Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Bee-Friendly Garden for Spring (2)






First of all, sorry to anyone who has not been able to read this post before i.e. because it hasn't shown up.  Hope all is OK now and thanks for your comments letting me know about it.

In my earlier post here I decided on the flowers I'd like in my bee-friendly garden and I'm now happy that my bees are going to have plenty to forage on. Flying bees will be looking for four things; nectar and pollen (bee food), propolis and water.  Propolis is a sticky, resinous substance collected from various trees, which bees use as a glue to keep their comb in good condition. Beekeepers don't tend to collect propolis for use, although it can be used by us as an antiseptic and for other products such as soap...
Propolis Soap




Bees will also want access to water and they can collect it on my smallholding from the large pond or my new mini pond. Both have shallow areas for the bees to visit easily.
 




On a warm day in March or April, I'll spring clean the hives by transferring the bees to a clean hive and blow torching the old one to scorch all the detritus in it. I'll also replace old comb with new. This is a really satisfying job - it's the kind of spring cleaning I enjoy because I'm sitting out in the sun on the grass cleaning out all the winter muck from the hives (and it's so much better than spring cleaning the house!!) Good hygiene in the hives is important because it helps to keep the bee diseases at bay.






There was bad news on the subject of bee diseases last week. Recent research has found that two diseases found in honeybees have now been found in bumblebees (details here). Bumblebees (like honeybees) are already facing threats such as pesticides and a decline in the areas where they can forage and so this could well be another serious blow to their well-being. And, unlike honeybees, (which are managed in a hive), I'm not even sure how wild bumblebees could ever be treated...
 




But I'm going to help bumblebees as much as I can, so I'm creating a nest site for them. I've taken an old, broken storage jar and half buried it in the ground, drilling a bumblebee size hole in the front. I've also been collecting some moss, and when I've dried this out, I'll put it inside the jar for nest material. It may be a bit roomy, but I hope the bumblebees discover it and will want to use it this spring.



Like other beekeepers, I'll do my best to look after the health of my bees throughout the year. And I recently came across a new idea to help me do this - The Bee Gym.  I love the name! It's basically a framework of different shaped devices that are placed on a mesh floor of a beehive - and its purpose is to rid bees of the varroa mite (this is a nasty mite that attaches itself to bees and can eventually destroy colonies).  When the bee visits the gym, it scrapes the mite off of its body when it passes through the different devices - and the mite falls through the mesh.

I very much hope the Bee Gym works - the varroa mite is one of the most serious threats facing honeybees today and it's good to hear about a such a simple solution to tackle it.

Honeybee on Camellia


 I'm now going to source the flowers and seeds I need for my bee-friendly garden - and everything will be organic. Tammy at Casa Mariposa in her great post here talks about pollinator-friendly flowers in garden centres that are not what they seem because they have already been treated with harmful pesticides.  So that's something to look out for. Unfortunately, though, I can't stop my bees flying right over everything I've planted to a field of crops that have been sprayed with agricultural pesticides. This is just what bees do.  But I'm glad that the European Union has banned some of the most deadly neonicotinoid pesticides. The chemical industries are lobbying hard to overturn this ban, and the UK Government didn't support it in the first place, but it's important that it stays in place to protect our bees and other pollinators.

They need so much help.


56 comments:

  1. This post makes me feel, as I often do, that I really should keep bees. We have so many great plants and so much space and the gorse and heather or the Clwydians on our doorstep. I am just a bit daunted by the idea of another commitment when our commitment to both our fathers is so very full on just now. I will do it though, and not too long off in the future. It feels like a necessity!

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    1. It does sound as though your place is perfect for bees - I wouldn't mind my hives there either! But you are right to say beekeeping is quite a commitment. Over winter it takes up hardly any time at all of course, but there are periods in the summer when you'd want to be busy with the hives and this then has to be juggled with good weather, too.

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  2. Fascinating post .
    I also love your photographs of the flowers and bees.
    We had an abundance of bumble bees on the farm last season but it was quite concerning how few honey bees we saw.

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    1. That's good news about your bumblebees, but it is also a worry about your honeybees. I hope that situation improves - the thought of their decline everywhere is a terrible one.

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  3. I have already got all my seeds for a bee-friendly garden - it is good that you bee-keepers are doing all you can to help - what would we do without you.

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    1. You're ahead of me, I'm still ordering! As a beekeeper, I'm so in awe of these amazing little creatures, I'm determined to do my best for them. Of course we don't know the situation with wild colonies, but I do know that I very rarely come across one.

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  4. Fantastic bee photos, I love them. I do envy you your bees. We have our packet of bee friendly flower seeds ready to sow. Very interesting to hear about the bee gym, I do hope it works.

