso’ are accompanied by rosemary, mint, and marjorams, with bay trees down the middle.

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As well as transforming what was a dark area on the estate to a much brighter, open space , this bed will provide much-needed forage from June to September. And residents can use the plants for culinary purposes. This bed also needs less watering as the plants are used to a dry Mediterranean climate.

Each of the wildflowers and garden plants were carefully selected for pollinators and people so we hope they will be enjoyed by both immensely.

josh,kathyrn, alison, kerry

Some of the happy organisers at the end of the day’s planting: L-R Josh Kerry (Lambeth council), Kathryn Lwin (River of Flowers), myself Alison Benjamin (Urban Bees) and Kerrie Mckinnon (River of Flowers). Kanken Thanks to Josh for inviting River of Flowers & Urban Bees to participate in the Clapham Greenways project and for getting the water butts on site, and to Kerrie for her invaluable planting plans for each of the beds.

Other thanks go to Crispin at Father Nature, whose volunteers and workers cleared each of the beds of tired old bushes and shrubs and prepared them with top soil. And all the residents who came along, including the aptly named Rosemary, and especially to Nina who galvanised a lot of support.

Residents involvement is key. Now the beds are planted, two of them will need constant watering during this dry, hot spell.

It’s the first community planting days that Urban Bees has been involved in. With forage such an important issue for all bees, we hope to do many more.

A second planting day on this estate will be held in June. Dates tbc …

Honeybee survival rate greatly improves

Honeybee colony survival rates over this winter are the best they have been since the British Beekeepers’ Association started its annual survey six years ago. Hurrah…

This winter an average of just one in 10 hives perished according to the BBKA survey of close on 1000 members across England, compared to more than a third dying out the previous winter (2012/13)and an average of around 16% not pulling through across each of the previous four years?

So does this mean that bees are out of the woods and no longer need our help? It’s not quite as simple that. Backpack The threats to honeybees – the varroa mite, lack of forage and pesticide use – have not diminished. soldes The big difference during last winter was the weather. Big We had an extremely mild winter and spring came early which allowed bees to get out and collect available forage early preventing starvation and allowing them to build up their strength to deal better with their foes.

In addition, many weak colonies were wiped out during the long winter and late spring the previous year, so the ones that made it through to summer 2013 were strong going into last winter.

The good weather conditions this spring and summer have encouraged much swarming and brood development. Since varroa feed and breed on honeybee brood we could see a build up of the mite in our hives which could weaken our colonies going into this winter.

Tedx and River of Flowers video

Watch this delightful animation video from River of Flowers which explains why we need more wild flowers in our towns and cities.

This was the theme of a Tedx talk, Mini the Urban Buzz, that Urban Bees gave recently at Warwick University.

Thanks to everyone who supplied photos for the talk who I wasn’t able to credit. They include River of Flowers, mercurial (urban meadow in Hackney, east London, 1 og and the tree pit planted with flowers); Melissa Cooper’s Out Walking the Dog blog which tracks nature in NYC and captured that greedy squirrel; Matthew Cohen of mattedesignphotos.com who took the fantastic photo of Vivian Wang with the Empire State in the background; and Silvia at Global Generation for her great photos of young beekeepers in the Skip Garden on the King’s Cross development site.

The pioneer of conservation in the US John Muir sums up what my talk is all about.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Thanks to illustrator Danielle Callagham for including the quote in her beautiful book The plight of the honey bee and for Jana Levitt, at LGA Architects in Toronto,

Gardening for butterflies and bees

Really enjoying Jan Miller-Klein’s book, Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and other beneficial insects. It’s got loads of fantastic colour photos of plants and the pollinators they attract and the large format makes it so easy to use. Backpack It shows you what flowers to plant for spring, summer and autumn pollen and nectar and includes a combination of British wild flowers, garden plants and shrubs. Now I know which hebes to plant – “midsumer beauty” and “great orme” were found to be the most attractive to butterflies. So as you can see, it’s not just honeybees I am planting food for in my garden.

Honeybees have opened up a whole new world of wildlife. In addition to the bumblebees ( I must plant Vipers bugloss for them) and solitary bees (knapweeds and stachys for some of them) , this spring and summer I’m going to try to make the garden more butterfly-friendly as well. They loved the verbena bonariensis and the Erysium Bowles Mauve wall flower I planted last year.

I didn’t know that the larvae of many butterflies only feed on one specific plant so for example the larvae of the Common blue butterfly needs Birds-foot Trefoil, the wild, yellow pea flower that’s in bloom in June/July. Big It also provides food for adults and what’s more it has a higher pollen content than many other flowers so it’s also important for bumblebees. And the same goes for Red clover – it’s pollen has a high protein content.

Jan gave a talk a few weeks ago at a local gardening club I’ve joined.

