Apiary management

With the start of the active season fast approaching, we’ve been considering how we might better manage our bees.

Our aim is to make running Meridian’s apiaries fun for everyone and to provide an opportunity for members to acquire new skills. We also want to make sure our bees are well looked after.

Rather than selling the Association’s honey we thought it would be a nice idea to distribute it amongst those who get involved. Louise has come up with an ingenious point-based system to make that share-out as fair as possible.

We understand most people’s motivation for helping is not personal gain but we wanted to find a way of recognising the time commitment and travel costs involved in volunteering.

We know some members are not ready to have their own hives, others don’t wish to manage a colony at home and this scheme provides an opportunity for them to get some enjoyable hands-on experience. But this proposal is for everyone not just for members without bees.

Building on the tremendous response we had to the apiary tidy last autumn, it would be great to get as many members as possible involved.

Whether you’d like to help manage the bees or maintain equipment, process honey or wax, your contribution is greatly appreciated and you can help as little or as much as you like. To get involved click Count me in!

We also wish to develop the position of Apiary Manager. This voluntary role will be for one season at a time and doesn’t mean you’d be doing all the work! Supported by volunteer members, the committee will conduct hives inspections and manipulations as usual, but the Apiary Manager will provide a single point of contact for those working at the apiary.

The appointed person (one for Swanmore and one for West End) will know exactly what’s going on and can report previous activities and provide a briefing to the next team before they take their turn at the apiary.

The Apiary Manager is key to the smooth running of our apiaries going forward and any volunteers would be keenly appreciated. You don’t have to be an expert beekeeper just good at communication and organising. The apiary manager does not replace the need to maintain careful notes!

Here is the job description;

  • To act as a single point of contact for the apiary.
  • To ensure apiary records are maintained and disseminated.
  • To act as the reporting point after apiary inspections and manipulations.
  • To brief the next person or team.
  • Under guidance, take timely responsibility for reporting any incidence of noticeable disease, ensuring correct processes are followed.

Wildflower meadow at West End

A member suggested creating a wild flower meadow at our West End Apiary and we have chosen Saturday 24 April to undertake the work to realise this excellent idea. Click here for details of our apiary meetings.

The work involves preparing the ground and scattering seed and if you’d like to get involved, please volunteer here Count me in!

We will of course obtain all the appropriate equipment to make the tasks as easy as possible.

What do points make?

Here’s the points-based system for Meridian honey. It’ll probably evolve as time goes by but it’s an excellent place to start!

Members accumulating 10 points will share any honey from the association apiary up to a maximum of eight jars. If there is a surplus beyond that, honey can be purchased at £6 per 454g jar (or a percentage lower than the usual purchase price.

As a point of good practice, this scheme does not apply to Committee Members usual activity.

Cleaning frames and retrieving wax1
Washing wax1
Making frames1
Waxing frames1
Making/mending equipment2
Managing website4
Managing articles on website
Managing the shop4
Apiary Manager4
Preparing equipment for assessment2
Preparing colonies for assessment2
Organising/supporting students for assessment4
A day supporting further learning/refresher courses4
Maintaining a colony for a season6
Mentoring5
Assisting with maintenance of apiary site3
Taking honey2
Spinning honey2
Extracting honey, filtering, putting in jars2

Lisa

Creating a pollinator garden

Since starting my beekeeping journey four years ago, I’ve become much more aware of nature generally and pollinators in particular.

We also moved to Shedfield eighteen months ago and I am now fortunate to have a much bigger garden than the patio-style one we had before. It is an older property with an established garden and a variety of mature trees and shrubs and, as it hadn’t been maintained for sometime, there are also patches of overgrown vegetation and other ‘natural’ areas which we are very happy to keep for the benefit of the local wildlife.

I wanted to enhance what was already there and set about planting-up wildflower areas. I have some previous experience of starting wildflowers but with mixed results. In the past, I followed the instructions and prepared the ground as suggested and scattered the seeds as instructed on the box. All too often, the flowers failed to take and I was disappointed. So this time, I planted the seeds in trays and started them in the greenhouse before planting out the seedlings. This was very successful and of course, now they are established, the flowers will self seed. If you have some spare greenhouse capacity and want to grow some wildflowers, I thoroughly recommend starting them in this way.

The next thing I did was create a rockery. At the time of writing (December 2020) it doesn’t look much but the mixture of heathers, herbs and succulents proved incredibly popular with bees, butterflies and other pollinators during the summer. I’m looking forward to the rockery maturing as, being next to the patio, it provides an excellent opportunity to watch the girls working while I’m having my morning coffee!

I also have a dream of creating a double Lavender hedge to run alongside a new path we’re laying down the length of the garden. The path will be approximately thirty metres long and therefore needs a lot of Lavender plants. To save money, I’ve been buying small plants when I see them reduced or on special offer and planting up small sections along the path. I did take a picture to show you but at this time of year, it just looked like a badly-kept lawn!

I have also stopped using chemicals in the garden. In the past, I just didn’t think about the harmful effects that pesticides and even things like lawn feed have on our beneficial insects and other wildlife. I now use coffee grounds , liberally spread, around the base of my vegetables to ward off snails and slugs. Before lockdown, I would go into Costa and other coffee shops where the staff are all too happy to offload the grounds from the shop. Since lockdown, I’ve just had to drink a lot more coffee at home to keep supplies going! I’ve also found washing the shoots of my roses and beans with soapy water has proved just as effective as sprays against greenfly.

