Would you like to BEE involved with school visits?

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School Education sessions are coming up!!!
If you’re interested in getting involved it’s a chance to inspire kids, see bees and get out on a farm on the edge of the broads. Visits involve a talk and games based around pollination, the importance of habitat, pesticides, a nature spotting ramble and some more honeybee specific fun facts before unveiling our glass hive. It’s a chance for you to learn more or to share what you know depending on your preference. Visits are on Tuesday mornings in June and July at College Farm in Aldeby (near Beccles). Lift sharing or expenses are covered. Get in touch!! bees@sustainablebungay.com 07791495012

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Flow Hive Thoughts…

Flow Hive. source: images.indigogo.com

Flow Hive. source: images.indigogo.com

At first glance it seems exciting, new, revolutionary. It appears to have arisen out of caring for bees. The no-hive-opening honey collection system. But as one considers the Flow Hive in a little more depth various issues arise. I’m not saying the inventors of the Flow Hive don’t care about bees, but rather they are coming from a beekeeper-centred way of thinking. And I’m not saying that humans should never collect honey, but collecting small amounts from hives in more extensive or backyard systems,  a bee-centred approach, is more likely to create a future where honeybees and humans can co-exist successfully.

Industrialisation of beekeeping and agriculture has placed many stressors on bees and they are becoming less resilient as a result. Management techniques associated with intensive beekeeping including regular manipulation and chemical use, alongside habitat loss, disease and pesticide use are contributing factors in recent losses of honeybees. Honeybees are among many pollinating insects (such as bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths) important to a wide range of plants, including many of the fruit and vegetables we eat. That same pollination service is also important within a wider ecological framework. We need to find ways to bolster their resilience, not break it down. I don’t think the Flow Hive is naturally compatible with this.

Honey is not only delicious and healthier for us than cane or beet sugar, it is primarily a food source for honeybees. They collect nectar and alter it to make honey, the ideal storage substance containing accessible energy with antimicrobial properties. It’s not something we can make. It cannot be replaced adequately by sugar syrup. Some colonies make enough for themselves, some colonies make surplus and some colonies would starve if we didn’t supplement them with sugar syrup or honey occasionally. I firmly believe that for a ‘sustainable’ future we should only take excess honey. Judging this is not an exact science, it means assessing the bees, the weather, season, available forage etc, etc. It means observing the bees, listening to the bees, interacting with the bees and making an informed, deliberate decision to open the hive and remove some honeycomb. It becomes about the bees.

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natural comb on a Top Bar (from a managed hive)

Conversely the Flow Hive is all about honey collection. Even the strapline ‘It’s the beekeepers dream…’ assumes a non-engaged way of harvesting honey is preferable. The hive uses frames with plastic comb, finished by the bees with wax, that can be cranked apart to release the honey stored in cells within. This honey then flows through tubes to external jars. The beekeeper doesn’t even have to open the hive – ‘that’s great!’ one might say, ‘the bees are undisturbed and I won’t get stung’, but how easy would it be to accidentally take too much, or to forget to consider all those other factors regarding the bees honey requirements which contribute to the survival of the colony? With extensive systems or natural comb hives one or two combs are harvested when surplus is evident. It is much harder to take too much.

It is also worth considering the honeybee colony as a super-organism  – think akin to a mammal in the way it functions with many bees making up a whole body that is more than the sum of it’s parts. In brief this comparison comes down to reproductive rate, self-produced nourishment for young, an internally regulated uterus, internal temperature regulation and capacity for learning/cognitive ability (ref: Tautz. The Buzz about Bees). How the super-organism is managed is an issue that goes beyond the Flow Hive. But I say again, bees are more resilient in an extensive system than they are in an intensive system.

