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Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Bees carrying pollen in early March

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The bees have been out in force today. Although there is still a cold chilly breeze it was beautifully sunny and by lunchtime the temperature was around 10 degrees. I heard them from about 100 meters away  - something I dont remember experiencing since the heat of mid summer.  And sure enough, there was a big cloud of them milling around both hives and a carpet of them covering a fair portion of the hive front.  They mainly seemed to be basking in the sunshine.

Plenty of them were bringing in pollen of several different shades. I spotted a very pale buff or cream, light yellow, bright orange and a dark orange too.  Having checked the charts I think these will include hellebore (cream) and crocus (dark orange). I am also seeing them on the tiny little speedwell flowers but cant work out what pollen colour that has.  Any suggestions welcome.

Plants for bees; Doronicum - a march-flowering yellow daisy for b

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At this time of year the bees are just beginning to emerge more regularly and very soon they will find much of their food from trees and shrubs. Most perennials and particularly most of the daisy family tend to flower later. Doronicum is a significant exception flowering as soon as the temperatures begin to head above 10 degrees. My plants are just showing buds now. Honeybees love all types of daisy-shaped flowers as they are very open and accessible. They also tend to flower for weeks opening up new nectaries on a daily basis until the centre of the flower has a fuzzy appearance.

Dornonicums are  meant to like damp conditions but I have found they also cope well in quite light soils.

They clump up relaibly but are not invasive; all in all a very well behaved but tough garden plant.

Bees foraging for pollen - early March

At this time of year the main bee food supply comes from trees. The bulbs are still going but trees offer a much greater volume of pollen an nectar; a mature willow tree in March/April can provide as much food as  an entire acre of wildflowers in June. Pollen is the priority for the masses of new brood the queen is laying to quickly swell the colony size up from the c. 10 thousand that made if through the winter to 50 thousand or more which make up a healthy productive hive.

I have been studying our bees and the main forage sources they are collecting now are:

  • grey willow which provides this very bright yellow pollen (see picture)
  • wild cherry - which has a caramel coloured pollen (centre bee in picture)
  • grape hyacinth where they are collecting both pollen and nectar

It has been warm (minimum high of 12 degrees) so the bees have been out every day and are streaming in and out of the hive with at least 100 at the entrance at any one time. The bright yellow willow pollen is easily seen from a distance but the other more muted colours are hard to spot; we will see it in the cells on the next inspection.

As most of the trees finish flowering, by mid April, the herbaceous ground level plants start - like natures batten handover.

Our spring honey harvest

Last weekend we managed to find time to take our first spring-time honey harvest.  We live in rural South Oxfordshire where most of the land is under grain production and of course, oil seed rape is one of the rotations.   We were not sure how much rape was in our honey as the nearest field has been over a mile away and the blackthorn, hawthorn and other tree blossom has been nearer and plentiful. Each week in May we checked to see if the honey was trying to set and then a week ago we saw the first signs.  We put the clearer boards in and took the supers off two days later. In that time about 10% of the honey had begun to set. I guess that was because the bees had been keeping it warm and when we cleared the out the temperature in the supers dropped.

We decided that we needed a really warm environment for the extraction. My creative-thinking husband suggested the conservatory which is south facing and was sunny.  This worked a treat although we all needed large amounts of water to avoid collapsing with the heat.

We have been having queen trouble for the last few weeks so the bees have not really been producing honey since mid April. In spite of that we got two supers from one hive and one from another.  In total it came to 50 jars of honey so we were delighted (but very sticky).

We left the last of it draining through the double sieve over night in the kitchen and by morning it had thickened so much that it was no longer going through the sieve at all. That just shows the difference room temperature makes with rape honey.

Its pale and taste mild with an almost peppery aftertaste.   I hope that the friends and family who have placed order like it.