Late Summer's Focus on Forage

  • By mark patterson
  • 07 Aug, 2017

Mark discusses what's in flower in August and what garden plants are most beneficial to our bees.

Honey Bee on Helenium flower at the Sussex Prairie Gardens

Late summer for the bees is one of the most desperate times of the year when they can struggle the most to find enough food to eat. Many people find this fact difficult to believe as the weather is often hot and sunny and presumably great for the bees but it is in fact often one of the leanest times for the busy insects. At this time of year colonies are large with many mouths to feed and as the beekeeper has removed the honey crop the flowers are also diminishing in abundance meaning the bees can struggle to replace honey which has been taken off. For this reason it’s crucial not to be over greedy and take all the honey leaving the bees with no stores for themselves.

Come late summer the majority of our nectar rich native wild plants have ceased flowering and gone to seed, especially woodland and meadow flowers whose flowering period is in rhythm with the closing of the woodland canopy and cutting of meadows for hay. Bramble and all our native trees have also long since finished flowering and are now sporting fruits and seeds leaving little for the bees.

Away from Heather moorland and Heaths, the only real bountiful sources of forage from native wild plants are Greater Willow Herb, Thistles, Ragwort, Bindweed and Hogweed – though many of these are early this year and already going over. Along water courses Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Woundwort, Water Mint and the invasive Himalayan Balsam provide welcome relief but not everyone is in range of such localised sources of forage.

Purple Loosestrife is a tall plant of pond and lake margins highly attractive to bees in late summer

Late summer is one of the largest gaps in forage during the beekeeping season and ends with the brief glut of nectar provided by Ivy flowering in the autumn. Ivy is the last opportunity for our bees to stock up for winter and for wild pollinators a chance to fuel migrations south to warmer climates or for females to fatten up in readiness for hibernation.

Research conducted by our friends at the University of Sussex has demonstrated that honey bees fly furthest to find forage in late summer with record flights of 12 Km being undertaken in August. In the case of the Sussex research it was found that Honey Bees were flying 12km to visit garden in town centres where domestic gardens and public parks planted with bee friendly summer flowers were providing much of their forage needs. This goes to show just how important our urban gardens are for bees at this time of the year.

Sunflowers provide a valuable supply of pollen and nectar to bees in late summer

Many Garden plants that are great for bees in late summer originate from North America where they grow in prairie habitats and have evolved to flower late in the summer and autumn avoiding the extreme heat experienced earlier in the season. Some good examples include Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Solidago (Golden Rod) of which there are hundreds of varieties, Gallardia, Penstemons, Helianthus (annual and perennial sunflowers), Verbena – particularly the species bonariensis and hastata. Probably the most attractive of all the North American plants grown in gardens for bees are the Heleniums. Known as sneezeworts these late summer flowering perennials come in a variety of colours ranging from yellows, orange and intense reds. They are a magnet for bees and very easy to grow even on relatively poor soils. If Chelsea chopped in June they can provide a succession of blooms from Late July right through to the first frosts of autumn.

A skipper sips nectar from a Zinnia flower

Other plants attractive to bees include the South African Eucomis or ‘Pineapple lily’s’. These plants are bulbous sporting a rosette of fleshy green leaves in summer followed by spikes of pineapple looking flowers in late summer and autumn. They come in a variety of colours from Lime green to pink and purple, some with flecks of red on the petals and flower stalk. Bees relish the pollen and nectar they provide and they are very easy to grow being surprisingly hardy for such an exotic looking flower.

Other South African plants attractive to bees include Knifophia – the red hot pokers and Agapanthus. 

Knifophia have very long flower trumpets which have evolved to be pollinated by sunbirds. The flowers are hot shades of yellow, orange and red specifically to attract these birds which have very long bills and tongues equipped to pollinate the flowers. Whilst none of our native bees have the equipment needed to pollinate the blooms they can still extract the rich nectar from the flowers as it often drips and runs out of the flower trumpet and down the flower stem. Agapanthus are of limited usefulness to our native bees but the Common Carder Bumble Bee does seem to like them and I have often seen them foraging on Agapanthus in my own garden.

Wild Marjoram Oregano vulgare is one of the best bee plants you can plant in your garden and it will continue to flower throughout late summer providing nectar and pollen for hungry bees and butterflies.

From South and Central America Cosmos, Dahlias and Zinnia flowers are very attractive to bees providing nectar and pollen. The best varieties of course are the single open flowered types such as the Bishop series Dahlias. My person favourite is Bishop of Llandaff with its bright red petals and dark centre covered in bright yellow pollen.

