Bee keeping

May 2018

British Beekeepers Association Spring Update

Caroline MacKenzie, of the Animal and Plant Health Agency, a contributor to the BBKA's newsletter, and who will be hosting the Grow North Beekeeping session in July, has emailed with the latest Scottish issue.

"I am a volunteer contributor to the BBKA Adopt a Honeybee Hive scheme.  People pay a contribution to the BBKA charity and receive a newsletter 4 times a year, along with some small gifts and jars of honey.  This is the latest newsletter I have written which sent out to all the recipients this month.  It is a national scheme, and there are only 2 contributors to the Scottish part, myself and a friend down in Ayrshire.  I thought you might like to see it."

Scotland – Caroline Mackenzie

 As some people might know, we moved from the North of England to the North of Scotland last year and took our bees with us. They have now had a whole year to acclimatise, and I am pleased to say that they have survived the winter! It is only now, at the beginning of May, warm enough to get in and inspect them properly. To help beekeepers know when it is warm enough to open their hives, a good tip is to wait until the flowering current, Ribes sanguineum is blooming in your area, before opening them. Our plant is just in bud but not yet flowering, so maybe next week. I’ve discovered that the weather in the north of Scotland, and therefore any bee timing, is at least 3 weeks behind the weather in north of England. 

 In the meantime, we have been busy planning the year ahead - checking our spare equipment, making sure we have enough supers for all the lovely nectar that the bees will collect, that it is clean and in good enough condition to use; we may want to take some honey for ourselves so everything has to be clean enough to eat from. 

We have also been teaching aspiring beekeepers on the west coast of Scotland. Keeping bees against the elements in that area can be challenging to say the least. The season is much shorter, and the gardens are fewer, so the honey will be all the more precious, but I’d be willing to bet it will be light and floral and full of the taste of Scottish wildflowers.

As most of you will know, one of the major problems facing honey bees and all pollinators, is the decrease in forage.  I wanted to learn more about this so I attended a GROW NORTH course on Wildflower Planting for Pollinators run by JJ Gladwin, a garden designer, specialising in gardens to benefit invertebrates, provide food, and make beautiful spaces. We started with cowslips below the tree, added yellow rattle to help keep the grass at bay, then mixed sand with the small seeds before sowing and scattering.  It’s a good idea to add annuals to your perennial mix so that you have lots of flowers in your first year too.

I look forward to updating you again later in the year.

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January 2018

JJ Gladwin on helping bumble bees

How can we help bees and other invertebrates throughout the year?

If the weather is mild the Queen early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) can emerge from hibernation as early as January.  She carries the next generation within her and needs to find food fast or she with her unhatched eggs will die.   
 
When she emerges she will feed on willow, mahonia, viburnums, pulmonaria, crocuses, and once sated she will search for a suitable site to build her nest, often favouring old mouse holes.  Before she can lay her eggs she needs to build herself a larder and makes an acorn sized goblet which she fills with nectar to keep her going whilst she incubates the first batch of eggs she lays, all daughters who will become the future workers.  She settles down, her nectar filled goblet within easy reach, lays her eggs and incubates them.  Once they have hatched and been raised she hands over housekeeping and nanny duties to her daughters and concentrates on laying eggs.  A large bumble bee nest at its strongest may have as many as 600 bees in it.  By as early as July the whole cycle is complete and the new generation of early Queen Bees will have hatched found mates and begun their hibernation.

As the season progresses we can help by providing lots of different opportunities for feeding.

No single plant will suit all bees as the length of the tongue varies considerably between 
species, so a range of flower types are needed. 


Early in the season bulbs have plenty of energy stored to produce flowers quickly. Muscari, crocus species, winter aconite (eranthis hyemalis), scilla are all important sources of pollen with some nectar. 
 
Trees with their vast root systems can produce enormous quantities of nectar.  Early in the season willow (Salix) are hugely important, followed by sloe (Prunus spinosa), gean (Prunus avium), apple (Malus), pear (Pyrus communis), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Swedish whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) to list a few, and some bigger trees like sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), holly (ilex aquifolium).  Recently it has been discovered that the common sycamore we so often deride as a weed tree supports as many different species as the venerable oak.

If your garden isn’t large enough to support a tree there are many valuable shrubs - mahonia, berberis, cotoneaster, aralia, buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), broom (Cystisus scoparius), escallonia, pyracantha, fuchsia, buddleja starting with globosa and moving through the summer to other varieties ending with the October flowering B. weyeriana ‘Sungold’.  

There are a wealth of herbaceous perennials - agastache, asters, bergenia, borage, columbine, comfrey, eupatorium, foxgloves (perennials such as Digitalis ferruginea, D.lutea and D. grandiflora) , geraniums, lamiums, lavender, persicaria, polemonium, pulmonaria, sea kale (crambe maritima).  

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