Our neighbours Chris and Ian gave me this wonderful gift for Christmas. It contains little clay pellets, each containing a variety of wildflower seeds. The pellets help keep the seeds moist whilst they germinate which makes starting them easier. This wonderful gift came with a comprehensive list of meadow flowers which I share with you here. I’ve also provided some more detailed information on some of my favourite varieties.

  • Common Knapweed
  • Wild Carrot
  • Lady Bedstraw
  • Rough Hawkbit
  • Oxeye Daisy
  • Ribwort Plantain
  • Corn Marigold
  • Common Sorrel
  • Salad Burnet
  • White Campion
  • Corn Chamomile

Yarrow

Yarrow is one of the most common forage plants for Honeybees. The flowers are great landing pads and all types of bee find them very attractive.

Yellow Rattle

When the flowers are over, the seed pods rattle giving the plant its name. Yellow Rattle is an annual plant and thrives in the long grasses of the meadow. It feeds from the same nutrients the grasses need thereby weakening them slightly allowing more delicate, meadow species to push through.

Cowslip

Cowslip is an early source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

‘Cowslip’ is actually a Mispronunciation of ‘cow slop’, named because the flowers are associated with cow pats in meadows. The plant was traditionally used to treat sleeping problems and coughs. The Spanish sometimes use the leaves in cooking and they have a slightly citrus flavour. The flowers are also used to flavour English wine.

Self heal

The flowers appear on purple, sometimes pinkish, spikes but the herb is actually a member of mint family.

It’s a great favourite with all types of bees and as it’s name suggests, the plant has long been used in herbal medicine to stop bleeding, treating heart disease and sore throats.

Red Campion

The bright ‘hot pink’ flowers brighten up roadsides, woodlands and hedgerows throughout the summer. Just as the bluebells finish in our woodlands, red campion comes into bloom. They sometimes turn woodlands into a sea of pink and blue. Red campion is a perennial, which means it can live for a number of years, growing in spring and summer and dying back in autumn.

Cornflower

Cornflower is the easiest wild flower to grow and the beautiful colour makes them a firm favourite of mine. You can grow them from a sprinkling of seed in autumn or spring and the flowers emerge from late spring to summer. The buds open into a wonderful ruff of fringed petals in a stunning shade of blue.

Although short-lived, the flowers continually open throughout the summer. As the name suggests, cornflower grows in cultivated cornfields and was brought to Britain by Iron Age farmers, 2,400 years ago.

At one time Cornflower was widespread but as with too many of our native flowers, the of use of herbicides has caused a catastrophic decline of this British flower. The good news is, it’s one of the easiest annuals to grow in and is a great plant for children to get started with.

Sow the seeds directly into the soil where you want plants to them, sowing thinly in shallow drills in autumn or spring. They like well-drained soil in full sun. Autumn-sown plants will flower earlier and produce bigger plants.

Common poppy

The attractiveness of poppies to bees is a big surprise to me! Not only because the flower doesn’t produce nectar but because it’s red which means it must be invisible to bees! But I’ve learnt that bees love poppies because they provide lots of pollen. Apparently this is especially true of the Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum. That’s a lot of very happy bees!

Poppies are a great way to add colour to your garden but choose a sunny spot with good drainage. Weed the area first and rake the soil. Then sprinkle them thinly over the ground to create natural looking drifts. Keep the soil moist during germination.

I’m also lucky to have another neighbour Dawn, who’s a gardener. She and her partner Colin have shown great interest in the bees and have shown plenty of early promise as beekeepers! They will be joining Louise’s course in the next couple of weeks and have already got a hive in their garden. I asked Dawn for a few tips for shrubs and flowers that are attractive to bees and here are some of her suggestions.

Buddleja globosa

Buddleja globosa is also known as the Orange Ball Tree and is a wonderful plant for pollinators and very much underrated by gardeners. It is a medium to large shrub with long, pointed leaves and scented, globular, orange flowers that open in abundance in early to mid-Summer. Orange Ball Tree is just as popular with the bees and butterflies as it’s invasive purple cousin so beloved by railways lines!

Dawn also recommended Asters especially those with blue flowers.

Aster ericoides ‘Blue Star’

Asters have simple lance-shaped leaves and daisy-like flowerheads which is the reason they are grown. The central disc florets are typically yellow and are rich in pollen which is why they are attractive to bees. There are also pink, purple and white varieties.

Blue Star is a compact herbaceous perennial which can grow to 75cm, with narrow bright green leaves and pale lavender-blue flowers about 12mm wide.

Cotoneaster horizantalis

Cotoneaster horizontalis is a spreading shrub which as the name suggests grows along the ground and is a useful plant for ground coverage or to ornament the top of a retaining wall. It is deciduous and grows to 2m wide and has distinctive foliage with small glossy leaves that turn orange and red in autumn. The pink-tinged flowers are very attractive to pollinators especially honey bees and the plant shows very attractive red berries later in the year.

Phalesia

Phalesia is a member of the Borage family. It likes full sun and grows in any type of soil as long as it’s well drained. It flowers between June and September and is a hardy annual.

