Gardening 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.

Charlie

By Charlie Mallindine

The story starts in spring 2019. It was queen rearing season and we had big plans to re-queen our most aggressive hive – Queen Bluebell.

Eventually after many failed attempts to rear a queen we succeeded, and the time arrived to give Bluebell, that angry tyrant, the chop. Now, Bluebell’s bees once climbed down into my boots to sting me on the feet so it’s safe to say I wasn’t too fond of her, but everyone deserves a second chance, so we introduced her to our laying worker hive.

She was found dead on the hive floor about a week later and we could not save the laying worker hive. 

In 2020, we were put in a similar situation, with Bluebell’s part being played by her direct descendent, Queen Snowdrop. We began the season with bad news, as our best hive from last year had had its queen suddenly die sometime in mid-winter. This gave them enough time to go full laying worker. We replaced Snowdrop with a reared queen and she suffered the same fate as her predecessor. Having caught Snowdrop with two attendants (that was all we could gather) we placed her into the worker-laying hive using an introducing cage and sealed the entrance hole with fondant. 

Three weeks passed and we entered the hive to conduct our autopsy. When we first saw inside the hive we did think that perhaps there were a handful more bees in there than the last time we checked, and surely enough, Snowdrop was living in the hive, with a retinue and all. The laying workers had been defeated, which is an impressive feat given that there tend to be hundreds of workers laying, running around thinking they are Queen. So even when outnumbered 300:1 she had fought them all and won. She is a warrior queen if there ever was one!

We added a frame filled with brood from another hive to give her numbers a boost and since then, Snowdrop has steadily repopulated and her bees have transformed a hive filled with moldy honey, dead brood and wax moth into a thriving and clean colony. One of the most amazing sights to see when we returned after just one week was comb that had been infested with moths a week earlier had been dutifully torn down by the bees, leaving the foundation ready to be rebuilt upon. Truly an amazing transformation!

Maybe Charlie’s hit on something? A more defensive queen maybe what’s needed to correct a worker-laying colony. It’s worth a try!

Healthy bee plan 2030

DEFRA launches its Healthy Bees Plan 2030 to help protect honey bees

Here is the press release from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Rebecca Pow MP.There are links to more detailed information about the new plan and plenty background reading for the inquisitive but the two main ‘what can I do’ are:

Press release

Honey bees contribute directly to local food production and make an important contribution, through pollination, to crop production and the wider environment. The Healthy Bees Plan 2030 sets out four key outcomes to help protect honey bees.

Defra and the Welsh Government have today (Tuesday 3 November) published the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 to protect and improve the health of honey bees in England and Wales.

The plan sets out four key outcomes for beekeepers, bee farmers, associations and government to work towards to help protect honey bees, which continue to face pressure from a variety of pests, diseases and environmental threats including the invasive non-native species Asian hornet.

Honey bees contribute directly to local food production and make an important contribution, through pollination, to crop production and the wider environment. The economic benefit of pollination to crop production in the UK is approximately £600m each year, based on yield.

The Healthy Bees Plan 2030 was developed in consultation with bee health stakeholders and is aimed at sustaining the health of honey bees and beekeeping in England and Wales over the next decade.

The plan sets out four key outcomes to help protect honey bees:

  1. Effective biosecurity and good standards of husbandry, to minimise pest and disease risks and so improve the sustainability of honey bee populations.
  2. Enhanced skills and production capability/capacity of beekeepers and bee farmers.
  3. Sound science and evidence underpinning the actions taken to support bee health.
  4. Increased opportunities for knowledge exchange and partnership working on honey bee health and wider pollinator needs. Launching the Healthy Bees Plan 2030, Pollinators Minister Rebecca Pow, said:

During the coronavirus pandemic we have seen an increased connection with the natural world, and the new Healthy Bees Plan provides a blueprint to look after the health of some of our most important insects – the bees – our unsung heroes.

Bee health stakeholders have had a key role in developing our plan, and we look forward to working together to help ensure our bees can survive and thrive for future generations.

Action to implement the plan will now be taken forward together in collaboration with beekeepers, bee farmers, associations and government.

Defra’s landmark Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill will enhance and protect our precious natural environment and diverse ecosystems and improve habitats for pollinators.