Cosmos come from Central America and are beneficial to bees in late summer

From New Zealand one of the best garden plants this month and widely planted in amenity spaces are the shrubby veronicas we know as Hebe bushes. Right now Hebe ‘Great Orme’ is in flower on housing estates all across London and you can seldom walk past a specimen that’s not covered in pollinators. Later on nearer autumn the variety ‘Autumn Glory’ come into its own with its darker purple blooms that persist well beyond the first light frosts of autumn.

A hornet mimic hoverfly drinking nectar from Hebe 'Great Orme'

From China the Sedum spectabile ‘autumn joy’ is a staple of gardens across the country in September when its cheerful pink heads of flowers brighten up the garden attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies in abundance.

Another source of forage for bees in late summer comes in the form of overripe fruits. I have on several occasions witnessed honey bees sipping the sweet juices from bird damaged figs, Blackberries and plums on my allotment alongside wasps and flies. This is probably not a widespread habit among honey bees nor a substantial source of forage for them but it’s interesting to see how the bees do take advantage of the most unsuspecting resources during lean times.

Golden Rod Solidago is a useful forage source for many wild bees as well as the Honey Bee

This past week whilst walking down a south London Street I came across a tall Hibiscus bush in bloom that was covered in foraging Honey Bees. This was the first and only time I’ve ever seen a bee on a Hibiscus bush. I have a beautiful purple flowered variety planted in my garden (on the burial site of my long deceased parrot who had purple wings) which fails every year to attract any bees at all and elsewhere I’ve never seen any bees on Hibiscus. This bush I saw the bees foraging on was a white coloured variety with semi double blooms. The bees appeared to be collecting nectar but were getting a good dusting of pale pollen at the same time.

At this time of year I often see the bees working michaelmas daisy's or Asters but at the moment they seem to be unmoved by the Asters. Perhaps there is something else they are foraging on right now?

the Sussex Prairie Gardens
If you're looking for late summer bee friendly planting inspiration and your in the South East of England then I highly recommend a visit to the Sussex Prairie Gardens .
This garden is at its best in late summer and is full of inspirational plants, most of which are also attractive to bees. The garden includes a small plant nursery where specimen plants can be purchased. Well worth a visit.
By mark patterson 13 Dec, 2017
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week the European Commission will meet to hear evidence and discuss the consequences of Neonicotinoid pesticides usage on the natural environment.

Four years ago amid growing pressure and mounting evidence that neonics posed an unacceptable risk to bees and other insect pollinators the commission voted to implement a Europe wide ban on several  widely used neonics used on flowering crops. At the time there were political rallies and marches across the EU and here in London I was present at several of them. Dressed in my beekeeping suit and armed with a giant sunflower and Bee Puppet I was parading outside parliament in support of the ban. I was featured on several news programs that evening.
By mark patterson 13 Dec, 2017

As we progress through December the vast majority of the UK’s bees are well tucked away for winter. 

The majority of our bees are solitary and the most of these bees die in late summer leaving behind their offspring entombed deep inside underground burrows or imprisoned inside hollow plant stems or decaying wood. These bees will either overwinter as a pupae, pre-pupae or as a fully mature bee but they will not vacate their birth site until spring with the advent of warmer weather. 

This year many seasonal species of bee have been spotted on the wing and visiting garden flowers well into autumn. These Include Andrena scotica, Andrena haemorrhoa, Andrena nitida . These are spring species which have either been disturbed resulting in early emergence or they have been tricked into emergence by the deceptively warm temperatures in the Autumn. With the arrival of hard frost and prolonged snow these will have now perished and won’t be seen again until their proper time of emergence in early spring.

By mark patterson 03 Dec, 2017

Whilst enjoying your Cranberry sauce this Christmas spare a thought for the plight of this little chap, Bombus affinis - the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee.

An important pollinator of Vaccinium including Cranberry and Blue Berry, the Rusty Patch Bumble Bees form large colonies with up to 1000 workers per nest - far larger and longer lived than other bumble bee species meaning a single colony can facilitate more pollination than other species.

