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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Bees at the fete

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.

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ONBG meeting June 2021 – another Bee Tea at Dee!

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.

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Drayton beehive on display

We previously described this novel hybrid hive in this previous post.

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.

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