Give-it-a-Go!

A record 55 students (almost more beekeepers than bees!) came to our first hive visit of the new academic year – a ‘Give-it-a-Go’ session where LSE students could get a taste of beekeeping and meet a real live beekeeper, our very own Luke Dixon! We all took turns trying on bee suits, opening hives and getting a closer look at some of the hardest-working members of the LSE family.

We also did an informal spot-survey, and here are the results!

Finally, we had our AGM where we treated ourselves to pizza and elected the new committee:

President: Marta Talevi
Secretaries: Taylor Braun-Dorrell & Sroyon Mukherjee
Treasurers: Alaina Boyle & Pablo Soares Schweigler
Communication Officer: Laura Domínguez-Pires
Events Manager: Gayatri Mehta

Congratulations to all, and here’s to another great year of beekeeping!

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Solitary Bees!

LSE is all about diversity, but we at LSE Bees have been a bit behind the curve. Not when it comes to humans, we hasten to add – the LSESU Beekeeping Society is diverse and inclusive, with members from a wide range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. But when it comes to bees, we have tended to focus almost exclusively on Apis mellifera, a.k.a. the European honey bee. Until now…

This week we installed our brand new solitary bee nest-box in the Passfield Hall garden! What are solitary bees? Read on to find out!

Photo courtesy Ibolya Trebert

Britain has over 270 species of bees, and the honey bee is only one of them. Of the rest, the vast majority – nearly 250 species – are solitary bees. They have fascinating names – cuckoo bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, flower bees – and even more fascinating lives.

Unlike honey bees, solitary bees do not form colonies (sometimes it’s good to be antisocial, argues Silvia Golumbeanu), nor do they produce honey. However, they are very good at pollination. Why? Because they are clumsier! Honey bees carry pollen in specialised pollen baskets on their hind legs. But as this excellent article explains:

some solitary bees are incredibly good pollinators because they are so bad at it. Mason and leafcutter solitary bees store pollen on their undercarriage, dropping it here, there and everywhere. One red mason bee can match the pollination work of more than 100 honeybees, research indicates.

And because unlike honey bees, they have no honey stores to protect, solitary bees do not sting! Brigit Strawbridge has a great post about which bees sting and which don’t, where she writes:

[female solitary bees] are equipped with tiny stings but rarely, if ever, do they use them. You would have to squash them to provoke them to sting – and even then, the sting on most of these bees is so insignificant that it cannot even pierce human skin.

So while honey bees, bumblebees and butterflies get all the limelight, solitary bees remain the harmless, unsung heroes of the pollinator world!

Sadly, many solitary bee species are more threatened than the commercially-cultivated honey bee, and in greater need of protection. Come spring, we hope our nest-box will attract mason bees, leafcutter bees, and maybe some even rarer species. Best of all, the box has observation panels, which means we can see the bees making nests and laying eggs inside!

If this short blogpost has piqued your curiosity about solitary bees, there’s a great article on the Wildlife Trusts website, or you can watch this short documentary:


LSE Bees would like to thank the Sustainable Projects Fund whose generous grant helped us purchase the Solitary Bee Observation Nest Box, as well as LSE Sustainability and the Passfield Hall team who helped install it.

LSE Bees at Freshers’ Fair

Curious about how and why a Central London university has beehives on campus? Or thinking about joining the Beekeeping Society?

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Come and have a chat with us at the LSE Bees Stall at Freshers’ Fair on Thursday Sep 21st, 11 AM – 4 PM. We will be on the 6th floor of the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre. If you’re on Facebook, you can RSVP on our event page and we’ll look out for you!

Honey Harvest!

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This year we had a team from LSE Careers helping us with the honey harvest. With a human chain passing honey-filled frames from the hive to the storage-room, we got the harvest done in record time! (If you want to read more about the actual process of harvesting, our 2016 blogpost describes it in more detail.)

We have a modest harvest this year. One of our colonies is still quite young, so did not take any honey from it. In the other hive, the queen somehow slipped through the queen excluder and, instead of staying confined to the lower tier (the ‘brood box’, where she lays her eggs), she escaped to the upper tiers (the ‘supers’ which should ideally have only honey and no eggs). So some frames in the super had not just honey but also ‘brood’ (eggs and larvae) and we had to leave them alone. Despite this goof-up, we have 86 jars, which is not too bad. LSE Honey 2017 will be on sale in just a few weeks’ time: as usual it will be offered to members first, so watch this space!