It has lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers, which are laden with nectar which makes them very attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. These flowers are perfect in wildflower meadows or natural planting schemes. The fast growing foliage helps to suppress weeds and makes attractive groundcover.

The seeds can be sown in small pots filled with compost ideally in a greenhouse. The growing tips can be pinched out to encourage bushier growth. The seedlings should be harden off before planting out. Alternatively, the seeds can be sown directly into the ground in autumn in a sunny, well-prepared seed bed.

Polygonamz firetail

The flowers are in shades of pink or white and appear late in the season on these hardy, herbaceous perennials. They are easy to grow and ideal for boarders or as ground cover. The best flower and leaf colour is achieved when grown in full sun. ‘Firetail’ has slender spikes clustered with tiny, fluffy, red flowers which appear from mid summer to early autumn above semi-evergreen, lance-shaped leaves. The plant is an excellent source of late forage for honey bees and other pollinators.

Having a bigger garden means that the tasks are never finished. It’s always a work in progress! But it has taught me to be more patient which is something I had already started to learn from Beekeeping. Planting for pollinators

Becky

Our candle adventure!

Washing partially rendered wax in rainwater

Over the past four years or so, rather than exchanging our wax for foundation, we’ve kept it to make hive products but with mixed results so far! We managed some soap and candles, none of which were good enough to sell, but we had fun making and using them along the way and we’re on a journey!

Rendering

Before we purchased our solar extractor, the rendering was done entirely by washing the wax in rain water. As anyone who’s tried it knows, it’s very time-consuming and requires lots of rainwater, so get plenty of water butts!

The extractor has been a godsend because it does so much of the work for you. We’re always careful to melt any super wax first, followed by cleaner brood and finally, the dirtier wax which we plan to use in polishes; we haven’t actually made any polishes yet! Then we thoroughly clean the extractor after each cycle.

The wax originating from the supers is a creamy colour whereas the cleaner brood wax is more yellow.

Having partially processed the wax in the extractor, we find it still requires up to fifteen washes in rainwater. We’ve learnt, as with many things in beekeeping, wax rendering requires patience and plenty of time, which of course brings the associated benefits of mindfulness and relaxation!

We found the very best implement for scraping the slumgum off the cooled wax cakes is a B&Q paint stripper which contains a Stanley blade.

Candle making

A few years back, we were lucky enough to attend a candle making course run by Margaret and Alan Johnson. Afterwards, we couldn’t wait to try our hand at making dipped candles.

Our dipped candles setting on the rack

For our first attempt, it was quite successful really. The candles provided a clear, bright flame and offered a very respectable burn time. We also really enjoyed making them. Unfortunately, the dipping pot we used (is that what it’s called?) was a bit shallow.

The candles turned out rather stumpy and a few were also vaguely rude which gave us a good laugh, but we definitely couldn’t sell them!

We do plan to have another go at dipped when we’ve assembled all the right equipment!

So this year, we decided to make tea lights for Christmas presents instead. We sourced some lovely glass tea light containers which we thought would be nicer for presents than the little foil ones.

We got them from the Norfolk Candle Company (http://www.pasttimesltd.co.uk). We actually wanted some more a few weeks before Christmas but unfortunately, they were out of stock. The manufacturer is a German company called Weck and although they sell through a number of UK suppliers, we were disappointed that they were all out of stock. As far as we can tell, Weck is the only manufacturer of these glass tea lights. If anyone knows any different, please do let us know!

The Norfolk Candle Company also supply really good quality wick which we much preferred to Thornes.

Also, just for your information, we rather liked the sound of ‘beeswax-coated hemp candlewick for tea lights’ from Amazon. However, In our experiments, we found it burnt really quickly, tunnelled massively and had a very poor flame! So, unless we’ve done something terribly wrong, we don’t recommend it! Does anyone want to buy 200ft of beeswax-covered hemp candle wick?

The 2 litre capacity Bain Marie from Thorne’s

To make the tea lights, we heated the wax to 65c (150f) on the hob using a 2 litre Bain Marie purchased from Thornes. We also used a thermometer which sits in the liquid wax so that we could keep the temperature consistent.

We could have poured the wax directly from the Bain Marie but to make the tea lights, we used a little ladle which made the job much easier. The picture shows wax being poured directly from the Bain Marie into votives.

The finished product looks great! The Tea lights burn for a minimum of 4 hours and have a very pleasing, bright flame and that lovely after-smell you only get from beeswax.

The tea lights can be made even more attractive by choosing a selection which shows the range of wax colours

We then packaged them up with a bit of dried lavender and some rustic string! You could pop in a jar of honey too if you want a more substantial gift. We hope the recipients will appreciate a home-made gift!

We packed the bags with dried Lavender or other flowers

Votives

Having failed to get further supplies of the glass tea light containers, we sent off for some small votives instead.

Our wax cakes usually weigh about 630g, (1lb, 6oz) and the votives we bought hold 170g (6oz). So we will get approximately 3 votives from each cake.

As we’ve just started on the votives, we’re still testing various thicknesses of wick. We want to ensure maximum burn time, brightness of flame and as little tunnelling as possible. We are trying #70 and # 90 at the moment, but the jury is still out! If you’re interested in the results, we can let you know!

The Thorne’s wick sustainers we bought for the tea lights didn’t hold the thicker wick we needed for the votives, so we secured the wick in the centre of the votive with a little dab of superglue!

