…was on January 24. Much to our surprise, the bees were buzzing about like it’s springtime! Luke said these are the first active bees he has seen this year – a sign of the good health of the colony.
The spider in the cedar hive is still around, though she scurried away into the depths of the hive before we could take a photo. The nuc box unfortunately had some dead bees. Luke pointed out how they are noticeably larger than summer bees (because they store protein and other nutrients inside their bodies). They also have a longer lifespan (~6 months) compared to summer bees who only live around 6 weeks. If you want to know more about winter bees and what they do, HoneyBeeSuite has a great post about them.
Over the years we’ve done a number of outreach events and enjoyed them all, but none so much as the one we did last month. Fairley House, a school for children with learning difficulties, recently invited us to run a workshop about Bees and the Environment. About 40 children aged 7-9 (Years 3 and 4) participated in the workshop: a very different target audience from what we usually have in our outreach events which are mostly for LSE students and staff.
We started with a short talk and Q&A session. The children were especially fascinated by the beekeeping equipment (smock, gloves, hive tools, smoker, some frames with real honeycomb) and had loads of questions, as you can see from all the raised hands in the photo below.
They asked the most unexpected and amusing questions we’ve ever encountered in a bee workshop: “My mum killed a bee, is that bad?” “There’s a bees’ nest on our balcony, what should we do??” and – an interesting non sequitur – “Have you ever seen a tarantula?”
After the talk, the children split up into groups and participated in a carousel of three activities (developed in collaboration with the school’s Geography teacher, Ms Longmore-Reid). The activities consisted of a quiz, a sequencing activity, and – the most popular one of all – a honey-tasting session.
Worksheet from the quiz
Worksheet from the sequencing activity
The children appeared to enjoy the workshop as much as we did, and Ms Longmore-Reid wrote to us recently saying, “Even during parents evening this week, the parents mentioned how excited their children still are about the workshop. It was a real success!”
So a huge vote of thanks to her and the rest of the staff at Fairley House for the most enjoyable bee workshop we have ever done!
For those who missed the last hive visit of Michaelmas Term (Dec 8), here’s a quick summary:
The painted hive is doing well: Luke showed us dark granules on the bottom board which are discarded bits of wax from the bees’ refurbishment activities
The cedar hive has a resident spider! (No photos unfortunately but we will try to take one next time if she’s still around.) She doesn’t pose a threat to the bees because she has somehow built her web in the insulating space between the double walls of our WBC hive. The hive has the beginnings of a varroa problem, so we gave it a light dose of treatment.
The white hive, which we treated for varroa last month, was very quiet even by winter standards. We gave it another light round of treatment and put the crown board right on top of the brood box, rather than over the super where it previously was, to reduce the size of the hive (if you’re not familiar with these terms, check out this diagram).
The nuc we built in the summer is doing really well (fingers crossed!) In all four hives, the bees have barely eaten any of the fondant, which is a good sign because it shows there’s enough of their own honey to go around.
Winter is a quiet season for beekeepers, so what better time to make yourself a steaming mug of cocoa and settle down to two great podcasts about bees!
The first podcast is a public discussion held at LSE by the Forum for European Philosophy, titled Hive Minds: Collective Intelligence in Humans and Other Animals. The panelists are Christian List (philosopher, LSE), Elli Leadbeater (social insect biologist, Royal Holloway), and Larissa Conradt (evolutionary theorist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development).
Leadbeater opens the discussion brilliantly, asking us to picture a swarm of honey bees who have just left a hive. So now they are clustering on a tree branch, with about three days to find a new home before they run out of food. Scout bees fly off in all directions looking for nesting sites with certain desirable features – large but not too large, protected from the elements, free of ants, and so on. These bees fly back and report their findings through the famous waggle dance, and other scouts fly off to verify their findings. Gradually a consensus emerges. In this way, thousands of bees with no central decision-making authority prove to be surprisingly effective in choosing an optimal nest.
This paves the way to discuss broader questions, such as, is there collective intelligence in bees and other social insects? If so, what is the evidence for it, and what form does it take? Do we also find forms of collective intelligence in humans? And what can humans learn from bees about the best ways to make collective decisions? The discussion encompasses philosophical questions (the nature of intelligence), historical anecdotes (Galton’s ox) and current developments (Brexit, Donald Trump).