Thriving plants and wildlife are public goods identified in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and one of the six environmental outcomes the government has committed to delivering through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Helping farmers to provide rich habitat for pollinators is one way in which ELM will help deliver the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan and support farmers to produce world-class food in a sustainable way.

The Government’s Nature Recovery Network will restore 75% of protected sites as well as creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife-rich habitat.

The NBU maintains a voluntary database of active beekeepers called BeeBase. Beekeepers that are not registered with BeeBase are strongly encouraged to get in touch with the NBU online to register with BeeBase for free. Registration provides the beekeeper with a free visit from their local bee inspector and access to a wide range of information on their craft.

Counting varroa

Denise demonstrates using the varroa counting board

The National Bee Unit recommends two simple methods for counting varroa for the purpose of monitoring levels of mite infestation throughout the season. The simplest method is demonstrated in Denise’s video and has the advantages that it does not disturb the bees and gives an accurate indication of varroa levels even when there is a low level of infestation.

The only disadvantage of this method is that it takes several days to get a result. The monitoring board must be in place for a minimum of seven days. If you have a more urgent need to establish the level of infestation in a particular hive, you can use the drone uncapping method described in the Beebase fact sheet which is attached below.

When you have completed the varroa count, you can use the Beebase calculator to establish an estimation of the varroa population in your hive. http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/public/BeeDiseases/varroaCalculator.cfm

The calculator informs your decision on what to do next. For example, if you undertake a count in the autumn and the calculator suggests that no treatment is needed for at least six months, you can leave your bees alone until spring when you may decide to undertake a non-chemical treatment such as shook swarm, queen trapping or drone brood removal. On the other hand, if the infestation level is high, you may decide to use a chemical treatment providing you have already taken off your honey harvest. Sugar dusting can be carried out throughout the year, during each hive inspection if necessary.

Taking bees to the heather

Heather honey

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

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 good quality 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’. There is more information about honey generally on other pages.

New forest Heather

Hampshire Beekeepers’ guidance

The following notes have been compiled as guidance for those beekeepers taking their colonies to the New Forest. Although they are not rules, the guidance is based on common sense and good practice.

  • All colonies moved to the heather must be free from disease.
  • Colonies must not be moved from apiaries where there is a standstill order in force.
  • Beekeepers must pay regular visits to their colonies to ensure all is well.  Horses and other critters can do considerable damage.
  • Where a colony has died out, it should be removed from the site immediately as it is a possible source of disease.
  • Particular attention should be paid to robbing:  it can be triggered easily in shared sites by returning wet supers to hives.
  • Towards the end of the heather honey flow, reduce entrances to your hives as a precaution against robbing.
  • When visiting a shared site check other hives in case they have been knocked over or left askew by animal contact. Please straighten them up to prevent robbing and advise the hive owner.
  • Make sure your hives are clearly marked with this year’s identity number and your contact details to help should a problem arise.
  • On communal sites, it’s important beekeepers act as a team to support each other and troubleshoot problems early on.
  • Keep away from roads, paths and bridal ways, and ensure your hives are sufficiently distant from others.
  • Visit the site before moving your bees so that your move can be properly planned.

These notes are based on guidance from Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Each year, Meridian organises the ‘heather migration’ as an Association and siting hives in the forest must be pre-arranged and agreed. Bees are booked for the forest in April or May and the forest license begins at the end of July and expires 6 October.

http://hampshirebeekeepers.org.uk

Members’ blogs

Lisa describes a swarm hiving that didn’t go well proving that when things start going wrong, they keep going wrong! Lisa

Louise Evans talks us through the best and worst of her colonies in 2020 and in the process, passes on some useful tips. There’s a couple of surprising meteorological statistics in there too! https://meridianbeekeepers.com/2021/02/23/louise/

Lisa Rooke takes steps to create a chemical-free pollinator paradise in her new garden and describes some of the wildflowers she’s planted there. Lisa

Rebecca Wright tells us about her candle-making journey so far and the Christmas presents she made with sister Sally. Becky

Howard Towl writes about the relationship between Honey and Veganism and questions some of the Vegan’s Society’s assertions. Honey and veganism

Charlie Mallindine writes to tell us how a warrior queen may be the remedy for a worker laying dystopia. Charlie

New Meridian member Richard Skinner writes to introduce himself and describes his path into beekeeping. Richard

New member James Savage describes what happened when he moved his first hive, but its all right now! James