Cranberry and Blueberry like other members of the Vaccinium family are poorly pollinated by most bees including Honey Bees. Growers have to ship in lots of Honey Bee hives to saturate the crop in order to guarantee a good fruit set. Rusty Patch Bumble Bees along with other Bumble Bees and a handful of Solitary bees including the Cranberry Blunthorn Bee Melitta americana have evolved to perform buzz pollination and are important pollinators of these plants. These bees can sonically vibrate their bodies by revving their thorax muscles to shake pollen loose from the flowers. Flowers in the Vaccinium family are reluctant to give over their pollen grains to other types of bee as similarly to Solanums the pollen is held inside cylindrical apparatus which does not yield pollen freely.

Sadly the Rusty Patch Bumble bee is now facing extinction.

In the last decade its numbers have plummeted by 95%. Once one of the most common bees in the mid-west and Eastern United States and Canada its range has been reduced by an enormous 80% and is now found in just a few tiny pockets of habitat. European Bumble bee diseases such as Nosema bombi are thought to be the cause behind their decline – this and other European bee diseases were accidentally introduced to North America on imported Buff Tailed Bumble bees from Europe which were used to pollinate tomatoes in glasshouses. Being a naive host to European Bee pathogens the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee was quickly overwhelmed. Scientists believe that due to the speed with which this bee has declined the cause can only be due to an extotic pathogen. Even populations in mountain forests far away from pesticide treated crops have been badly affected.

In 2015 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended that the Rusty Patch Bumble bee be added to the Critically Endangered Red List. 

There is now an ongoing battle with the Trump Administration to see through protection measures necessary to ensure the species survival. Right Wing US politics have the potential to compromise conservation measures.

The decline of the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee serves as a reminder of the consequences of living in a global society filled with international trade and the movement of plants and animal materials around the world which peaks around Christmas time.

By mark patterson 03 Dec, 2017

The Christmas Wreath

Christmas wreaths predate Christmas and Christianity by several thousand years. Originally ancient Britain’s and other northern Europeans would have made loose hanging wreaths (basically just a bundle of greenery tied at the top and hung from the walls of their home) as a means to warn off winter spirits. It is only later with the rise of the Christian churches that Wreaths adopted a circular shape mirroring the crown of Christ. Our ancestors believed that evergreen plants were magical because unlike other plants they didn’t die back and shed their leaves in winter. Additionally many evergreen plants like Holly produce long lasting berries which were a symbol of life and fertility. Plants like Ivy who’s berries persist long into winter as well as being evergreen climb and entwine representing matrimony and togetherness. Strongly scented sprigs of conifer would have hidden the foul odours of winter (no fridges back then so perishable foods would not last long even when dried and salted and would produce a pungent smell)

Key items used in wreaths include Holly Ilex aquifolium which is pollinated by Honey bees and Andrena mining bees who’s short tongues are well equipped to manipulate the strongly scented but visually insignificant flowers. Ivy flowers are pollinated by a wide variety of insects and are a valued autumn forage source but has its own special pollinator the Ivy Mining Bee Colletes hedera which only collects pollen from Ivy and times its emergence to the opening of the Ivy flowers.

By mark patterson 29 Nov, 2017

The bee Apocalypse

I’m sure I am not the only person who’s fed up of hearing or reading about the looming bee apocalypse?

All too frequently mis-informed journalists are spitting out articles which help perpetuate the myth that our honey bees are facing imminent threat of extinction.

Just this week I’ve read 3 different articles which refer to the UK losing 1/3 of its honey bee colonies this past year and several others referring to 40% losses in the USA resulting in honey bees facing possible extinction. However none of them cite the source for the information which raises the question of the validity of their statements. So where is the evidence?

I’m also getting quite fed up with the fictitious quote supposedly made by Einstein being quoted which wrongly says “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” The fact is there is absolutely no evidence that Einstein ever made this statement, and even if he did it’s not true – whilst true without bees we would see a reduction in pollination services leading to higher food prices and a reduction in food crops, we would still have other pollinators and the many foods which do not require insect pollination. Bees particularly pollinate one or more cultivars of over 66% of the world's crop species and contribute to one third of the food we eat. So food would be more scarce and more expensive but not gone.

The facts are Honey bee numbers are actually on the increase globally!

In the UK hive numbers have increased as more and more amateurs take up beekeeping. Membership of the British Beekeepers Association has risen from 8,500 in 2008 to over 25,000 in 2017 and it continues to climb. In Cities like London numbers of honey bee hives have more than doubled in the past decade to over 5,100 hives in 2017 according to the National Bee Unit. Nationally colony numbers have grown to over 147,000 hives in England and Wales.

Meanwhile in the USA the US Department for Agriculture has stated that hive numbers in 2017 are the highest they have been in over 20 years as resourceful beekeepers maintain numbers despite severe winter loses in some years.