If the colony is viewed as a super-organism the hive is as skin and comb as skeleton, energy store, memory bank (wax sterols and esters are part of their communication system) and womb. There is a respiration system of airflow governed by space and comb formation, and an immune system of anti-microbial substances and guard bees.

horizontal Top Bar Hive

horizontal Top Bar Hive

The Flow Hive uses plastic comb. This intereferes with natural bee behaviours – bees make wax in response to nectar flow, even when they are provided with plastic or pre-made wax sheets (a misguided attempt to direct bee energy away from wax production and towards honey production). Left to themselves honeybees create combs consisting of cells of varying sizes according to purpose (food, worker bee brood or drone brood) and season that curve and join and have entrance ways, dead ends and inaccessible-to-the-beekeeper areas. This complexity is important for maintenance of temperature, humidity and possibly of an anti-microbial atmosphere. The wax is also maintained at the optimum temperature for communication via vibration across the comb, it has been shown that plastic comb intereferes with this. Plastic comb may not appear detrimental, after all many bees live with it, but that doesn’t make it optimal either. And why use a man-made product when the bees can do it for themselves? I wonder if the makers of the Flow Hive plan on using recycled plastic?

It seems to me we should interact with the colony when we harvest some honey, be aware of prevailing conditions and risk getting stung. Acknowledge the needs of the colony as a super-organism and it’s place within the larger organism of our planet.

(Elinor)

 

Wildflowers at Bungay Castle

BCB’s Gemma Parker has worked with Jasmine Lingwood’s family to create a wildflower area at Bungay Castle. The following is an update from Gemma:

When Jasmine died in 2012 she was kind enough to ask for funeral donations to go to the Bungay Community Bee Group. As Jasmine was a member of Suffolk Wildlife Trust and keen to see wildlife thriving in the area we wanted to use the money in a way that very much reflected the work she did during her lifetime. In the summer of 2013 a group of like minded people along with Jasmine’s family got together at Bungay Castle to see about creating a wild flower area for bees & pollinating insects. With the permission of the Castle Trust we decided that a pilot area should be planted to test whether our idea would work successfully. Using Rose Titchner’s expertise along with experience of sowing a wild flower meadow in Flixton we proceeded in the Autumn to lift the existing turf & sow two wild flower mixes (details of the exact flowers can be found below) ready for flowering the following Spring.
In April 2014 a plaque was erected in memory of Jasmine & the work the bee group has done and the pilot space has developed into a beautiful flowery area. This is a great motivator to extend the area & create a bee border along the castle.

Wildflowers at Bungay Castle

Meadow Mix for Sandy Soils: Yarrow, Common Knapweed, Wild Carrot, Viper’s Bugloss, Lady’s Bedstraw, Oxeye Daisy, Common Toadflax, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Musk Mallow, Ribwort Plantain, Hoary Plantain, Cowslip, Selfheal, Meadow Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup, Sorrel, Bladder Campion – plus Meadow Grasses (to prevent bareness in winter): Common Bent, Sweet Vernal Grass, Crested Dogstail, Fine-leaved Sheep’s Fescue, Sheep’s Fescue, Slender Creeping Red Fescue, Smaller Cat’s-Tail.
Cornfield Mix: Corn Cockle, Corn Chamomile, Cornflower, Corn Marigold, Common Poppy

Topping Top Bar Afternoon

The sun shone and the bees were busy. Always good news when one wants to look at a colony of bees. I have a horizontal Top Bar Hive (hTBH) in my garden which has had bees in it for two years now, last week they swarmed and gathered handily on my trampoline so now there is a Top Bar nuc box as well. They will be transferred into a hive when the weather improves.

Top Bar hives are a relatively recent introduction to the UK so it was a chance for  interested people to come along and see one in action as well as play around with an empty one. As with any social gathering cake was present, every one of which had bee-pollinated ingredients; chocolate, oranges, lemons, almonds, cherries and of course, coffee.

Bee chat :)

Cakes, all with bee-pollinated ingredients

It’s easier to adopt more ‘natural beekeeping’ or apicentric beekeeping methods with a Top Bar Hive, but Bungay Community Bees  also has conventional National hives and a soon to be tried out modified National (to make use of our spare National equipment without using printed foundation wax sheets – but more of that in a later post). Two of the biggest advantages to a Top Bar Hive are that the bees build their own comb and that when you inspect by opening the hive up only a small section is revealed at a time, thus retaining nest scent and warmth as much as possible.

Get closer!

 

Looking through the glass panel

 

Comb of stores

 

capped honey at the top, nectar in the centre. Fallen comb inside and on the left.

capped honey at the top, nectar in the centre. Fallen comb inside and on the left.