The wicks secured in the middle of the votives with a dab of superglue and held in place with wick retainers. Cocktail sticks or similar work just as well.

After pouring the wax into the votives, we placed them into a preheated oven (100c) which was immediately turned off. The votives were then left untouched for 4 hours to cool slowly. The idea of cooling them slowly, is to prevent the drying wax from cracking.

We got loads of helpful ideas and information from the Beeswax Alchemy Website (Bees wax alchemy) but watch out, it’s American, so some of the terms and wick measurements may be different.

The great thing about the votives and tea lights is that precious beeswax goes further and you can make lots of lovely gifts. We’re going to get on to the polish after Christmas too! That sounds like the first of my new year’s resolutions to me!

Honey and veganism

Fruit and honey, a perfect combination

As somebody who is working towards a more plant-based diet, I was perplexed when I discovered The Vegan Society’s stance on honey. So I checked out the Society’s website (The Vegan Society) and was surprised by the mixture of half-truths, mis-understandings and even mild hypocrisy I found there.

Whilst many of the Society’s assertions maybe true of the worst practices in World-wide commercial bee-farming, they cannot be fairly applied to the majority of UK honey production.

Most UK beekeepers are hobbyists

Conventional beekeepers?

The Vegan Society insists on using the term ‘Conventional Beekeeper’ and states that ‘conventional’ beekeepers aim to harvest the maximum amount of honey.

But what is a ‘conventional’ beekeeper? In the UK, the ‘conventional’ beekeeper is in fact a hobbyist. Of the estimated 290,000 hives in the UK only approximately 65,000 are commercially farmed.

In a good season, a colony of bees will produce more honey than they require to maintain them through the winter. It is this surplus beekeepers aim to harvest. Most UK beekeepers do aim to harvest a crop of honey but for them, the welfare of their bees is much more important. Most UK beekeepers measure their success not primarily by how much honey they harvest, but by whether or not they manage to successfully over-winter their bees.

Harvesting honey is one of the rewards of keeping bees, but most beekeepers will leave ample honey on the hive to sustain their bees through the winter. If poor weather prevents the bees from producing a surplus, any honey is left on the hive for the bees. Fondant is placed on the hive as a precaution against winter starvation and beekeepers will feed their colonies at other times if the bees need it.

Whilst it is acknowledged that there are commercial practises in some places around the World that are less focused on bee welfare and more on maximising profit, a responsible person should always obtain honey, like any other food, from a sustainable source.

Exploitation?

On their website, The Vegan Society states that “harvesting honey does not correlate with the society’s definition of veganism which seeks to include exploitation.”

This is a more difficult area. In an ideal world in which our environment was undamaged and mankind and nature lived in perfect harmony, the Vegans would have a point. The hard fact is however, environmental degradation, the loss of habitats and disease, mean that honeybees are largely dependent on the efforts of beekeepers for their survival. The relationship between beekeepers and bees is therefore more reciprocal than exploitative.

Managed honey bees adversely affecting wild pollinators?

Honey bees pollinate approximately a third of the food we eat, including many of the foods vegans depend on. In the UK, this is down from approximately 70% in 1984 partly due to a decline in the number of UK hives.

The Vegan Society says it’s a myth that honey production is good for the environment and that the breeding of honey bees adversely affects the populations of competing nectar-foraging insects. The Vegan’s previously linked their web article to a piece of research they cited as evidence to support this assertion.

I wrote to them and pointed out that the research actually concluded that ‘the UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies’.

The society has at least removed the link but I would have preferred, having now read the research, they used it to revise their thinking, instead of pretending the report no longer exists.

The scientists at Reading University (and others) revealed that honeybees now provide just a quarter of the pollination needed in the UK, the second lowest level among 41 European countries. (University of Reading, 2017). Here is a link to the University’s research. https://research.reading.ac.uk/bees/research/

In fact, rather than competing with each other, most pollinating insects work on different forage or the same forage at different times. In Europe there is currently a deficit of pollinating insects due to intensive farming practises, environmental degradation and a decline in honeybees.

Dodgy beekeepers?

The Vegan Society states that bees are specifically bred to increase productivity thereby narrowing the gene pool. Productivity is indeed one of the many qualities beekeepers aim to encourage; as is gentleness, resistance to disease, robustness, low propensity to swarming, frugality with winter stores and others. In fact, current best-practise on the British beekeeping landscape states that the most-desirable bees are those raised in the beekeeper’s neighbourhood because they are the best adapted to local conditions.

In reality, most beekeepers only have limited ability to affect their bees’ genetic composition because queen bees and drones (male bees) mate in mysterious and largely unexplained drone congregation areas. The queen mates with multiple, competing drones from different colonies in a process in which natural selection is the star of the show. Also, although not yet fully understood, the semen from the different drones with whom the queen mates is somehow ‘quality-graded’ within the queen’s body to ensure the best genetic mix.

The Vegans also expressed concern that many beekeepers clip the wing of the queen bee. However, contrary to the society’s assertion, this doesn’t prevent the swarm leaving the hive; it’s just means that it doesn’t go far from it, allowing the beekeeper to collect the swarm and put it a hive. In this way, the beekeeper doesn’t lose half the bees, the bees are still able to reproduce naturally but without the inconvenience and distress often caused to the public by swarming bees.

