Monthly Archives: Dec 2018

Spring Pollen Sources

I was excited when my local beekeeping association organised a microscopy evening.

Hazel 1Someone brought in a hazel twig. I knew what catkins were but had never really looked closely at the tree (except later in the year when searching out the nuts to harvest). It was a surprise when they pointed out the flowers. Under a low powered microscope, the tiny red alien-looking filaments poked out from the top of a bud. This twig came from a tree in full bloom, yet walking casually by you’d never know it!

The pollen was stored in the male catkin and the stigma located in the female flowers. I later found out that a plant with male and female parts was known as monoecious.

In my locality hazel is probably the most significant source of pollen in Spring. We have some crocuses and snowdrops out in the garden and a few lesser celandine and primroses in the woodland areas. In the hedgerows gorse is still in flower.

In other areas of the UK there is willow, alder and other early garden plants in bloom. Hawthorn  and dandelion are not yet out as it is still early March as I write this.

The bees have been bringing in pollen, when the weather allows, so luckily my 4 colonies seem to have come through the winter and are preparing for brood. It’s too early (and cold) to attempt any inspection other than check fondant supplies at the top of the hives.

Back to the microscopy evening, one member of the association saw hazel pollen under the microscope, described them as looking like ladies undergarments and labelled them Hazel’s knickers! Decide for yourself (link below)

Hazel Pollen Photograph from America Fine Arts Website

A lovely interactive pollen chart, with their colours, has been posted by the Sheffield Beekeepers Association (link below).

Pollen Chart from Sheffield Beekeepers Association

Eat, Drink and Bee Merry!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aaf A whole beekeeping season has gone by and I’ve found that moving back home after building an extension and major renovations, have taken the toll on my writing life. However, the beekeeping season was amazing this year. The long spell of warm weather saw Spring merging into Summer with no stop in nectar and pollen flow. My three production hives cleared 60lbs each. This is a good yield as I live in a farming region with no flowering crops – mainly pasture- so nectar comes from hedgerows, small orchard’s blossom and a little Oilseed Rape. Starting with 3 viable hives (one having been lost to laying workers) I ended the season with 8 colonies made up from 1 swarm capture, 4 splits and the original 3 hives.

Talking of moving home, I was invited to enter the local church Christmas Tree Festival and decided to fashion a ‘tree’ from a skep. These days skeps are mainly used to catch swarms and take them to a new home by the beekeeper. Skeps have a long and interesting history in Britain and were brought over with the Saxons, once the Romans had vacated, around 410AD. It was only in the 18th century that modern hives were developed and then widely used.  The name skep is thought to be derived from the Norse word for grain basket – skeppa.

If you fancy making your own skep, try here;  skep making


On a visit to the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’, Cornwall, I came across this apiary wall which would have formed an ideal home for the bees. What strikes me is that a skep has a relatively small volume.

Some of my colonies get quite large and there has been much debate about some bee genetics producing prolific bee strains. The perceived wisdom seems to be to allow crosses with local bees to produce a strain that not only suits our locality, but which also suits our weather and forage availability. These crosses can produce bees that are equal to their prolific counterparts in gathering nectar, but who maintain a smaller colony. Certainly it would be easier at the end of the season to pack them down into one brood box, whereas currently I struggle to do that and therefore 3 of my colonies are overwintering on a deep brood box and super (underneath).

However, I have two colonies that I caught as swarms from the same area in Egloskerry. Each of these are more compact colonies and fit into a standard National brood box without getting cramped. I think next year, it might be prudent to breed some queens from these colonies and see what happens.

When I mention queens, I guess there are other relatively new beekeepers who, like me, don’t like to ‘finish off’ their old queens. I’m sure that my original colony has a queen that is 4 years old. I probably should have replaced her with one of my younger queens and I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t have another colony of laying workers in the New Year. It’s a part of colony management that I will have to come to terms with.

However, in the meantime, I’m enjoying a hiatus in beekeeping duties (although there is a bit of painting of boxes and repairs to do) and am putting my efforts into preparing for Christmas festivities.

santa claus beside brown bauble decor

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on

I wish everyone a very ‘Ha Bee Christmas’