Last week Brian visited Esther Coles’ hives on her allotment in Crouch End to appear in the beekeeping podcast she started during lockdown with her best mate, fellow actor, Jane Horrocks.
Jane clearly enjoyed it.
Esther was one of Brian’s first students. Twelve years ago Urban Bees taught 20 budding beekeepers over the course of a year how to become responsible urban beekeepers and they got bees and hive at the end of the training, courtesy of the Co-op’s Plan Bee campaign. Since then, Esther and Brian have become good friends. He last came to see her hives when he was the north London bee inspector for the government’s National Bee Unit a few years ago.
Esther has been hoping to get Brian down to the allotment to look at the 3 bee hives when rules permitted. When it finally happened last week, her and Jane were so excited they kept chanting Brian’s name!
If you listen to the podcast, you’ll know that Esther was worried that her bees may have a bacterial disease or a virus spread by the varroa mite. So, in this episode, Brian takes them through each of the hives explaining clearly and precisely what is going on.
There are a few surprises along the way….
Listen to the Queen Bees podcast, Series 3: episode 7 ‘Buzzing with the Drones’ here
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.
Urban Bees ran another beekeeping taster course to a full house. Mochilas Big It was another informative and busy day with some really keen participants. hypervenom The weather was just good enough to see some bees flying.
I really wasn’t expecting much from this hive this year since it looked very weak throughout the summer but had a peek this Sunday and was very happy to see that the colony had grown into a brood and half and looked very strong and healthy. I added a QE and stuck a super on top in the hope that they get really busy in the next 2-4 weeks and make a few frames of Queen’s Park honey.