The second podcast (just 12 days left to listen!) is a BBC Radio 4 feature called Spirit of the Beehive. A lilting Nina Perry soundtrack (Oli Langford on violin) sets the tune for an exploration of vastly different worlds, including a Sussex University lab studying the waggle dance, a Parisian artist community called La Ruche (‘the beehive’), and a social enterprise in Hackney which is training disadvantaged youths in small-scale commercial beekeeping.
The narrative gently segues back and forth between these diverse domains, and while they all present a unique perspective on our relationship with bees, the part about the Hackney beekeepers is the most memorable. It has been suggested that urban beekeeping may be a ‘middle class guilt trip’, a form of ‘nostalgie de la boue – a French term for a kind of rustic-fancying inverted snobbery which literally means “nostalgia for the mud”.’ But hearing the Hackney youths describe their experience with beekeeping quickly dispels any such notion. Some of the interviews are really quite moving:
Starting September I’m going to be working with the bank called Nomura doing beekeeping, so it allows me to interact with various different people and see various different environments. It’s going to be an exciting experience. I’m going to be meeting people that work in a bank, just very high class. It makes you feel different…
Or another guy, after describing the gang violence and shootings that are a feature of everyday life:
The bees are more or less, apart from the… the um, the playground, are more or less the only things that are good around here. Like, en-enlightened… enlightenment, sorry.
Every year our generous donor, John Fry (an LSE alumnus and an avid beekeeper who now lives in Virginia, USA) sends us a cheque for beekeeping expenses. As a small gesture of thanks, we send him two jars of the freshest LSE Honey.
Here are his two jars in Holborn Post Office, at the start of their long westward journey, safely padded with pages from The Beaver (the most “LSE” package possible!)
In this post we’ve tried to answer some questions you might have about LSE Honey. If your question is not answered here, leave a comment and we’ll add it in!
Where does the honey come from?
LSE Honey 2016 comes wholly from our three hives on the roof of Connaught House in Central London (the fourth colony is still young, so we do not harvest from it yet). Here’s a photo of our hives:
What does the honey taste like?
Some commercially available honey is monofloral, i.e. predominantly from the nectar of one plant species. Most varieties of supermarket honey are also ‘blended’, i.e. comes from hives all over the world. We have nothing against ethically-produced monofloral honey (in fact there are some varieties we like a lot!) but our own bees are free to fly around London and pick what flowers they want to forage on. Having said that, due to the abundance of lime trees in Central London, our honey has a lovely, light, citrusy flavour.
Where do the bees forage?
The typical foraging distance for European honey bees is believed to be around 3 km, though Beekman and Ratnieks (2000) found bees routinely flying over 6 km and sometimes over 10 km from their hives. But even with a conservative 3 km estimate, as you can see from the map below, our bees can collect nectar from as far afield as St James’s Park, Green Park, Regent’s Park and even Hyde Park.
Is the honey ethically produced?
Absolutely. This is what our professional beekeeper, Dr Luke Dixon, has to say:
We don’t keep bees to be producers of honey, though we do harvest a sustainable amount from strong colonies. Primarily the purpose of our beekeeping is to support the declining pollinator population and the richness of biodiversity in the city. At all times we follow current best practice and advice from the National Bee Unit.
Do pollution and traffic fumes affect the quality of urban honey?
On the contrary, it is likely that urban bees make better honey! The European Environment Agency confirms that ‘city traffic fumes and pollution do not harm the bees or their honey’ because in the process of converting nectar to honey, the bees filter out heavy metals and other pollutants. A study by a French beekeepers’ association found that bees reared in cities are healthier and more productive than their country cousins, largely due to the use of pesticides and monoculture which are both more prevalent in the countryside. However, this does not mean that there are no downsides to urban beekeeping: a 2013 study found that traffic fumes can affect bees ability to find food.
My honey has crystallised, what should I do?!
Don’t worry, crystallisation is entirely normal and does not mean the honey has gone bad. Decrystallising it is very simple; we have a detailed post (with pics) which shows you what to do.
I have purchased a jar of honey. Where can I collect it?
If you have already paid for your jar online, you should soon receive an email confirming the date and time when you can collect it. If you’re unable to collect on that day, you can send a friend, or send us an email and we’ll try to arrange an alternate collection date.