Oxford Bees


June gap: evidence on the base board

Submitted by will on Mon, 24/06/2019 - 04:57

My bee group talks about the 'June gap'. This is is the period where the spring flowers end and forage becomes scarce.

Many of the bee group are in rural areas of Oxfordshire where Oil Seed Rape is the primary crop. There are gardens and some hedgerows left, but their pickings are slim. In the city this is mostly not the case.

In central Oxford there are numerous gardens which are planted to bloom throughout the summer. There are the many rivers where the Elder has been flowering through June and the Iris (Flag) has been blooming. These areas are prone to flooding and so are less likely to be built on or put to single-use agriculture. The city must be beautiful if you're a bee.

All the gardens and green spaces won't completely compensate for the end of the blossom on the big trees like Horse Chestnut. The evidence on the base board of my city hives shows this. The lumps of pollen which drop off the bees' legs are much smaller -- perhaps half the diameter of the lumps which fall in peak time. There is a greater variation in colour at this time -- bright oranges; occasional deep reds; a purple and even blue.

There are lots of flights too. This indicates that there's something to do. I don't know whether they're returning full of nectar or with just enough to make it worth the trip. They might be bringing water or propolis. Whichever it is they're busy.

As June wears on I see that the Blackberry is in flower. This provides good forage for a while. The pale grey pollen is already dominating the base board. The plants grow prolifically around Oxford. Their seeds are distributed by birds and the plants will suffer any soil type. They'll flower during June and some of July and produce fruit during August and into September. With the arrival of the Blackberry flowers I call an end to any June gap.

Honeydew falling from the Lime Trees

Submitted by will on Sun, 26/05/2019 - 05:30

The Lime tree (Tilia Cordata, or the Linden tree) is found all around Oxford. As I cycle under the avenue of them on South Parks Road I can feel the slight prickle of honeydew falling.

Honeydew is a sugar-water liquid secreted by the aphids who live on the Lime trees. They suck the sap and excrete the liquid which falls in a light spray from the trees. The leaves quickly get a shine where large amounts of this liquid has dried on them. I've seen this in other places around Oxford.

Honeydew can be forage for bees. They collect it when there are fewer nectar sources. The flavour of the honey is said to be distinctive -- "very dark brown in colour, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam" (source: Wikipedia). Hopefully there will be some to collect from my city hives this season

Bees flying and foraging at Headington Hill Hall perpetual hive

Submitted by will on Wed, 13/02/2019 - 13:54

The bees in the perpetual hive in Headington Hill Hall park were flying at 1pm today -- 13th February.

There were flights every 3-5 seconds and I saw one bee land near me which had dark red pollen baskets. I couldn't check that she was carrying pollen but it seems the most likely. There were red Hellebores nearby which I think were probably the source of the pollen

The flowers in bloom nearby were

  • Hellebore (half a dozen or so within 20m of the hive. Some were red)
  • Snowdrop
  • Crocus (several hundred in flower within 150m of the hive)
  • Mahonia (very few flowers)
  • Lawn Daisy (very few flowers)

Pollen is usually a sign that there is brood in the hive.

Pollen Colours - Early June

Submitted by will on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 22:26
Pollen - Early June

The monotone beige of the tree pollen has given way to more diverse colours. I think that there are 8 colours in the image. I haven't tried to identify the flowers which these pollen come from.

This sample of pollen colours comes from my apiary in central Oxford. There are parks and college gardens nearby so some of the flowers may be non-native.


Pollen as food for the bees

Submitted by will on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 21:38

Pollen is the high protein food which the bees use to make food for their brood. If you see pollen coming into the hive then it's reasonable to assume that there is brood being reared in the hive.

The bees visit flowers and collect the pollen in 'baskets' of hairs behind their hind legs. We can see these 'baskets' as bright patches on the legs of returning bees. The lumps of pollen sometimes get dropped and fall to the floor of the hive where they can be examined.

Pollen is an indicator of which flowers are in bloom at any time. It isn't a guarantee that the bees are getting nectar from those flowers. Nectar flow can vary by plant and conditions. Wind pollinated plants produce no nectar at all (as far as I know).

Pollen can also be eaten by humans if you like that sort of thing. I know one small person who likes it. It has a pleasant, subtle flavour -- sometimes with an aroma of the flower. You won't get well fed on it though. The amount of pollen in each basket is tiny.



Flowers in blossom in early June

Submitted by will on Sat, 02/06/2018 - 22:19

The trees have finished their blossom: Hawthorn and Horse Chestnut.

In their place there is abundant Buttercup and Elder in flower.

There are also very many varieties of hedgerow wild flowers (seen near Stanton Harcourt). I've seen daisies, climbing roses and different Umbilifers. I doubt whether many of these are within the forage area of either of my apiaries.

New comb and high weather in October

Submitted by will on Sat, 14/10/2017 - 21:29

It's mid-October. The weather is supposed to be cooling but that's not what we're getting. Ex-Hurricane Ophelia is on its' way, bringing high winds and high temperatures. In Oxford we're forecast to get 40mph winds (fearties! fearties!) and 20C temperatures. The average October temperature is 10.1C (source: /node/191).

The weather must be helping the bees to forage because Hive H shows the tell-tale white wax platelets on the hive floor. These indicatethat they're building new comb.

October is also a time when there are some sources of nectar and pollen available. Ivy, Michaelmas Daisy; Evening Primrose and Golden Rod are in, or have recently been in, flower. The most significant is probably Ivy which can produce significant amounts of nectar. It isn't very nice honey to eat and it sets in the comb but it's useful for the bees.

I hope that this means that Hive H will survive the winter in good order.