In New Zealand numbers of hives have increased by 30% to meet rising demand for Manuka honey. 30 years ago New Zealand’s beekeepers struggled to give Manuka honey away before it was discovered to have high antibacterial properties. The situation is similar in China and across Europe.

Honey bee populations are stable for now and out of any immediate danger (if they were ever in any immediate danger at all). Whilst our honey bees and their keepers still face a difficult future dealing with Varroa mites and other exotic pests they are in no way under any threat of extinction or apocalyptic die offs and sensational journalists perpetuating the myth are just unhelpful and counter productive.

The situation for Many of Europe’s trees on the other hand is looking very bleak.

The tree apocalypse

What not enough people are not talking about is the future of the UK’s trees.

In the 1970’s Dutch Elm Disease spread throughout the UK decimating the nations magnificent Elm Trees. Once among our largest and grandest trees Elms have been reduced to a scattering of immature specimens which seldom reach full maturity before they succumb to Elm Disease.

In recent years Chalara otherwise known as Ash Die Back caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus has been spreading rapidly through the UK’s Ash trees.

Experts predict that within a generation the native Ash tree will be no more. An article published last year tiled ‘ashes to ashes’ sums up the predicted fate of our native Ash trees perfectly. Even if a handful of Ash trees develop a resistance to Chalara they are still facing doom and gloom from the exotic beetle pest the Emerald Ash Borer. The beetle native to Asia was accidentally introduced to North America probably in the 1990’s and has decimated Ash trees wherever it becomes established. Whilst not in the UK yet experts believe it’s only a matter of time before the pest arrives here.

Ash is an important broadleaf tree in the UK, the second most commonly planted genus, and makes up nearly 15% of all broad-leaved woodlands. The character of the British countryside would be changed forever should Ash disappear from the landscape. To prevent the spread of Ash Die Back the species is currently under a movement ban with no nurseries or growers allowed to stock or sell the plant.

Another iconic British tree under imminent threat is our Native Oak Quercus robur. In recent years a deadly disease known as sudden Oak Die back caused by a fungus like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum has been spreading through Oak woodlands of Southern England. The pathogen causes bleeding cankers on the trunk, necrotic stem lesions, leaf blackening, branch die back and eventually complete de-foliation of the tree resulting in its death.

Phytopthora is not limited to Oaks. As well as all Quercus species the disease also effects Rhododendron, Viburnums and Camelia’s widely grown in parks and gardens throughout the UK.

In addition to Phytopthora Oaks are also under attack from the invasive Oak Processionary Moth. The pest is now entrenched in parks and woodlands in South West London and continues to spread. The situation has meant that all movements of Oak trees and other high risk Phytopthora hosts now require plant pass porting and the notification of the Governments Plant Health Unit.

Other diseases effecting UK trees include the Sweet Chestnut Blight Cryphonectria parasitica and Xanthomonas arboricola pruni   - a pathogen which causes bacterial leaf shotting and stem cankers on Prunus species. These pathogens are currently found in several European Countries and have been intercepted on a number of occasions on imported plants recently arrived in the UK.

One of the more frightening pathogens not yet found in the UK but currently infecting parts of France, Italy and Spain is Xylella  fastidiosa. This highly contagious bacterial infection has been classified as one of the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. The bacteria is spread by sap sucking insects such as leaf hoppers feeding on host plants and spreading the bacterial spores. The bacteria has an ever growing list of host plant species but currently extends to over 150 plant genera including Oak, Elm, most UK broadleaf trees,  Citrus, Lavender and herbaceous plants. As well as horticulture, forestry and natural habitats Xylella has the potential to devastate UK agriculture crops worth over £24 Billion annually. 

Xylella is subject to EU emergency measures and in October 2017 the European Commission approved increased protection against the risk of Xylella spreading.
The new measures include strengthened movement requirements on high-risk plants, and require quicker responses to suspected findings of the disease.
If an outbreak were to occur in the UK the response could mean the destruction of all host plant material within a 5km radius of the outbreak potentially leading to loss of precious natural habitats, Farmland laid to ruin and horticultural businesses suspended. Entire rural communities reliant on those industries could be lost.

The consequences are frightening. It’s the stuff of science fiction.

There are currently dozens of statutory notifiable plants pests and pathogens spreading through Europe which could spell disaster for UK trees should they become established here.