Sadly, these days, if a colony does swarm naturally and makes a nest in a tree trunk or similar they are unlikely to survive for very long.

Decline in pollinators and the affect on vegans

The number of honeybee hives has declined from over 1 million in 1945 to around 290,000 now. Analysis of hive numbers indicates that current UK honeybee populations are only capable of supplying 34% of our pollination needs, falling from 70% in 1984.

In spite of this decline, insect-pollinated crop yields have risen by an average of 54% since 1984. This shows that in the UK, we are increasingly dependent on wild bees and this is problematic because much less is known about their health and wellbeing.

The most recent research states that in order to maintain our food security, we need more managed honey bee colonies, not fewer.

Apiary, Botley Hampshire

Carbon footprint

And so to the mild hypocrisy. The Vegan Society states that buying imported honey increases our carbon footprint. This is absolutely true of course, but in the very next sentence, the society’s website conveniently ignores that same argument as it applies to the date syrup, maple syrup and molasses they suggest as alternatives to honey! Not to mention the nuts and exotic fruit and vegetables they so often promote in their recipe books!

Imported food does increase our carbon footprint but buying honey from your local beekeeper is in fact very low impact.

Overall, the Vegan Society’s arguments against honey have some truth in relation to intensively farmed foreign supplies but have little to do with most British produced honey.

The important thing about honey, just like any other food, is that it’s important to obtain it responsibly from sustainable sources.

This article is written by Howard for the Members’ blog page and represents my personal opinions and not necessarily the views of Meridian Beekeepers’ Association or it’s members.

Honey

Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants. It’s loaded with healthy plant compounds and has been linked to several health benefits.

If you are interested in buying locally produced honey and hive products, please click here Local honey

Nutritional value of honey

Honey is high in natural sugar with 12g per 15g (2 tsp) serving. Two teaspoons of honey provides around 49 calories. Honey is low in fat, fibre and protein with less than 0.5g respectively. There is a negligible salt content in honey.

The sugar in honey is fructose, a simple sugar which makes absorption by the body for energy much easier than it is with refined sugars which are usually sucrose. Honey also has further nutritional value over other sugars because it contains amino acids which are the building blocks of protein and contribute to growth and body function.

Honey contains B vitamins which have many functions including facilitating the release of energy from food. In terms of minerals, honey contains calcium, iron, potassium and zinc for wound healing and the processing of macronutrients from our food.

The best remedy for a cold

Honey is known to soothe a sore throat and a hot honey and lemon drink is an age-old home remedy for a cold. Recent research has supported this claim. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20618098/

The 2010 study found that honey was more effective on a cough in children than over-the-counter cough suppressants.

The study was followed by new guidelines in 2018 from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE and Public Health England (PHE) to use honey to reduce the symptoms of a short-term cough. https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/honey-not-antibiotics-recommended-coughs/

Honey may contain tiny amounts of bacteria but is safe for most people over 12 months of age. However, infants under 12 months of age should not be given honey because a baby’s digestive tract has not yet developed sufficiently to fight off some bacteria. In rare cases, people who have compromised immunity or severe pollen allergies may react to raw honey and should speak to their doctor before eating or using raw honey.

Here is a summary of some of the most frequently encountered types of honey with links to further information. If we have missed something or you have any questions about honey, please leave a comment and we’ll do our best to answer you.

Comb honey

Comb honey is still contained within its natural hexagonal-shaped beeswax cells called honeycomb. It is eaten exactly as it is produced by the honey bees and has not been processed, filtered or manipulated in any way.

Before the invention of the Honey extractor almost all honey eaten was in the form of comb honey. Today, most honey is produced by extraction but comb honey remains popular with consumers and it is sometimes combined with extracted honey to make chunk honey.

Soft set or ‘Creamed’ honey

Delicious!

Soft set or ‘Creamed’ honey has been processed to control granulation. The honey is sometimes gently heated and can be produced by mixing honey from different sources.

To make it soft set, the beekeeper gently stirs the honey over a prolonged period using a special mixer called a creamer. The process does not involve the addition of cream or any other ingredient.

Creaming causes a large number of small glucose crystals to form in the honey. This prevents the formation of the larger crystals that leads to the granulation often seen in unprocessed honey.

The processing produces a honey with a smooth spreadable consistency. Because glucose crystals are naturally pure white, soft set honey is always a lighter colour than liquid honey from the same floral type.

Raw Honey

Honey labels are increasingly carrying the words ‘Raw Honey’, but there is no legal definition of the product and everyone has a slightly different idea of what it actually means. Some say it means not pasteurised or heated above hive temperature (35c). Others say that raw honey is not filtered either. Even beekeepers have different ideas about what raw honey actually is and those who use the term are usually doing so to distinguish their honey from industrial-scale super market products. Put simply, raw honey is best described as honey “as it exists in the beehive.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary , the definition of Raw (of food) is ‘not cooked’ and of a substance ‘’in its natural state, unprocessed’ and the definition of Cooked is ‘prepared by heating’.

Therefore, as a minimum, raw honey means that it has not been heated but it may not have been filtered either! There are different levels of filtration; a course filter will remove bits of wax and other hive debris and fine filtration may also remove beneficial pollen.

Some people believe that the raw variety of honey is better for optimal health while others say there’s no difference between the two.