You can see inside and to the left a comb recently fell from the bar, the bees have  attached the upright portion to the follower board, which isn’t terribly helpful from a beekeepers perspective but I have left for now. The horizontal portion is being harvested and the wax used elsewhere. We only inspected a couple of bars this time as I didn’t want to disturb the colony too much, the new queen should be hatching soon.

We had a quick peek inside the nuc box  to see how they had settled in over the week. I had expected  all the syrup I gave them as back-up to have gone but it was only  half gone so they were obviously managing well even with two days confined to the hive due to weather. I had also expected to see maybe two or maybe three bars of comb but they had built on every bar (six in total) although the last was very small still. Happy Bees

Top Bar nuc one week on

 

New comb in Top Bar nuc

If you are interested in any of  our different hive types please get in contact and we can arrange for you to see them. We have hTBH’s as mentioned and are also getting to grips with some Warre (stacking Top Bar Hives) at the moment. They all overwintered well and have produced several swarms already.

We now have a facebook page on which our beekeepers post regular pictures and updates, just search for Bungay Community Bees and ‘like’ the page to receive them.

Sticky Thoughts

I love honey, not everybody does I know, but for me, the darker the better. And heather honey. Oh yum.

But I eat less honey now than I ever did before I became interested in bees. Initially beekeeping appealed to me as a form of ‘re-skilling’, learning how to become a little more self-sustainable and grounding myself in the processes involved with meeting our everyday needs. I learnt beekeeping alongside bread making, knitting, vegetable growing and basic sewing. Needless to say some of these ventures have been more successful than others. But I digress.

Honey.

It is a miraculous substance, formed from nectar collected by honeybees and transformed into a stickiness that can be stored for a very long time and is not only delicious but can be good for us as well. But, what it’s really, really good for is honey bees. And therein lies my problem. I don’t wish to take what the bees need. However, many colonies make an excess of honey and I’m happy to take that. The difficulty lies in judging the amounts. But time and experience will eventually tell.

There is also something great about buying honey from someone who’s life will be turned around by it. Bees for Development is a fabulous organisation teaching sustainable beekeeping techniques, appropriate for the local environment, while supporting those with no previous income to generate one.

My most recent jar of honey isn’t local (‘our’ bees are fairly newly established and haven’t made enough to take any for the last couple of years, although this year is looking more hopeful). My current jar of honey was bought and started a year ago and comes out when a treat is needed or a throat needs soothing. It comes direct from the beekeepers in the mountains of Corfu and I walked among the abundance of pesticide free wildflowers the nectar came from. I will never have a jar of honey like this again.

Corfu honey

 

 

 

 

Mountains Corfu

 

But then, each jar is pretty special. Here are some amazing Honey facts:

  • Cave paintings in Spain depict the gathering of honey, 15,000 years ago.
  • Honey is a hebrew word meaning enchant
  • Honey is an excellent preservative and was used in embalming
  • Edible honey was found in an Egyptian tomb
  • Romans paid their taxes in honey
  • Honey is anti-bacterial, hydroscopic (water absorbing) and recuperative in terms of energy
  • It’s  a great source of energy, brilliant on ulcers and skin lesions and as an immune system boost
  • Sugar isn’t as sweet as honey
  • Nectar is mostly water, honey has less than 19% water. This occurs by a repeated process of honey consumption and regurgitation which allows water to evaporate
  • It would take 1,100 bees to make 1kg of honey and they would have to visit 4 million flowers
  • One bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon on honey in its entire life. So it’s precious stuff! Scrape that plate clean 🙂

 

Spanish cave painting (copy)

 Woman gathering honey, watercolor copy by F. Benitez Mellado of aMesolithic (c. 10,000/8000–c. 3000 bce) painting in the Cueva de la Arana, near Bicorp, Spain; in the Museum of Prehistory, Valencia, Spain.

Most of our Bungay Community Bees honey is crushed and strained, as is much of it from small-scale honey producers. This allows the inclusion of local pollen – amongst other bits and pieces. Pollen is high in vitamin C and if local enough can assist with acclimating the body for those with hayfever. In contrast, major brand honey is often superheated and ultra-filtered, which removes those benefits.

