Did you know that last week was National Honey Week? To celebrate, a small group from LSE Bees joined Bee Urban in Kennington Park on Saturday October 28th. Bee Urban had honey tasting and honey beer tasting sessions. They also had community beekeepers on hand to answer questions about the hive, the honey extraction process and which bee-friendly flowers to plant. It was great to discuss beekeeping with other community beekeepers! If you missed the event, don’t worry – you can try the Kennington Park honey at our Honey Tasting event on November 16th (watch this space for more announcements!)
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!
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…
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.
Curious about how and why a Central London university has beehives on campus? Or thinking about joining the Beekeeping Society?
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!
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!
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!