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    1. I'm looking at some bee friendly flower mixes (as well as the other bee flowers I'm putting in) - and some for butterflies, too, because I'm looking at creating a small wild flower patch. I'm hoping to get it ready for this year.
      I hope the bee gym is a success. It would be good to have an alternative to varroa other than 'bee-medicines'

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  5. Really interesting to read so much information about how to keep bees happy and healthy. I anticipate putting my little solitary bee chalet in the garden during the end of March beginning April, and the skep will be placed in the drystone wall at the same time - I am hopeful that some bees will decide that we have nice homes for them and come and live with us.

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    1. I am really looking forward to seeing if the bees like your skep, Rosemary, and the bee chalet, too. I must admit I'm not sure that the bumblebees will like the home I've created for them - unlike honeybees that love a purpose built home - bumblebees are a bit notorious for ignoring them!

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  6. I'm impressed by your bumblebee nest. Do they ever nest underground? I ask because one year they had seemed to take over an old mouse burrow, there were bumblebees buzzing around the entrance for what seemed like weeks.

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    1. Bumblebees do nest underground in old burrows - as well as up in bird boxes. They can nest in all sorts of places. Last year a neighbour asked me if I could remove a nest from her bird box, but I persuaded her to leave them there. A bumblebee colony is only a fraction the size of a honeybee colony and it only lasts the summer.

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  7. Hi Wendy, now I can see your post! Thanks for fixing whatever needed fixing. Loved to read about your life as a beekeeper and the bees in general. Of course, I learned a thing or two. I didn't know about propolis or a bee gym. It would be awesome if the bees could just scrape of the nasty mites in the latter. I am curious if the bumblebees will accept the jar as their new home this spring. Hope you keep us posted. Great photography as usual. Loved to seeing all the pics with the bees!
    Christina

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    1. I'm glad you can see it now, Christina! I've never tried propolis soap, I think I will to see what it's like. It would be fantastic if such a simple solution like the Bee Gym helps with the battle against the varroa mite. Varroa is so deadly to bees and can't be left alone by beekeepers - if it isn't treated the colony will probably be lost.
      It's wonderful seeing the bees out after winter - they really have been busy this week!

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  8. Frequently now we seem to be hearing about something that is a threat to wildlife and the countryside Wendy. I don't recall hearing so much many years ago. What an earth is happening.??
    It probably wouldn't be a good idea to spring clean in the house with a blow torch anyway.{:))

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    1. I agree, Roy, it is depressing hearing about one threat after the other to our wildlife. Where bees are concerned, modern intensive farming just hasn't been good news for them. I have oilseed rape growing in my neighbouring fields this year - the bees love it, but when it finishes flowering in May that's it - there will be nothing else in those fields for them.
      You're probably right about the blow torching, but the one-action spring clean (and then it's all done) principle does appeal!!

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  9. Hello Wendy! I think you have a good course of action for your bee hives this year. How cool is the bee gym? Loved your crocus and bee photos. Ours just started blooming and yesterday, my daughter came in and told me of all the bees in them. I thought it was so cute she noticed. She is only six but we talk a lot about bees and lady bugs and why they are so important to our garden.

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    1. That is lovely to hear that your daughter has noticed the bees and other insects, Stacy. I sometimes visit a school where they keep beehives and help the children look at them. The children are so interested and have some really interesting questions. It is fantastic to see a new generation caring for bees.

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  10. Your posts are always so informative and interesting Wendy and I really feel I have advanced my honey bee knowledge through them, so thank you. I love the idea of the bumble bee nest in the jar and will look out for something similar for here. Last summer they nested under the patio and one enormous bee was too large to fit in the hole and spent ages buzzing about there, obviously he knew there was a nest nearby.
    I agree about the pesticide ban- we don't have a very wildlife-friendly govt at the moment, farming interests seem to take precedence as far as countryside policy making goes.

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    1. Thanks CT. I'm so fascinated by bees (as you know!!) I love sharing information about them. Bumblebees would look for a site under a patio, and of course some people panic then and ask for them to be removed. Many of the calls local beekeepers receive when they are on 'swarm duty' are to do with bumblebees nesting in and around houses.
      I completely agree with your last point. And it is depressing to hear that the NFU is supporting Bayer's (chemical industry) legal challenge to the ban on neonic pesticides.