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Bungay Community Bees honey 2011 (and yes, it was delicious)

So, my personal stance is to consume moderate amounts of honey, from as sustainable a source as possible. If I buy honey I would rather buy from a local beekeeper or a source with humanitarian benefit, not a multi-national brand name.

Meanwhile I shall keep my fingers crossed for the bees in our hives to make loads more honey than they need, while continuing to plant my garden with lovely nectar rich flowers and letting the clover rampage for a bit.

There are various sources of information for the above, but I have directly used Bees4Kids.org.uk and ‘Honey: natures golden healer’ by Gloria Havenhand. There are lots of therapeutic uses in her book – and she only uses surplus honey 🙂

by Elinor McDowall (member of Bungay Community Bees) 

 

 

 

Swarm!

On this lovely April day bees have been on the move.  Swarming is how honey bees increase their numbers. When the colony is in tip-top condition, with a hive full of bees, brood and stores and a new queen developing, the old queen is sent out with some of the older bees to move to a new home. This process is kick-started when forage bees are turned away from the hive and their offerings of nectar refused. Somehow this stimulates a behaviour change and they become scout bees, looking for a suitable new home.  It is common for them to gather around the old queen (slimmed down to allow her to fly) on a nearby object before finally moving on. Today we had a swarm from one of our Warre (stacked top bar) hives in Alburgh. Thankfully they were right next to the hives on a small cherry tree. We gently scooped them into a small (nuc) box with top bars in situ and will let them get settled before transferring into a larger hive.

 

Alburgh swarm from Warre

 

Alburgh swarm from Warre 2

Scooping beesMore scooping beesWaiting for stragglers to enter the boxJust a few left...

Calling All Bungay Community Bee members for 2014!

Bungay Community Bees is 5 years old!

 

With the advent of Spring we are getting ready for the beekeeping year ahead. Now is the perfect time to join, for this year in celebration of our fifth anniversary there is no membership fee. But we are still looking for members to join our BCB community.

We have had some changes to our ‘core’ group recently which means we are looking for people to take on some of the more active roles. There are several ways in which BCB can take the project strands (Plants for Bees, Education and Outreach, Beekeeping, Hive Building) forwards, it just needs a little enthusiasm and time from the community. So please don’t be shy!

The group has changed somewhat over the years. From the Community Supported Agriculture model we began with we have developed a more educational bent. This has occurred partly in response to our own growing awareness of the wider issues impacting upon bee survival and partly due to forging links with others and the opportunities that have since arisen.

We do have several colonies of bees this spring as they all survived the winter, and hope to collect some honey in a couple of months.

Our major project of 2013 was the educational school visits in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. These visits will begin again in a few weeks. There is a blog on the SB website outlining what we did along with some pictures and a number to contact for bookings, including for this year.

The other major project we would like to run this year is Bungay Beehive Day. After an initial brainstorming session we have come up with some great ideas, but need some bodies to take on some of the organising. We can make it as comprehensive as volunteers allow.

So, if you would like to get involved in any of the following ways please get in touch:

* Become a member for the year (no fee this year!), the membership form is on the BCB page of the website. Please email bees@sustainablebungay.com with any queries or contact me on 07791 495 012

* Get involved with Bungay Beehive Day 2014 (5th anniversary!), i.e. helping with stalls, speakers, plants, publicity

*Assisting with school visits at College Farm (Thursday mornings beginning late May, expenses paid)

* Workshops with schools, possibly to create some large artworks to display at Beehive Day

* Become secretary for BCB, arranging meetings and co-ordinating the group socially

* Train to become a BCB beekeeper, either with Waveney Valley Beekeepers (conventional hives, lots of bee experience and support; mostly evenings) or with the Natural Beekeeping Trust (top bar hives with minimal intervention; 2 days Sussex). This will be funded by BCB on the understanding you subsequently keep bees for the group. First come, first booked basis.

* Take any of the project strands forwards

* Share your fabulous ideas!

 

Finally, we now have a facebook page, search for bungaycommunitybees and ‘like’ us to see photo’s and get notifications of blog posts and events.

