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!

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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.

LBKA Introduction to Beekeeping Course

MatthewThis year we were able to part-sponsor one of our members to take the London Beekeepers’ Association’s Introduction to Beekeeping course. The lucky member, Matthew Bedford, is a second year student of Criminology and Social Policy. In this guest post, he shares his experience and some of his photos. Props to Matthew for attending the course on crutches (having recently dislocated his knee), not to mention in the middle of exams!

Following a fantastic opportunity provided by the LSESU Beekeeping Society, I had the chance to participate in the LBKA ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course on the 6th and 7th of May. I can safely say that it was one of the most interesting and fascinating experiences of my life.

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A healthy frame (photo credit: Matthew Bedford)

The weekend began with informative lectures in the morning, providing me with great insight into the life of a beekeeper. I learnt more than I could have ever hoped for; I even forgot that I had exams for a brief moment! What really captured my attention was the practical work though: on both days we visited the numerous hives around St. Paul’s Church (Clapham) where we saw these little pollinators hard at work. We even got to see a couple queen bees! I was fortunate enough to have picked the lucky group on the first day and witnessed a swarm in action; we then captured and homed this swarm, and began a new colony.

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The swarm (photo credit: Matthew Bedford)

I’m really grateful for the society for subsidising this course and I hope that more people are able to join next year as it was quite literally the Bee’s Knees!

LSE Bees in Green Week

Honey sticks, football-playing bees, a hive visit for LSE staff – these are just a few of the things we had lined up for LSE Green Week.

How Bees Learn from Each Other: Talk by Prof Lars Chittka (1 March)

The most eagerly-anticipated event of the week was a talk by Prof Lars Chittka on How Bees Learn from Each Other. Prof Chittka is Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at QMUL and one of the world’s foremost experts on bee behaviour. He and his team have variously attached ‘licence plates’ to bees, studied whether bumblebees have ‘personalities’ and even investigated whether caffeine boosts bees’ memories.

The timing of his talk was highly fortuitous, coming just a week after his study on football-playing bees was published in Science, receiving widespread media coverage.

LSE Honey Sale (1 March)

LSE Bees had their own stall in front of the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, where we sold off our last few jars of honey and spread awareness about the importance of pollinators.

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Apiary Open Days (1 & 2 March)

Our hive visits are usually restricted to society members only, but what better time than LSE Green Week to have an Apiary Open Day? In fact, we had not one but two open days – one for students and one for staff. The staff open day was particularly popular: the 30 available spaces got booked out within hours of being announced on the staff newsletter and their enthusiasm was rewarded with bright sunshine which meant active bees. Best of all, some of the first-time visitors liked it enough that they joined our society, so we will be seeing a lot more of them in the near future!

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