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).
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.
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.
Keith and I manned the beekeeping stall at our local village fete this Saturday. The morning rain stopped at just the right time, and it proved to be good fun, partly because it was good to see lots of people, all determined to enjoy themselves after months of lockdown, and partly because we got so many visitors to the stall asking intelligent questions.
We had various items on the stall about bees and beekeeping, but the biggest draw was an Observation Box, and I’ll discuss this further and my reflections on it below.
Once Covid lockdown rules were relaxed to allow up to 30 people to gather outdoors, it took Jane 6 microseconds to arrange a garden meeting at her amazing “country cottage in the middle of Oxford”. 13 of us gathered to talk about bees, the swarms we’d been chasing and hiving, and to devour cakes over cups of tea.
The weather was so ideal, a small afterswarm emerged from one of Jane’s hives, but it spiralled up a long way and disappeared from view. I suspect it was too small to be viable – it may find a cavity somewhere but is unlikely to build up enough stores to overwinter. If I catch a really small swarm, I merge it with another colony to form one strong one. I just let the bees sort out which queen they prefer; I find in those circumstances that the colonies don’t fight.
The Drayton hive can be seen at the Sylva Foundation in Long Wittenham, this weekend and next, as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks – 15 & 16 and 22 & 23 May. Details of the hive can be seen here: www.draytonbeehive.com
It will then be exhibited at the National Garden Scheme open day at Lime Close, Drayton, OX14 4HU – 2.00-5.30pm on Sunday 30 May. Andrew Bax, who designed the hive, will be there to show how it works to people who may be interested. There is an admission charge of £5.00, raising funds for the hospice movement.
Andrew has an apiary in Lime Close in which prototype and production Drayton hives house bees enjoying the abundant and unusual forage.
Rigorous metastudy marshals the evidence and pushes the debate forward
Published by Northern Bee Books and IBRA, 2021. £24.95 / US$30, 119 pages, ISBN 978-1-913811-00-6
This is a seminal work – the first comprehensive review of treatment free (TF) beekeeping around the world. The writing style is readable yet academically precise – no urban myths here, every statement is verified by reference to data and academic papers. The pattern that emerges is that you can easily help bees express a large repetoire of useful behaviour and abilities, which standard texts ignore, so there is something here for every level of reader.
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