Feeding the bees together

Kathryn's loving our wildflower meadow

Kathryn’s loving our wildflower meadow

Two months after laying wildflower turf and sowing wildflower seeds on Clapham Manor estate in south London, this is the glorious result. Mochilas Fjällräven Kanken Tienda Not only is Kathryn Lwin from River of Flower ecstatic but the bees love it too.

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We’ve just had our second planting day on the estate, where Lambeth council has invited River of Flowers and Urban Bees to work with residents to improve forage for bees and other pollinators.

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Here are some of the children planting a new raised bee pasture.

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Watering

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and with the Mums

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There’s a lovely combination of native, wild flowers including black knapweed, hedgerow cranesbill and purple betony, with bee-friendly ornamentals such an early flowering clematis armandii to trail along the wall, a winter flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and a Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) which should flower in the spring and again in the autumn to provide the bees and other pollinators with year round foarge.

After just a few hours of digging, planting, watering and mulching, adults and children had transformed the empty raised beds into a haven for pollinators.

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And here is one we did early…

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The food and flowers square that we planted at the end of April was teeming with Horseradish, wild carrrot, wild red clovers and more. These photos don’t really do it justice. It looked so much more beautiful than the sterile bedding displays that local parks and civic offices still go in for.

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We also filled a Plant Lock with wildflowers. This is probably a first. More will follow across the estate. Each will be adopted by a resident.

Thanks to everyone who made the day such a success, particularly to Tammy Sharma and her family. Sonny’s DIY skills were invaluable for putting up the trellis for the clematis, Shanti’s skill with the watering cans ensured no plant went thirsty – and she’s only 41/2, and Alex, 8, was keen to learn about the plants.. until the snacks arrived. And to Crispin at Father Nature and his family crew who supplied plenty of hands, bunting and music. sb And not forgetting Rosemary and Alison for getting their hands dirty, not least weeding the existing beds (which is really important) and for adopting the first Plant Lock. And as always to Nina for publicising the event and having the extra long hose at hand. Oops, nearly forgot Josh at Lambeth council, without whom non of this would have been possible.

River of Flowers and Urban Bees will be back in the autumn to plant bulbs that will give bees early spring food next year, but I’m sure we’ll pop along next month just to see how it’s all looking….

Varroa alert

Our bees in the urban landscape of London have it pretty good. They have good forage due to the variety of flora in the gardens of the human residents, plenty of wild areas along the railway tracks and canals and no blanket spraying of pesticides as effects our rural counterparts. But our urban bees, along side all the western honey bees, is still plagued by the varroa mite, a slow and silent killer. Mochilas Big A parasite that has taken a stranglehold of our colonies in Europe.

This year, 2014, saw a great spring and a pretty decent summer. Mochilas Mini It was a very swarmy year, possibly the species making up for the losses seen in the past couple of years when the season’s weather was more inclement, and it was a good year for honey.

Unfortunately lots of strong colonies producing lots of brood (eggs and larvae) is a haven for the varroa mite. So it is no surprise to find that after I treated my bees with thymol, (a varroa killer) there was a huge number of dead mites on my varroa tray. The thymol did its job and killed varroa in the hundreds, if not thousands. internationalist soldes I must admit I was surprised the colonies had that many varroa since they didn’t show many signs of being infested. Glad I did the treatment otherwise I would certainly have lost the colonies over the winter or spring next year.

New beekeepers often wait until the summer has ended before turning their attention to varroa, but I try and treat against the mite as early in August as possible – as soon as the honey is extracted at the beginning of the month. For the thymol to be effective the temperature needs to be above 15 degrees during the 4 weeks of the treatment. This year I got the thymol on in the 2nd week of August, so it has nearly finished the course.

If you have started yet, don’t delay.

2013 – review of the year

Our successful four year partnership with the Co-op Group’s Plan Bee came to an end this year when we completed a year-long teaching course for the final cohort of 20 new beekeepers at the Camley Street apiary in King’s Cross. 97 We also used Plan Bee funds to set up a new community apiary at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and taught 20 aspiring local apiarists, some of whom have formed the THCPbees group.

We continued work with the Honey Club in King’s Cross, pegasus teaching young people and business people about bees at new hives in the Skip Garden and taking part in many bee-related events.

A bee-themed pub quiz was one of the highlights of the year at Victoria Business Improvement District where we continue to help to make their environment more bee-friendly. Mini We are also talking to a number of businesses across London about improving habitats and forage for bees and other pollinators.

We took part in the London pollinators’ forum which is feeding into the government’s national pollinator strategy to be announced in 2014.

