The Sideboard Bees

~ By our Norfolk correspondent, Jan ~

Many of you know that I volunteered to be a swarm collector a few seasons ago: I’m not fearful of the bees and thought if I could help save some – before a worried owner calls a pest exterminator – then I have done some good for the environment. This has resulted in many delightful days spent moving bees around the county to new homes.

Late last summer, I got a call from a man who said he had bees in an outside sideboard on a patio in a village not far from us. We agreed he would monitor the situation, as he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with them, but a few weeks later he called back. I went over to review the situation and found that the bees had taken up residence in a cupboard, building several healthy looking combs attached to the drawer above. They seemed quite fond of the bees, who had been buzzing in and out for several weeks now, and it seemed clear to me that moving them at that late stage might cause the colony to fail, with temperatures dropping at night, and food supplies dwindling. So, with their approval, we agreed to leave the bees where they were until this spring.

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ONBG meeting April 2022 – swarm prep

18 bee-folk gathered at Paul’s out-apiary to discuss catching and hiving swarms, inspect TBHs and picnic and gabble about bees. Other topics were winter losses, the 2023 Learning from the Bees conference and mushrooms.

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Trends in beekeeping

This post discusses politics, how beekeeping / research is evolving, free living bees, and some interesting online resources. A common theme is apparent – beekeeping is increasingly swinging its attention to why local and wild bees are healthier. 

Springing into action

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A visit from …

‘Twas a night in December
And all through the hive
A soft humming question,
When will Spring arrive?

The bees had been clustered
All snuggled up tight
Dreaming of Springtime,
Warmth, nectar and light

When something came drumming
And thrumming their nest.
Were those hoof beats a-coming
Disturbing their rest?

Was Saint Nick alighting
And bringing them treats?
Like pollen and honey,
All good things to eat

Were those Reindeer a-romping
And dancing around,
Joyfully jingling
And making that sound?

Now Larva, now Nurse Bee,
Young Flier and Guard,
On Scout Bee, on Forager,
All in the Bee Yard

Then the Queen was awake and shifting her stance,
She took it all in, in one long knowing glance,
She gathered herself, her fat fertile belly
And royal antennae trembling like jelly

“Calm yourselves down! It’s just the Beekeeper
Knocking the hive like the Grim Reaper!
Spring will be here and all in good time,
Until then be quiet, it’s winter bedtime”

Grumbling and mumbling the bees settled back,
Wishing for Santa and full pollen sacks.
Resuming their cluster, again huddled tight,
Whispered “Happy Xmas to all and to all a good night”

[By Lynne Honigmann after the poem A visit from Saint Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore]

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Blenheim bees – news article and response

As the local natural beekeeping group, we’ve got to know and respect Filipe. The recent article in The Guardian about his findings at Blenheim has led to some heated debate in the Twittersphere. In the following article, Guy Thompson addresses some of the controversy.

By Guy Thompson

This piece in the Observer has caused a bit of a stir. Clearly aimed at engaging the general public, I can see why it has been annoying in some circles. Prof. Jeff Ollerton – @jeffollerton on Twitter – is right to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” but, in fact, what is being seen at Blenheim is not, IMHO, extraordinary: it is pretty much what you would expect to see given the circumstances: the pristine nature and extent of the woodland and the absence of modern bee management from the entire estate.

OxNatBees member using binoculars to scan a Blenheim oak for nests

Local ecotypes of honey bees were the norm in the UK until very recently. Globalisation has made honey bee imports much easier and events such as the Isle of Wight disease around 1902 gave impetus to the international trade in bees (and their genes). The current genetic uniformity of honey bees in Britain is driven by constant high volumes of imports of queen bees that dilute the native genes, and also by unrestricted movement of stocks within the UK. Most British honey bees are now, for better or worse, cross breeds. Whether any examples of “native” honey bees can be found in mainland Britain is hotly debated but there is acceptance that elements of the “native” genetics are still to be found. (I put “native” in italics only because I don’t want to cloud this with arguments about whether honey bees are or are not actually native to the UK).

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ONBG meeting, 1st August 2021 – out-apiaries and TBHs

Wildflowers and mixed deciduous woods – exactly what bees evolved to thrive in

20 of us picnicked at an out-apiary in rural Oxfordshire, to network, observe horizontal Top Bar Hive inspections and discuss the practicalities of out-apiaries.

This out-apiary is sited in a corner of a small estate, whose owners are very committed to encouraging wildlife, and don’t use pesticides! The grass away from the main house is chest high, full of wildflowers and the hives are sited next to a band of mixed deciduous woods and a lake, fed by a stream. I’ve seen deer, rabbits, a fox, geese and swans; and apparently there are badgers (but they don’t bother the TBHs).

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ONBG meeting, July 2021 – Blenheim wild bees

We were priviliged and excited to have the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes tour of wild bee colonies at Blenheim Palace led by Filipe Salbany, an internationally experienced bee expert who emits a real contagious joy and enthusiasm. He has 50 years’ experience with bees on 3 continents and many hive types, thus a much broader perspective than most beekeepers.

Bees living in a natural cavity in an old oak tree

Blenheim Palace is a vast estate, 2500 ha, and due to historical quirks it contains Europe’s largest ancient oak forest and many other huge old trees – exactly what bees evolved to live in. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about how bees live in their natural setting. Most of us have seen a few wild colonies, in roofs and the odd tree, but never so many at once, and not in such an extensive landscape.

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