Category Archives: Forage

Bee Trees – Poplar (Populus spp)

Certain species of Poplar are a valuable source of propolis for honey bees. The spring catkins may be visited for pollen and the spores of a parasitic rust fungus may be an alternative protein source in times when pollen is in short supply.

Poplars are a complex, wind-pollinated, pioneer tree species and they interbreed like mad; as a result they can be difficult to identify. There are many species world wide and several native to Europe. In addition, fast growing hybrid cultivars have been bred and these are much planted for timber. There is also interest in the fast growing varieties for short rotation coppice as a biomass crop.

In Ireland only two Poplars are considered native – although other species have been introduced as ornamental trees or for timber, shelter-belt or screening. Continue reading Bee Trees – Poplar (Populus spp)

Michaelmas – Bees and Wintering

Michaelmas, or the Feast of St.Michael, is one of the four quarter days which mark the changing of the seasons.

The four quarter days are:

  • Lady day or the Feast of the Annunciation 25th March;
  • Midsummer’s day around 25th June;
  • Michaelmas 29th September;
  • Christmas 25th December – lest we forget – fat chance.

They all approximately coincide with either an equinox or a solstice. Continue reading Michaelmas – Bees and Wintering

Himalayan Balsam or Impatiens glandulifera

Himalayan balsam or Impatiens glandulifera originates in the Himalayas – surprise surprise. It was introduced to Europe as a garden plant but it quickly escaped the confines of the garden and joined the ranks of ‘Invasive Pests’. Other such plant species include Japanese knotweed, Giant hogweed, Sycamore or Acer pseudoplatanus and Trifids. Continue reading Himalayan Balsam or Impatiens glandulifera

Poplar leaf rust spores?

Here’s an interesting one…

One of my apiary sites is in a nature reserve on a small raised bog in Kildare. The clover and blackberry are in full bloom all around the fringes there so I expected to find the bees with brown or grey pollen loads. However, I was surprised to find them bringing in a lot of vivid orange pollen and no, that’s not propolis. Of course I’d come out without my camera so had to make do with my phone and these pictures don’t do the colour justice. Click photos to enlarge. Continue reading Poplar leaf rust spores?

Importance of Pollen

A good supply of pollen is essential to a honeybee colony because…

… bees cannot live on honey alone. While the sugars in honey supply the bees’ energy needs, in addition they require the protein, fats, minerals and the miscellaneous dietary supplements found in pollen. The protein content of the pollen of different plants is variable but generally very high, containing amounts comparable with peas and beans (Witherell), or seeds and peanuts (Dietz). Continue reading Importance of Pollen

Heather Ecosystem

When beekeepers think heather, they think weather and ‘Will it ever stop bloody raining?’

Or you might wonder – ‘IS there a flow at all?’ Because often there isn’t and you can never tell in advance if it will or if it won’t. Heather honey is the most bewitching and frustrating of all honeys; if you can get a crop of sections or cut comb honey it’s close to heaven and so costly and disappointing when it fails.

But there’s more to it than the weather. It’s the ecology – Stupid! Continue reading Heather Ecosystem

How to take a crop of heather honey

Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) honey is out there on its own for flavour and character. It is rich, reddish amber in colour with a musky flavour; open the jar and the scent of the hills will fill the room. Turn the jar upside down and it won’t budge – this is because it is thixotropic – in other words it forms a viscous gel and will not flow which means it cannot be spun out of the frames like other honeys but has to be pressed from the comb or sold in the comb either as sections or cut-comb.

Heather honey is much sought-after (lovely heather honey recipe here) and commands a great price but to get a crop is not easy so the beekeeper needs to know about the Known Unknowns and Known Knowns. Not to mention the Unknown Unknowns. Continue reading How to take a crop of heather honey

November Ivy

It’s amazing that the ivy came into bloom in early August this year and it is still flowering and the bees are working it 3 months later!

Admittedly the earliest flowering ivy was a few miles downhill from here and we are on up on the north face of a chilly hill where most things are late, however – it’s still quite a spread you must admit.

Every warm day now, the bees are all over it gathering pollen and whatever nectar there may be. Spot the bee – click on the photo below for a better view.

Honey bee working the ivy (Hedera helix) in November
Honey bee working the ivy (Hedera helix) in November

Some of the flowers in this picture were pollinated some time ago and you can see the berries developing, russet now but black later. Some are still in full bloom and others are only buds. These last will almost certainly not open at all.

How to take a crop of Ivy honey

‘Why would you want to?’ says you. Well the news on the streets is that it’s only a matter of time before it will be announced that research into the health benefits of ivy honey has discovered it to be the best thing since Manuka – I’m serious. Click here for more about ivy honey.

Ivy flow
Strong ivy flow (23.10.14) note the yellow pollen loads. Click photo for full size image

However, taking a crop of ivy honey is problematic for several reasons:

  1. It sets in the comb even more quickly than rape honey so is difficult to extract;
  2. It is the last honey flow of the season and the bees build up on it and rely on it for their winter stores;
  3. By the time you take it off it could be too late to feed before winter sets in.

So, here’s what you do:

Continue reading How to take a crop of Ivy honey

Hawthorn Honey

There was a great flow this May (2014) and there is a heavy crop of hawthorn honey on board – a once in 5 year occurrence in these parts. Hawthorn pollen is a pale cream colour but you’ll know if you’ve got hawthorn honey because you will smell it!

Click here for ‘Bee Trees – Hawthorn

Here’s a photo of a hawthorn bee with pollen, click it for a better view

Hawthorn bee with pollenWhen there is this much honey from an early flow it’s best to take at least some of it off if only to spare the beekeeper’s back. Take only the sealed honey if possible, that way you’ll leave some for the bees in the June gap.

If, however, you suspect there may be rape in amongst it – you have no choice – you will have to take the lot off. If they have no feed below you should rapid feed a gallon or so of strong syrup but take the supers off first or they’ll put it in there.

Alternatively you could place a lump of fondant or better still Ambrosia (special bee fondant made with inverted sugar) over the feed hole. They won’t put this in the supers but if they need it – it’s there and it will also pull the bees straight up in to the supers which might help prevent overcrowding → swarming etc.

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