So far this blog has focused mostly on pathogens but next we come to one of the most serious insect pests to invade the UK – The Asian Longhorn Beetle Anoplophora glabripennis . This impressive beastie (think stag beetle size with very long antenna) lays its eggs on broad leaf trees where its larva burrow into the woody material leaving behind a swiss cheese like honey comb of tunnels which weakens the tree and eventually leads to its death.

The beetles were found in 2012 in Paddock Wood near Maidestone in Kent and the entire area is now under close surveillance to try and prevent its spread. If this serious pest were to become widely established in the UK it could be the final nail in the coffin for our besieged native trees.

So whilst our Honey bees are doing fine for the time being were not having nearly as much discussion as we should be about the threats to the nation’s trees and woodlands which are facing numerous threats on all sides.

Forget the bee apocalypse it’s the impending tree apocalypse that we need to be concerned about.

More information on threats to the UK’s trees can be found on the Forestry Commission and governments Plant Health Agency websites.

By mark patterson 25 Nov, 2017
On my recent trip to the US I got to spend some time catching up with beekeeping friends, partake in a bit of bee keeping and made time to visit some great parks and wilderness spots where I was able to spot lots of wild bees. Here are some of my photos.

There are around 4000 species of Bee in the USA and no comprehensive key or guide to identifying them all. In addition many are impossible to separate to species level in the field so many of these bees are identified to genus level only.
By mark patterson 15 Oct, 2017

Whilst in Atlanta I attended the Metro Atlanta Beekeeping Associations monthly meeting and lecture.  I have a few friends there among the association and whenever I come to town I get invited to attend their meetings, meet their members and exchange beekeeping experiences.  

Their October guest lecturer was the internationally known Dr Keith Delaplane MBE from University Georgia. See his profile here:

Before the meeting my friend Cindy, former president of the association introduced me to Keith who has previously worked on bee research projects in the Uk with current colleagues of mine at FERA/DEFRA. We had a brief chat about the work Keith participated in and my colleagues he'd had the pleasure of working with.

As the room packed out with around 50 people attending Dr Delaplane began to gave his talk on his latest research project which has just been funded by the United States Department for Agriculture. 

He started off by explaining some of the background of honey bee social evolution and Honey Bee reproductive strategy and how having a single queen devoted to reproduction within the colony brings benefits to the hive. He went on to explain that having highly promiscuous queens which practice polyandry also brings benefits through the diverse genetic make-up of the colony which enables the colony to brave environmental stressors, be more disease resistant and produce more honey.

His latest project will involve the artificial insemination of a large number of queen bees from various stocks. These queens will be inseminated in 3 groups. One group will be given the sperm of just 10 drones, another group the sperm of 30 drones and the last group the semen of 60 drones. The researchers will then compare the colonies performances against varroa resistant hygiene, Productivity, disease etc. Their hypothesis is that instrumentally inseminated queens with a more diverse package of sperm will produce more productive colonies.

At this point he pointed out that the queens receiving sperm from 60 drones will not burst with semen because they are too full! The sperm from multiple drones is blended together then the same amount of the mixture given to each queen. Apparently he’s been asked if queens burst if they are full on several occasions.

Dr Delaplane explained that within each colony there exists sisterhoods made up of workers belonging to the same drone father. These different sisterhoods made up of super sisters often display a preference or exceptional ability at certain tasks within the hives. Some may be better at foraging, others better at producing wax or comb construction, whilst others may be better at brood rearing and others may be more inclined to swarm. Having a diverse workforce means you have more sisterhoods with task specialisms  that are well equipped to excel at a wide  range of tasks within the colony therefore the colony can survive and thrive easier.

This is the exact opposite of what happens in most bee breeding programs when beekeepers are selecting a small number of drones to inseminate queens as they are looking for a specific set of desired traits. Dr Delaplane believes that rather than selecting for specific traits we should be aiming for queens which have slept around allot and produce a diverse workforce which in itself produces better bees.

He also explained that among the sisterhoods in the hive there are some bloodlines which are royalty and do not make good workers. These bees when they are larva emit a pheromone which screams out to the nurse bees ‘make me a queen’ and in the event the the colony needs to make an emergency queen cell its these larva which are chosen over others as preferential queens because they are genetically programed to be better queens but poorer workers. As workers these bloodlines are basically social parasites and do little to no work in the colony. This was the first I had heard of royal bloodlines in the Honey Bee and had always thought queens were chosen at random or that the bees somehow can tell which larva are fittest and chose them.