The honey you buy in the super market has usually undergone several production steps before it is bottled including pasteurisation and filtration.

Pasteurisation is the process that destroys the naturally occurring yeast found in honey by applying high heat. This helps extend the shelf life and makes the honey appear smoother and clearer.

Honey is filtered to remove bits of wax and hive debris

Most beekeepers will filter their honey to remove bits of wax and hive debris but commercial processes often use ultrafiltration. This process further refines the honey to make it more transparent and smooth but it can also remove beneficial nutrients like pollen, enzymes and antioxidants. Moreover, some manufacturers may add sugar or sweeteners to reduce costs. For clarity, the addition of other ingredients to honey is illegal in the UK and EU but that doesn’t mean it never happens. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tesco-agrees-to-withdraw-fake-honey-

Granulation

One thing to mention about honey that hasn’t been heated (or pasteurised) is that it may granulate in the jar.

Honey is a supersaturated liquid because it contains more sugar than can normally dissolve in an equal amount of water. Granulation occurs when solid particles of glucose separate from the supersaturated liquid honey.

Rather than being something to worry about, granulation is in fact a sign of a honey’s purity. Pure honey may granulate (become solid) in cooler conditions.

If it granulates, Honey can be returned to its original state by loosing the lid and standing the jar in a bowl of hot water. To microwave in short bursts, remove the lid, select low power and stir regularly. And remember, because honey’s antibiotic you don’t have to keep it in the fridge!

Clear honey

Health benefits of honey: Medical news today

Clear honey has been filtered to remove wax and other hive debris and is then lightly warmed to about 5c above the temperature in the hive. The use of gentle heat makes the honey easier to fine filter and ensures it remains clear for at least six weeks.

Manuka honey

The Manuka bush in New Zealand

Manuka honey is a dark honey native to New Zealand and is produced by bees that pollinate the flowers on the manuka bush.

All honey that hasn’t been treated with excessive heat honey has antiseptic and antibacterial properties but Manuka contains two unique compounds which are not usually present in other honeys. These are methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

Genuine Manuka honey has a UMF trademark. UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor and is a quality trademark given to registered licensed beekeepers, producers and exporters of genuine manuka honey.

You will also see a number such as 10+ or 25+ which represents the potency of the unique signature compounds contained within Manuka Honey. The higher the number, the greater the MG and DHA content and the higher the potency is said to be.

There are many health claims made about manuka honey. Some of these are based on limited, small-scale studies which, although promising, cannot be used to draw firm conclusions about the clinical use of manuka honey.

BBC: Is Manuka worth the money?

Manuka honey is probably most well-known for its wound healing properties when it is applied directly to a wound. It may also have potential in tissue regeneration, acute wounds and post-surgery applications.

A couple of years ago, members of Meridian Beekeepers were treated to a excellent talk from Dr Rowena Jenkins about Cardiff University’s study into the uses of honey as a topical antibiotic and it’s potential for use in surgery. The university does use Manuka honey in its research because medical grade Manuka has been irradiated to eliminate the possibility of microbial contamination but Dr Jenkins was at pains to point out that all naturally produced honey has similar beneficial properties.

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/pharmabees/research/drug-discovery

There is also some evidence of the power of manuka honey to help treat gut infections from strains such as clostridium difficile which has been linked to conditions such as colitis as well as Helicobacter pylori which can cause ulcers and acid reflux.

Heather honey

Each year, at the summer’s end, some Meridian beekeepers take their strongest hives to the New Forest.

New forest Heather

Ling heather growing there begins flowering in late July and continues until September. Colonies taken to the heather must be in peak condition, having a well-laying queen and plenty of bees.

As ever with beekeeping, good weather is essential. Yields are rarely high so Heather honey is like gold dust! The worst that can happen is that the bees will fill their boxes with plenty of winter stores.

Heather honey is neither runny or set. It has a thixotropic consistency (jelly-like) but a quick stir with a spoon and it turns to liquid before setting again.

Heather honey has a distinctive floral, slightly bitter flavour and is rich in antioxidants; that’s why it’s often called the ‘British Manuka’.

One major benefit of buying honey from a local beekeeper is that if you want to know exactly how your honey has been produced, all you have to do is ask!

If you are interested in buying locally produced honey and hive products, please click here Local honey

Planting for pollinators

Most of us enjoy our outside spaces and whether you have a balcony or a country pile, it’s possible to have a positive effect on the environment and enjoy you garden by making small changes to help our butterflies, bees and birds.

Garden flowers are an important source of food for pollinators. The nectar provides them with energy and the pollen gives them the protein they need to grow and raise their young.

Growing a good mix of flowering plants provides a wealth of nectar and pollen for a wide range of species. There is some excellent information online about planting for pollinators and here are some useful links:

Royal Horticultural Society: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/wildlife-garden/wildlife

Wildlife Trust:https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-make-your-garden-chemical-free-zone

BBC Gardener’s World:https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/plants-for-pollinators-in-summer-and-autumn/

One easy thing we can do is change how we look at Dandelions and Daisies. Rather than seeing them as weeds, how about recognising them as the beautiful little pollinator-friendly flowers they actually are?

Perhaps consider leaving them in your lawn and cutting down on lawn feed and weed killer. If the Dandelions get a bit out of control, you can always dig them out! I know! It’s much harder work, but think of the good you’ll be doing and it’s manageable if you keep on top of it.