I also have a personal twitter account @ElinorBees, which is bee oriented, as is Mike Southerns @JoinerBee, he is one of our beekeepers and our hive designer.

All the best

Elinor McDowall

College Farm Education Apiary

Our big project last year was the initiation of educational visits for schools in conjunction with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. A purpose built apiary was created at College Farm, Aldeby, a fantastic spot leading down to the broads. It’s primarily aimed at local schools but can be used for other groups as well. To date we have hosted 7 primary schools, the Anglia Regional Co-operative store managers and members of Sustainable Bungay, who cycled out on car free day.

The apiary itself consists of an observation shed overlooking several different types of hives and, at it’s heart, a hand-crafted glass hive actually sited within the shed. Because it’s indoors the children can see the bees up close and personal in any weather. One of their favourites seems to be the glass tubes connecting the body of the hive to the entrance. It’s really easy to see the bees carrying in pollen and even fighting wasps off.

Bees in entrance tube

 

Observation hive nearly ready for bees

 

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Desperately hoping our lovingly crafted glass observation hive would work well with bees living in it we started a colony off in there only to have it collapse. We tried again with a new queen and all seemed well until we realised she also wasn’t laying. So then I put a frame of eggs in and they picked up a little, so Mike put another frame in and they picked up some more. Unfortunately the colony didn’t really thrive until after the school visits had finished, however, it didn’t appear to diminish the children’s enjoyment.

We even had a Tree Bumblebee colony to show them. These are a recent migrant from Europe and really pretty. It was great to demonstrate the differences between honey bee combs and papery bumblebee nests amongst the soil.

Our aim is to inspire the children, to engender a sense of wonder and importance of the world about them. It’s important for us to place the honey-bee in an ecological context for them, so the other half of the visit which is a nature spotters ramble fits in beautifully. Before we unveil the bees themselves we talk about pollinators and why pollination is important for us. Then we challenge the children to guess which foods are mostly reliant on bee pollination.

How well would you do?

Here are a few to try, most (but not all) are bee dependent: lemon, kiwi, rice, apples, pears, strawberries, walnuts, rapeseed oil, cucumber, oats, chocolate, coffee…

I was really pleased with how much the children already knew about honeybees, it made it so much more fun to spot workers versus drones, honey cells versus brood cells and even the queen!

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As a group we tend towards a more apicentric or bee-centred way of keeping bees, with minimal intervention and we explore the reasons why with the children. Thinking about how important hive scent and warmth is for their well-being, how they communicate via scent, touch and vibration and how disruptive to the colony frequent opening is. We certainly don’t advocate ‘leave alone’ beekeeping, but there are ways to monitor bee health without opening the hive every week. Admittedly, it helps having glass panels on most of the hives…

Although we address current threats to bees with the children we also want them to go away with a positive message regarding easy ways to be bee-friendly. After all, a little less weeding is as easy as planting some herbs, or leaving clover patches in the lawn or piles of sticks (habitat piles) under the hedge.

Each child and school leaves with some bee-friendly seeds provided by Anglia Regional Co-operative society.

If you are interested in bringing a school to visit please contact Jill Basson of Anglia Regional Co-operative Society on 01733 225552.

Our journey to achieve all this in 2013:

February 2013 saw us marking out the spot we wanted for the shed in the cold, cold, cold weather. We chose a spot with easy access, not far from the broad and sheltered yet with sun to warm them up in the morning.

Paving and shed in place

 

With hTBH and National outside

During March 2013 we were waiting, fingers crossed, hoping our nucleus of bees would be ready in time for the first school visits at College Farm. They were, but only just. The cold beginning to 2013 followed by wet and windy weather meant the bees were late in getting started. More disastrously it appears several virgin queens weren’t able to successfully complete mating flights, including ours.

Going into the 2014 season we have three different types of hives (with bees) as well as the observation colony, a plan to plant bee-friendly (mostly cottage garden) flowers and various ideas on how to supplement the learning experience for the children. I’m looking forward to seeing the newly built hide / butterfly shed in action as well.

Building out onto comb board

 

And finally: some pictures of the Anglia Regional Co-operative Store Managers enjoying the same tour…

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