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    2. Don't get me started on the NFU! They are not very popular among the ecology section of college.
      Re folks panicking about nests, when we had some building work done, the builder informed me that wasps were making a nest somewhere nearby as they kept flying past the window. He was horrified when I declined his offer of getting rid of them, and of course they caused us no problems at all. Folk are too quick to interfere at times. We all loved having the bees under the patio last summer and I hope they come back this year :-)

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    3. Likewise re; the NFU!!!
      Local beekeepers here are always receiving these panic calls about nests because people believe they'll get stung if they aren't removed. It is a shame there is so little understanding about. And the press doesn't help. A woman in my local area sadly died from wasp stings, because she happened to walk past a wasp nest when a man was poking at it. Of course he should have left the nest alone in the first place. And when I read the news reports in a couple of local papers a few days later each one had printed a picture of a honeybee (not a wasp) to illustrate the story.

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  11. Super photos of your bees, it's good to hear all you are doing for them. We do what we can here by providing flowers for them to visit from January to December. The woodland is where most of our flowers are at the moment, whenever I go in there I can hear buzzing all around me, it's wonderful.

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    1. The bees will love your woodland this spring, Pauline. There is so much there for them and your woodland must feel as though it's buzzing with life. I wish my bees would be tempted more into the nearby ancient woodland and away from the oilseed rape fields - but the latter is just so easy foraging for them.

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  12. I saw the report on the news about bumble bees suffering from the same diseases as honey bees. What a great idea to creat an underground nest for the bumble bee visitors to your garden and also the bee gym to rid your honey bees of the varroca mite. Both types of bees will have a wonderful, healthy haven with you. Love your photos of bees and crocus:)

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    1. Thanks Rosie. Yes, the news item about bumblebees now having these two known honeybee diseases was very bad news. But it didn't mention that thousands of bumblebees are imported every year to help with the (commercial) pollination of crops - and it's been discovered that these can be carrying mites etc that will have an impact on our native bumblebees (and honeybees as well). There is a problem with the 'trade' in bees, so to speak, and native creatures being exposed to problems they aren't equipped to deal with.
      I'm determined keep everything healthy and thriving here.

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  13. Terrible news about the bumble bees and I agree with Elizabeth about feeling we should all be bee keeping. We just don't have the room unfortunately but are hoping we might be able to buy a tiny parcel of land nearby where we could do it, amongst other things...hens perhaps. Fingers crossed. A lovely post Wendy, if slightly depressing!

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    1. I can certainly recommend beekeeping, but as you say, finding the space can be an issue. It would be wonderful if there were more beekeepers as there are too few bees in this country. I'm sorry the post became a bit depressing, it didn't start out that way but then I put all the information together and the truth is the news isn't all good. Thanks Em.

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  14. Love the image of the bee in flight and great info on bees in general. I found a bumble bee the other day with mites. I didn't know what to do, so this is the perfect opportunity to ask...is there anything?

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    1. I wouldn't know what to do about the bumblebee either, Suzie. I know something about honeybees but I wouldn't want to apply this knowledge to bumblebees. I think I would find out information from an organisation like the Bumblebee Conservation Trust - in fact, I'll have a look on their site and see if I can discover anything. It may be natural for the bees to have some mites, but it seems, like honeybees, there are some new pests that are a problem to other bees, too.

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  15. A great article to support wildlife and lovely photos. I enjoyed Casa Mariposa's post too.

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    1. Hello Kelli and thanks for visiting. I thought Tammy wrote such a thought provoking post, about pesticides and the flowers we buy.

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  16. This is so bad for the Bees and US which I don't think people really understand, hope it dose not get to the point were it is too late....

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    1. So do I, Amanda. You may have also heard that according to recent research, in more than half of European countries there aren't enough honeybees to pollinate crops - and this shortage is particularly acute in Britain, where we have less than a quarter of the honeybees we need. This is the situation today, so there is a crisis now.

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  17. A wonderful and informative post with some lovely photos :) I do so enjoy reading your blog. I read about bumble bees in the news too - its very worrying. I'm exceedingly angry too about the Govt's attitude to neonicotinoids - they don' t appear to have heard of the Precautionary Principle :( Its just like the badger culls - they just seem to want to pander to one section of society whilst ignoring relevant science :(

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    1. Thanks Caroline. I completely agree with all you say on badgers and bees. I followed the neonics issue very closely last year, including watching live debates in Parliament - and I found it very depressing that it eventually took Europe to ban these pesticides in the UK i.e. there was no political will here to do it.

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  18. Very interesting post. I know about the diseases of bees the last few years, it is a real problem.
    You took some beautiful pictures and the nest jar for the bumblebees.........I think I will try to make someting like that in my garden too for we have lots of bumblebees in summer.

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    1. Thanks Janneke. I'm pleased that you get lots of bumblebees where you are. I will let you know if my bumblebee nest jar works - I'm quite tempted, now, to make another nest site out of something else for them to give them some choice!