If you’re lucky enough to have a bigger garden, why not turn part of it into a wildlife haven? You’ll be amazed at the appreciative flora and fauna you’ll attract! Or you could plant-up a corner with wildflowers.

Here are a couple of links to information on creating a wildlife garden:

Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening

RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/

If your garden’s a bit smaller, what about planting a Lavender hedge or Apple tree? And if you have a patio or balcony, pots can be stuffed with beautiful pollinator-friendly herbs and flowers. I don’t recommend it for window boxes though; I tried that once and was forever rescuing trapped bees from inside the house!

Cultivars

Another thing to consider the next time you’re choosing a plant is are you buying a cultivar? Cultivars have been artificially modified to make them more appealing to us; in the case of flowers that means brighter colours, more petals, a particular shape etc.

But sometimes the flowers have been made so elaborate that bees and butterflies can’t access them. The flowers of cultivars are usually sterile and don’t produce any nectar or pollen either and some are even poisonous. Cultivars are therefore generally useless to the very insects the flower originally evolved to attract.

English Lavender is a favourite of the bees

Planting heritage varieties means that the flowers are not only naturally beautiful but are excellent forage for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and so on.

A simple way to ensure the plants you choose are pollinator-friendly is to look out for the bee-friendly symbol at the plant shop or garden centre.

There’s also another hint to help us choose. All plants are named using an internationally agreed standard of nomenclature https://www.iaptglobal.org/icn. It’s a fairly dry subject and getting to grips with it takes a bit of patience, but an easy way round it is just to know what plant names look like.

All plants have a two-word latinised name written in italics like this: Grevillea rosmarinifolia. You’ll notice that the second word starts with a lower case letter.

If the plant is a cultivar, the cultivar name is always added after the scientific name and it will start with a capital letter. It won’t be latinised and will be in single quotes like this:

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ or Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Rosy Posy’

Sometimes you may really fancy a big showy cultivar, but if you want to enjoy your garden and help nature at the same time, choose natural varieties.

My little bit doesn’t matter

With our busy lives, it’s easy to think from time to time, that our little bit doesn’t count. So what if I use that lawn feed or a bit of pesticide on my flowers? Surely, my little bit won’t hurt? But when we all think like that, the harmful effects mount up!

Nobody’s saying never use chemicals, (although, there’s some really interesting links below) only gently suggesting, that you think about it first. One rule though, please don’t use pesticides on flowers that attract pollinators. The chemicals can’t tell the difference between greenfly, bees and butterflies.

Royal Horticultural Society: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=822

RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/

I’m old enough to remember family days out to the seaside in the 1970s. My Father would spend the morning lovingly polishing the car and by the time we got back from the beach, the windscreen and lamps were absolutely caked in dead insects! Do you remember too? You may not miss cleaning squashed bugs off the bonnet but the loss of so many insects is bad news. Not least for the birds. Do you remember there used to be lots of Sparrows too!

Sparrows flocking back! https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/02/house-sparrows-flocking-back-british-gardens-survey-shows

The use of pesticides has obliterated insect populations and fewer insects means fewer birds and a much less healthy environment generally. But to finish on a lighter note, I recently saw this bit of good news about Sparrows!

Meridian members Lisa Rooke and Richard Skinner describes their efforts to create pollinator-friendly havens at home.

Honey extractors

There’s no doubt that one of the most rewarding parts of beekeeping is harvesting your own honey but before you invest in an extractor, it’s a good idea to consider your options. In the early days, why not borrow one from the association so you can find out what best suits your needs? Equipment loan

A honey extractor is used to remove honey from the honeycombs. It works by using centrifugal force to flick the honey from the frame without destroying the comb. The frame may then be returned to the same hive from which you took it for the bees to clean and repair.

As demonstrated in Louise’s film, the frames must be uncapped before they are ready to go into the extractor for spinning. Louise’s expert hand is welding nothing more than a sharp, long-bladed knife but various methods can be tried including an uncapping fork (photo) or a special heated uncapping knife (video below) and you will quickly find the best method for you.

The steady hand of my lovely niece Rebecca

After a frame is uncapped, it is placed into a drum or container which holds a basket of frames. When spun, the honey is forced out of the comb on to the inside walls of the drum. The honey then drains to the bottom of the drum, where it’s stored ready for pouring and filtering. There is a number of different types of extractor and Meridian has a couple of extractors that members may borrow.

Manual

Manual honey extractors have a built-in hand crank that is used to spin your frames. Manual extractors are cheaper and you can use them without a power source. Manual extractors are generally suitable for the hobby beekeeper with fewer than about 10 hives.

Electric

Electric honey extractors have a powered motor to aid the convenience and speed of extraction. Electric extractors are favoured by commercial beekeepers or those with more hives. Once the frames are loaded, the beekeeper is free to start uncapping the next batch of frames. 

Radial or Tangential?

Tangential baskets

Tangential honey extractors are the most popular amongst small-scale hobby beekeepers. The frames are held in the basket and the honeycomb faces outwards. Tangential extractors only extract honey from the outside surface of the comb so the user needs to flip the frame and repeat the process to extract honey from the other side.

Radial extractors

Radial extractors are designed so that the frames sit with the top bar facing outwards. The frames are therefore perpendicular to the outside wall and honey is forced from both sides.

