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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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) 

 

 

 

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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Edible Plants Bee Tea

It’s a grey day today, a good day for looking back to a warmer one in the summer when Bungay Community Bees joined with Lesley and the Libray Community Garden to host a Bee Tea. Each year the Library Garden central bed has a different theme and this year it is edible plants. In hindsight it may seem perfectly obvious, but many plants good for us to eat are also great for bees. However, this was as much about ‘border’ plants and herbs as it was about crop producing plants.

Bee Tea: chatting about plants

After a brief introduction to some of the issues involved with bee decline; largely habitat loss, insecticide use (in particular neonicotinoids) and intensive beekeeping methods, we enjoyed discussing gardening techniques and other ways in which bees/pollinators can be supported. A common theme brought up at several of our gatherings has been the use of public spaces such as playground/park margins and verges, it shouldn’t be so difficult to plant these areas and allow them to flourish before cutting them back. And sometimes it’s as much about leaving plants in place to flower, as it is about planting new ones.

Bee Tea: the central bed

Mark Watson created one of his rather special herbal tea blends made from bee-friendly plants and was kind enough to enlighten us about what he put in. Unfortunately we can’t remember the complete list, but anise hyssop, lemonbalm and spearmint were certainly involved. Mark’s teas and jellies are always delicious, but this was his best yet – but of course!  Bees are involved with pollination of many fruits and other yummy staples such as chocolate so it wasn’t hard to come up with biscuits and cake to accompany the tea, but my favourite was Lavender Shortbread made by Gemma (of Humble Cake). Which I’m happy to see is still on sale in the Three Willows and Earsham Street cafe’s (so go and grab some if you’re in Bungay…. Quickly).

Bee Tea: Mark introducing his bee friendly herbal blend

 

 

Bee Tea: tea and lavender shortbread, yum :)

While we mingled and chatted about various bee and plant related topics, including the benefits of top bar hives in ‘bee-centred’ beekeeping, we made bee and bug hotels which should now be gracing various garden corners around Bungay. Such a good way to use up old bottles, cardboard and canes. Don’t forget that a pile of old stalks and leaves can be invaluable to insects so tuck some away in a secluded corner or under the hedge… It was a lovely afternoon, one of those that affirms our purpose as a community group. So thank you all!

Bee Tea: Insect houses, great recycling!

Bee Tea: making hanging and ground insect houses

Bee Tea: making hanging insect houses

 

Come and see the Bees!

Once again Bungay Community Bees’ colonies have survived rather a strange weather year. Long spells of dry weather following the late, sudden burst of flower energy has led to low honey stores in good sized colonies. We are currently needing to feed them up with sugar syrup to facilitate their winter hoarding. We now have three community hives in and around Bungay and another three at the College Farm Observation Apiary (one indoors made of glass).

This was our first year at College Farm, offering ‘bee and nature ramble’ visits to schools, in conjunction with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society. Children discovered how amazing honey bees are, the importance of pollination and risks to pollinators followed by seeing honeybees in the glass hive. Some also saw a nest of very pretty Tree Bumblebees, recently arrived in East Anglia from Europe. We catered to different ages and abilities but everyone enjoyed themselves (especially us) and we have had some great feedback. I was struck by the enthusiasm (and sometimes tricky questions) generated. Best of all, after settling in over the winter, everything at the apiary should be even better next year! The next challenge for us will be delivering the same experience to the co-operative managers later in a few weeks.

There is a visit to College Farm Apiary (some pictures here) planned for 22nd September at 2:30.  If you would like to join us please contact Elinor: 07791 495 012 or by email bees@sustainablebungay.com. Alternatively you could join the group cycling to Aldeby from Bungay as part of Car Free Day – they’ll be leaving the Buttercross at 1:30pm (more about Car Free Day events here)

Installing bees into the observation hive

The latest additions to the apiary includes 2 clear tubes between the entrance holes and the hive. Hopefully we shall be able to see the bees with pollen on their legs returning to the nest. Mike added some ‘porches’ on the outside as well to ensure water doesn’t get driven in.

Showing 2 entrance holes with weather guards (on the left)

Showing 2 entrance holes with weather guards (on the left)

This was also the first use of the top bar nuc boxes and it all worked beautifully.

Our bees arriving at the apiary

Our bees arriving at the apiary

It was then a case of transferring the bars into the observation hive and popping the open nuc box in the bottom to allow the remaining bees to find their way out. All very gentle. And we even saw the Queen.

transferring frames into the hive.

transferring frames into the hive.

The nuc box was left in to allow the bees to leave it in their own time

The nuc box was left in to allow the bees to leave it in their own time

Comb in place with the most heavily populated one to the rear

Comb in place with the most heavily populated one to the rear

Mikes Most Marvellous Observation Hive

I spent a great three hours earlier with Mike and his family as he got the majority of the observation hive installed. If I’m brutally honest I wasn’t particularly useful, but I did get to swan around taking pictures and getting a feel for the space.

The viewing shed itself is light and roomy, with plenty of window space overlooking the paved area where the outdoor top bar hives will be situated.  Beyond these we are planning to plant bee-friendly flowers, both as a treat for the bees and as an example of a buzzing border.

We expect the bees for our new apiary to arrive in just over a week, with the first school visit on the 23rd May. I’m currently in the process of finding some posters for the walls and reviewing fun learning activities. To that end just being at the apiary site was inspiring.

Viewing shed from the back

Looking through the viewing shed

Looking out over area for outdoor hives and bee-friendly flowers

Looking out over outdoor hive and bee friendly flower area

Putting the glass in

The hive has glass sides (with cover panels)

More glass...

Bees are accessed from outside but glass means interactions can be viewed from inside

The core nuc box for top bars and the comb board

Integral top bar nuc and board for building comb on

Getting in place with nuc and comb board in situ

Board for building comb on, top bar nuc and mesh floor in place

Showing outside access to observation hive

Outdoor access to the hive

With covers in place

Back covers in place

The main body installed

Observation hive body in situ

Mike has been very busy designing and building this observation hive. He will post a more in-depth account of his exploits and reasoning processes in the future, so if you’re interested in the more technical aspects watch this space….

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