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  19. We used to have a bumblebee nest in the back garden quite a few years back. In a crack in the ground where the old garage used to be. They never returned but it was lovely to watch them fly in and out of the nest. My nephew did a nature report on them for school & even took a video of them. I would love for them to return so have left a few cracks there.

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    1. I hope they do return - I would have thought if the bees thought it was an ideal site once they would again. I would enjoy watching bumblebees flying to and from the nest as well, I certainly love watching my honeybees do that. I like to work out, from the colour of pollen in their baskets, where they have been foraging.

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  20. What stunning pics of the bees, I loved them especially the one showing the bee's eye.
    Oh no.....now the bumblebees are in trouble too....sighs....we gets lots of bumbles and I do enjoy watching them. I too have lots of pots st the ready for them and am creating several new wildlife heaps which they seem to like.I'm hoping top attract a few honey bees this year as well with all the wildflowers.I do enjoy hearing about beekeeping...xxx

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    1. You're bound to attract lots of bees in your garden this year with everything you're doing for them. I do get lots of bumblebees here but I've never really studied them closely enough to see which types I get - so I'm going to do that this year. I hope the solitary bees come back, too. Fingers crossed for another long, sunny summer so that they're able to be fly as much as possible. Thanks Dina.

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  21. I love the photos of the bees delving into the crocuses! Gardening is very much on the agenda here this year, and we'll be selecting lots of bee friendly plants - so thanks for the sign post to the Casa Mariposa post, I must read that. I hope some bumbles take up residence in your storage jar - such a great idea! And best of luck with the bee gym - I hope it works.

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    1. Thanks Helen. I'll be watching the jar to see if it is being investigated by any queen bumblebees looking to nest. I will be thrilled if it gets used. Have fun selecting your bee-friendly plants!

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  22. I hope the bee gym works for you and you have a successful year, Sarah x

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    1. March is always the month that tests the honeybees with more colonies lost at this time of year that at any other. But an early, warm spring will really give them a boost - I'm hoping for that! Thanks Sarah.

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  23. I love the idea of the Bee Gym. What entices the bees to crawl through it, I wonder. I didn't know you could create a space for bumblebee nests, I may give that a try. Most years we have lots of bumble bees though last year I think they were hurt by the cold lasting so long into spring.

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    1. Hi Jason. The Bee Gym does sound good, but I've only ever seen a photo and a description of it and I'd like to see it working first before I tried one in my hives. I imagine it must cover most of the floor of a hive, and if this is so then the bees would wander through it regularly. Good luck with your bumblebee nest. I believe that bumblebees can fly in cooler weather than honeybees, but last spring was so cold it would have had an impact on both.

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  24. Can't believe I've only just seen this great post of yours, love the photos. I hope the bumbles make a nest in your jar. We had a bumble bee nest underground at the bottom of our garden last year.. I spent ages watching them.
    Will have to tell hubby about the bee gym.. sounds interesting.. anything to help with the varroa mite.

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    1. Thanks Julie. That was good news about having a nest in your garden last year. I had solitary bees in an old carriage lamp last summer but no bumblebees (as far as I could see).
      You can look up more information on the Bee Gym on the internet, if you would like to learn more. If only we could eradicate varroa, I've been fortunate so far with it (touch wood) but of course it's everywhere.

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  25. Me encantan las fotografĂ­as, son geniales. Ha estado un regalo el visitar tu bloc, te invito visitar el mio y si te gusta espero que te hagas seguidora.
    Elracodeldetall.blogspot.com

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  26. I've yet to see a bee of any sort in my garden this year. I've usually had some activity. It's been very sunny but alas not to be so far. I have had a Peacock Butterfly however.
    I might not be able to keep bees but I try my best to cater for them. I do like the idea of making a home for the bumble bees - I must see if I can rig something up like you have.

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    1. I haven't seen a butterfly yet this year - although a fellow beekeeper told me at the weekend that she's seen a Red Admiral on some snowdrops, which I've never heard of before. My honeybees have been flying because it's been so mild, so the colony is building up early this year. Hope the bumblebees find any home you create for them!

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  27. Our spring is late and I'm wondering what the bees will do if they come out too soon. I do have some crocus up and have found bees in them, also in the heather. I'll plant more crocus for next year. Why do our governments work against nature and in favour of big business? Thank goodness the EU seems a little wiser.

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    1. That's interesting about your spring being late. When ours was late last year the weaker colonies of bees suffered, but all the others soon built up in a dry, warm summer. The bees have loved the crocuses here, but are now moving onto dandelion and blossom - and of course oil seed rape, the bee favourite at this time of year, it seems.
      The approach of our current Govt is very disappointing. The big interests have the influence and although the EU is often criticised, this time they got it right by suspending the use of neonic pesticides.

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Thank you for taking the time to leave any comments. I do love to read them.