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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.