We took a decision to harvest our honey relatively early this year: on 11th August. It turns out that was a good thing because August was a washout, and all across the south of England, bees are sealing their hives early. Here’s hoping for a few more weeks of sunshine before the cold weather sets in, so that our bees can make the most of the ivy flow and build up their honey stocks for winter!

Colourful Pollen

When we inspect our hives, we always make sure to check the bottom board (the removable hive floor). A skilled beekeeper can get a lot of information about the hive just from “reading” the bottom board: How active is the colony? How many new bees are being born? Is there a parasite problem? What have the bees been feeding on?

Some of the pollen carried back by bees accumulates on the bottom board. Urban bees have a varied diet of pollen and nectar from many different sources, so the accumulated pollen comes in a variety of colours. The bottom board this week is looking absolutely gorgeous: we found yellow, orange, green, and even maroon and lilac-coloured pollen!

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Summertime Activity

This blog has been rather quiet this summer, but of course the bees have not been idle, and neither has the Beekeeping Society! In fact, we’ve had one of our busiest summers yet. Here’s a quick round-up of what we’ve been up to in the last few months.

Kew Gardens trip

Every year John Fry (an LSE alumnus and an avid beekeeper who now lives in Virginia, USA) sends us a cheque for beekeeping expenses. Generally we use it for equipment and repairs, but this year, we decided to do something different. At the end of May we organised a Society trip to Kew Gardens, and John’s generous donation allowed us to pay £10 towards the cost of each ticket (so members only had to pay £3 each).

Of course, the Hive installation was at the top of our list of things to see, but equally interesting were the Fascinating Flowers tour (where we learned about other pollinators like exotic insects, bats and hummingbirds, as well as the bizarre and ingenious strategies plants use to attract them) and the Solitary Bees talk and tour run by an entomologist from the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (where we learned to identify some common species of bumblebees and solitary bees).

Observation hive

Thanks to a generous grant from the Sustainable Projects Fund, we were able to add an “observation hive” to the Connaught House roof. The new hive is a national hive (a slightly different design from our other hives which are WBC hives), but more importantly, it has an observation window made of Perspex, which allows us a fascinating glimpse into the secret lives of bees. The observation hive will be particularly useful in winter: we can observe the bees’ activities without the need to disturb them by opening the hive.

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Slovenian royalty

We needed a new queen bee to populate the observation hive, and Luke procured one from a breeder in Slovenia, a.k.a. beekeeping capital of the world. Believe it or not, the queen came by post! She arrived in a ‘queen introduction cage’ (pictured below), attended by two worker bees to groom and feed her. The cage has a plug of sugar candy, which takes the bees a few days to eat through. This delays the release of the queen into the new colony, giving the other bees enough time to get used to her scent and reducing the likelihood that the bees will attack and kill the alien queen.

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New suits!

The Sustainable Projects Fund grant also allowed us to buy new protective suits (which we needed because our society is growing as fast as our bee colonies!) Here is Laura (MSc Gender, Policy and Inequalities) modelling one of the new suits.

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Rooftop gardening session

With urban beekeeping becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more beehives in Central London, but what bees really need is more sources of nectar and pollen. So in April we had a gardening session where volunteers from the society got together to dig up the dead annuals and plant bee-friendly plants.

The new plants are doing really well; we just need to remember to water them in the current hot and dry weather! One of the prettiest planters (top left) is one we left untended – it’s now a riot of wildflowers.

Carpentry workshop

Beekeeping requires many different skills! Besides gardening, we also had to do a spot of carpentry, to hammer together some new roofs for our hives (our existing roofs are nearly 5 years old and starting to show signs of wear).

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100+ members

This year our society crossed one hundred members, which is quite incredible for such a niche society. Many of them were highly engaged and active, enthusiastically participating in events and volunteering their time to look after the bees. Several members of staff signed up (and we even interviewed one of them). We had members joining right up until the end of Summer Term!

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Solitary bee nest box

Lastly, a grant from the Sustainable Projects Fund also enabled us to buy a Solitary Bee Nest Box, and it has just arrived in the post! In a future blogpost we will talk about the great diversity of solitary bees (did you know that honey bees and bumblebees make up only about 25 of the 250 species of bee in the UK, with the rest being solitary bees?) and the urgent need to protect them. For now, we are extremely excited about installing the nest box in Passfield Hall and seeing what kind of bees it attracts.