We think trees have a huge role to play in making towns and cities more bee-friendly, so we have produced the Urban Bees’ Tree for Bees guide

We hosted visitors from around the world including architects in Toronto who are looking to London for inspiration to create bee caring communities, Mini Backpack and Urban Bees’ work with Sir John Cass School in the City was featured in a photographic exhibition at the United Nations in Geneva.

Our taster days at Camley Street proved as popular as ever, as more and more people want to learn about bees. Training and education about honey bees and other pollinators will remain core to our work as we engage with more companies and organisations in the exciting year ahead. We will continue to work closely in 2014 with the London Wildlife Trust, who host our Camley Street training apiary, we will be teaming up with River of Flowers to try to create sustainable wild flower forage throughout the capital,

The last supper

The bees are busy foraging for the last pollen and nectar of the season before the winter arrives. requin There is a surprising amount of colour still in the garden from the never-ending cosmos, geranium rozanne and verbena bonariensis, plus the later flowering rudbekia, Big penstamens and echinacea and the newly acquired bushy blue caryopteris and magenta, tavas daisy-like osteopermum trescos. While these flowers are still attracting the odd bumblebee and hoverflies, the honeybees are elsewhere. They are on walls, railway sidings, any forgotten nook and cranny that is covered in ivy, because at this time of year, mature ivy is in bloom,

Deadly spring

As the European Commission votes to implement a two year ban on three pesticides linked to bee deaths around the world, beekeepers and their bees are still struggling with the vagaries of the British spring.

Following the coldest March in 50 years, when we had to postpone practical beekeeping class after beekeeping class because you can’t open a hive in sub zero temperatures, the start of April proved little better. Late springs are not unusual, but 2013 has been exceptional because of the unremitting cold.

We have been anxiously feeding our bees fondant in the hope that the nectar substitute would see them through the prolonged chilly spell until warmer weather arrived. Bees can deal with the cold by staying toasty in the hive, but the problem is they can’t get out to collect pollen from the hazel and alder trees whose catkins can provide a rich source of protein at the beginning of spring for the bee larvae.

If there’s no baby food coming in, there’s no point the queen laying eggs because when the eggs hatch into larvae they will go hungry. So, all of our bee colonies are subsequently small and not building up well.

Now nearing May, with the cherry blossom out, forget me nots running a blue riot across the garden and dandelions dotting the lawn yellow, the bees would be having a feast if only that Arctic wind would drop and they could fly more.

Anecdotally, beekeepers are reporting losses of up to 30 percent because of the very late, cold spring. The only silver lining is that smaller bee colonies with less bee larvae means less varroa – the parasite which feeds on the larvae, weakens it and spreads lethal viruses around the hive.

What bees and flowers really need now is a warm May so the bees can leave the hive and pollinate the flowers and in the process collect the pollen they need to feed the babies, and the nectar that they turn into honey.

Matthew Oates a naturalist at the National Trust is optimistic. force 1 He says “There is a long record of good summers following late springs. Mini I love a late spring.

Bees planting in Blackburn

Residents of Blackburn in Lancashire will be out today planting 16,000 bee-friendly plants at 28 sites across the town. 90 femme gris rose Anyone who turns up at the town hall between 11-3pm will be given a trowel and assigned a ‘queen bee’ organiser and a site to get planting. Hives are also being installed on the roof of the town hall.

The initiate to replace traditional bedding plants that bees don’t like with more bee-friendly varieties across the town was the idea of charity Groundwork Pennine Lancashire which has been running an amazing three year ‘save the bee’ project in the region, called bees in the borough. The project includes breeding more indigenous apis millifera millifera (the black honeybee) .

As well as helping improve bee forage in Blackburn, the bee planting today is intended to bring the community together, instil pride in the town – volunteers will receive an ‘I love Blackburn t-shirt’ – and to rejuvenate the failing town centre. flyknit lunar Giant bee sculptures are being designed and placed in strategic locations across the town. Designer, Wayne Hemmingway, who comes from the area, is creating a vintage bee sculpture. Backpack The idea is for each sculpture to be sponsored and that money will go towards maintaining the bee-friendly plants.

The event has got the backing of Blackburn Town Centre Partnership Board, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council – which has three bees in its crest which represent skill, perseverance and industry – the town centre BID (business improvement district) , The Mall shopping centre and the local Groundwork trust. Flyers and postcards have gone out all over town, in schools, businesses, community centres.

It is yet another great example of how bees are being used as a catalyst to bring communities together and do positive things in their local area. Newcastle, Stroud and Gloucester are some of the other cities that have gone bee-friendly . And hopefully this initiative will help all types of bees in Blackburn.

You can follow today’s event on Twitter @BigPlantingBee #BBBigBee. cheap fjallraven kanken Backpack And there is a Facebook page blackburnsbigplantingbee

I’m looking forward to seeing the photos.

Let’s hope they get a good turn out .