Size of extractor

There are a number of factors you should consider:


Cost – larger extractors are more expensive.

Space – larger extractors take up more room.

Time – You can fit more frames into a larger extractor which saves time during the extraction process.

A handy rule of thumb is an extractor can reasonably handle twice as many hives as it has frames! For example; a three frame extractor can easily handle up up to six hives. A four frame extractor can handle up to eight hives. Nine frame extractor up to eighteen hives and so on.

Back to Honey processing

Honey processing

Uncapping and spinning

To spin out your honey, you will need an extractor and there are various options to consider before purchasing one. Click here for further information. Honey extractors

  1. After you’ve spun out your honey, you need to filter it to remove fragments of wax and other hive debris. To do so, run the honey out of the extractor into a settling tank via the tap at the bottom of the extractor. As you are running it out, you can coarse filter it. If the honey is runny enough, you can fine filter it at the same time using double filters you can buy for this purpose. 

2. Leave your honey in the settling tank for about 48 hours to allow tiny air bubbles to rise to surface. If you leave the honey in the settling tank for less than 48 hours, the process may not have completed but any longer, the honey may start to set. 

3. If your honey is of a more viscous kind, it may be too thick to easily pass through a fine filter. If so, you can warm-up the honey to a maximum temperature of 40c for about four hours before fine filtering. You can do this by placing a gentle heat source (no more than about 60 watts) under the settling tank.

4. If your honey is runny enough to fine filter straight away, you can bottle it without heating it in any way. There is no legal definition, but this is what is meant by raw honey. This type of honey is likely to granulate very quickly in the jar.

Set honey

After you have poured out most of your honey from the settling tank, you will be left with some honey at the bottom which contains a lot of air bubbles and some debris. You can process this separately with the view to producing set honey as demonstrated by Louise in the video. You can collect these residues from multiple settlings in a food grade container. To this you can add other honey and honey that has already granulated. 

Moisture content in honey

Ideally, honey should contain less than 17.8% water. If the moisture content is higher than 20%, it may ferment due to the presence of yeasts in the honey. 

Honey is hygroscopic and if it is not carefully stored in a sealed container it will absorb moisture from the air.

The internationally recognised standard is that honey should have a moisture content of less than 20%. (23% for Heather honey in the UK). With a high degree of accuracy, Beekeepers must ensure moisture levels in their honey is within the legal limits.

The best way to ensure your honey is ready to harvest is by only spinning out capped honey. Some beekeepers use a refractometer to check the moisture content in their honey is within legal tolerances. Here is a link to UK honey legislation. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/1348/made

HMF in honey

HMF or HDMF stands for Hydroxymethylfurfural. It is an organic compound formed by a reaction of sugars in an acidic substance during heat treatment. The reaction naturally occurs in many food products that contain sugar and have a low pH value.

Many different parameters influence the formation speed of HMF including temperature. An increase in temperature by 10°C (18°F) causes the reaction rate to increase by about 5 times.

When HMF is measured in honey it is used as a marker to show the raw, uncooked nature of the product as well as showing that the honey has not been stored for a prolonged period. Freshly extracted honey displays HMF levels lower than 5 mg/kg.

The European Union’s Honey Directive makes the distinction between honey from non-tropical origins with a limit of 40 mg/kg and tropical origins with a maximum limit of 80 mg/kg.

Honey with a HMF value higher than those limits is known as industrial honey (Baker’s honey in the UK) and cannot be sold for direct consumption. The use of heat in honey processing is sometimes unavoidable but to preserve the quality and character of your product the heat used should be as gentle as possible.

National Bee Unit advisory

Message received from National Bee Unit, 13.00 Friday 27 November 2020

Observations from beekeepers and Bee Inspectors across the UK suggest that some colonies of bees are becoming short of food.

Please monitor your colonies throughout the coming months and feed as required to ensure your bees do not starve. A standard full size British National colony needs between 20-25 kg of stores to successfully overwinter. If they need feeding at this time then fondant should be used. This should be placed above the brood nest so that the bees are able to access it easily.

For further information, please see the ‘Best Practice Guidance No. 7 – Feeding Bees Sugar’ on the following BeeBase Page: http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167

It has also been observed that Varroa levels in some hives are starting to increase again. This may be due to a number of factors, but the exceptionally mild weather this autumn has encouraged some colonies to produce more brood than usual which has allowed an increase in mite reproduction.

Please monitor mite levels and treat accordingly.

For further information, please see the’ Managing Varroa’ Advisory leaflet on the following BeeBase Page: http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167

Kind regards, 

National Bee Unit.

Buddy

Bee buddies

Would you like a beekeeping buddy?

It might be that you need a bit of help with the hefting or you’d just like somebody with whom to share our amazing hobby. Whatever it is, we have a buddy scheme which may be right for you!

Whether you’d like some occasional assistance, a one off, or something more structured, please don’t hesitate to ask. If you need help with the heavy lifting, remember that others are going to benefit from your experience and knowledge; it’s a two way street! Or you might be new to beekeeping and would welcome the wisdom of a more experienced beekeeper.

You may have recently completed your Introduction to beekeeping course and aren’t ready to have your own hives yet; the buddy scheme may be right for you.

If you would like more information on the buddy scheme, please use our Contact form to get in touch.