Orange pollen, white flowers

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Bees out on a warm October day on this white flower. 90 femme Lovely orange pollen on her back legs.

The shrub, mercurial in case you were wondering, 90 femme is a Choisya Ternata or Mexican Orange Blossom, which flowers in spring and again in late autumn and even into winter if it’s mild, which is good news for honeybees as there isn’t much around to forage on now, except for a few cosmos,

Bees and snow

It may be -2 and white outside the hive, but inside the bees will be huddling together in a cluster and vibrating their wings to create warmth. Backpack A layer of snow on the roof of the hive may even help to insulate it further against the cold. Mini In fact the hive may be so toasty it could attract mice looking for a cosy spot to bed down, so you’ll need to guard against such intruders by fastening with nails a galvanised strip of metal called a mouse guard over the hive’s entrance.
The main worry at this time of year is whether the bees have enough honey to see them through the cold spell when the temperature is too low for them to leave the hive and forage is scare.
You can get an indication of the amount of honey they have by ‘hefting’ the hive. You do this by lifting the hive with one hand at the back of the hive just slightly off its stand. Big If you heft your hives at intervals during the winter you’ll get a better idea of how it compares to the autumn when you left them 30lbs of stores. Given the mild winter we were experiencing until a week OK, the bees should be fine and the hive should be hard to lift.
Once the cold spell is over, your bees will want to get out of the hive to defecate. You may have to help them exit by clearing the entrance which may be clogged by bees that have died naturally during the winter. Don’t panic if you see lots of dead bees around the hive during the winter. Remember their life span is short.
If they come out on a sunny day while snow is still on the ground, clear the snow around the hive to prevent your bees getting confused about which way up to fly. Kanken Apparently that can happen because of the way snow reflects the sky.
Now’s a good time to do a stock check and list what new equipment you’ll need for the spring.

honey survey 2013

No surprise that honey production was up this year after that very wet summer in 2012. But the yield of only 24.7lbs per hive in 2013, compared to 8.lbs last year, is as you’d expect after such a late spring well down on the long-term average of more like 40lbs a hive.

What’s of more interest from the survey of British Beekeeping Association members, is the regional variations. In Scotland beekeepers are getting close on 35lbs from one hive (the highest across the ), while in London, where 10% of respondents kept their hives on rooftops, they could muster just 18.7lbs of honey per hive (the lowest yield in the ).

A south-east honey survey for 2013, by the regional bee inspector, Alan Byham, seem to corroborate the figures in the BBKA survey. tn Each year, Alan asks beekeepers on his mailing list for information on honey yields and prices in the region. This year he had 414 replies. Mochilas Infantil The average was 21 lbs (slightly up from 19lbs last year). But again it’s London where beekeepers are getting lower than average yields of just 19lb in 2013, compared to east sussex where the average crop per hive was 27lbs – the highest in the region.

However, it appears that in the south east, Kent beekeepers fare even worse than the capital’s. Kent’s hives yielded just 16lbs of honey this year. Moreover, while London apiarists can charge a premium for any of the scarce honey that they sell, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Kent.

(In the BBKA survey, Kent is included in the south east area of the along with surrey, west sussex and east sussex, which taken together had the third highest yield in the with 27.lbs per hive).

So what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the figures ?

There are a lot more beekeepers and bees per hectre in London than the rest of the country, or there’s not enough forage for the bees in the capital? Or could it be a combination of the two? Or could it be that London beekeepers in the main are leaving their bees with more honey than other areas of the country? Alan says a number of beekeepers indicated that the colony made honey but they left it for them.

EU pesticide ban comes in

The two year suspension on thee neonicitinoid pesticides came into force yesterday across the European Union.

The commission proposed the suspension after the European Food Safety Agency concluded in January that thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid posed an unnacceptable risk to bees. The three will be banned from use on flowering crops including oilseed rape, Mini linseed, maize and sunflowers, upon which bees feed.

What is vitally important is that over the next 24 months scientists are able to conduct and collate overwhelming evidence that demonstrates these chemicals – should be banned long-term for the health of our bees. It’s going to be a hard call given all the other assailants weakening our bees from parasites, to poor nutrition and poor weather, Mini and given the persistence of neonics in the environment. But with the farming and pesticide industry continuing to lobby hard against the ban (legal action by Bayer and Syngenta is pending), the scientists have to get their skates on,

Bumblebees in late November

“Just heard buzzing from Strawberry tree (arbutus unedo) in back garden. roshe run It turned out to be two very active bumblebees moving quite quickly around the bush between blossoms.
We live in Surrey 500 ft ASL on North Downs – outside temp 6 C.”

Thanks to Tim Everitt for sharing this with us. If you see bees out late in the year, Mini please let us know which plant or tree they are foraging on.

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. Kanken 7,