It had for a long time been widely hypothesised that sisterhoods would prefer a supersister to raise as the next queen as that super sister queen would share more DNA with her sisters but this has turned out to be one of the biggest scientific flops of the 20th century with over 100 studies failing to prove this is what happens.

 So it turns out some queens are born to be queens – but may never become one and others which are not ‘born to be queens’ just happen to get laid in a play cup and become a queen anyway without any particular desire or choice to become one.

Dr Delaplane thinks his new research project could challenge established practices by bee breeders and queen producers  forcing them to re-think the trend of selecting a narrow range of desirable traits which produces genetically limited stock.

My own preference for raising new queens is the miller method or I use a special frame inside the parent colony which then snaps apart into several smaller frames fitting into a mini mating hive populated with nurse bees and I leave the bees to decide which of the larva they want to raise into queens. Its less work than grafting and providing you supply the nuc with a frame consisting plenty of eggs or very small newly hatched larva for the bees to choose from they have plenty of time to feed the larva royal jelly and make good queens.

I find that this method works for me better than grafting or using the jenta cup system which I have also experimented with. I get great queens using this method and I think my results coincide with Dr Delaplanes findings thus far.

By mark patterson 07 Aug, 2017

Late summer for the bees is one of the most desperate times of the year when they can struggle the most to find enough food to eat. Many people find this fact difficult to believe as the weather is often hot and sunny and presumably great for the bees but it is in fact often one of the leanest times for the busy insects. At this time of year colonies are large with many mouths to feed and as the beekeeper has removed the honey crop the flowers are also diminishing in abundance meaning the bees can struggle to replace honey which has been taken off. For this reason it’s crucial not to be over greedy and take all the honey leaving the bees with no stores for themselves.

Come late summer the majority of our nectar rich native wild plants have ceased flowering and gone to seed, especially woodland and meadow flowers whose flowering period is in rhythm with the closing of the woodland canopy and cutting of meadows for hay. Bramble and all our native trees have also long since finished flowering and are now sporting fruits and seeds leaving little for the bees.

Away from Heather moorland and Heaths, the only real bountiful sources of forage from native wild plants are Greater Willow Herb, Thistles, Ragwort, Bindweed and Hogweed – though many of these are early this year and already going over. Along water courses Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Woundwort, Water Mint and the invasive Himalayan Balsam provide welcome relief but not everyone is in range of such localised sources of forage.

By mark patterson 16 Jun, 2017

Early summer, June in particular is a time of the year which brings uncertainty for many a beekeeper, and for those in rural areas in particular. June is the beginning of the summer season when the spring flowering plants and trees shed their blooms having been pollinated and now begin to form seeds but the main flow of summer flowering blooms has yet to begin. Beekeepers refer to this period of change as the June Gap.

At this time of year Honey bee colonies are approaching their peak in worker population in readiness for the summer flow, Queens are laying at a prolific rate and colonies have many larva to feed. A reduction in incoming nectar and pollen as the spring flowers cease but the summer flowers are yet to peak can leave large colonies struggling to feed themselves or fill supers with surplus honey for the beekeeper.

By mark patterson 09 Apr, 2017

Following a very mild March the forage this season appears to be well advanced of recent springs, even in comparison to last year’s very mild winter and warm start to the year. 2017 has started cold and chilly but in late March this has warmed up considerably. So much so that I experienced my first attempt at a swarm during the last week of March and already the new queens have emerged and unbelievably appear to have been mated and are laying in the first week of April!!!

During the first week of April many of our true heralds of spring had already begun to flower across the city. Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus an evergreen shrub who’s flowers are a useful source of spring forage have been out in bloom since mid-March 2-3 weeks earlier than last year. Whilst manning the LBKA stall at Ascot race course on the 2nd April I saw many Andrena Mining bees, Honey bees, Bumble bees, Hoverflies, Queen wasps and Queen Hornet nectaring on the blooms of these tall shrubs growing around the car park.

Damson, Plum, Gage, and other stone fruits have largely flowered and gone over already as have crocus, daffodils and snow drops. My flowering currant normally just blooming now is almost over already meanwhile Blue Bells are coming into flower. 

Blue bells may be visited by Honey bees and can produce a honey crop but they are also popular with some of the longer tongued solitary bees and Garden Bumble Bee Bombus hortorum . Most of the Blue Bells found growing in our gardens and sadly in many of our wilder places are the larger invasive Spanish Blue Bell Hycinthoides hispanica and not the native English Blue Bell Hycinthoides non-scripta . You can tell the two species apart by the way that the individual bells hang on the flower stalk. In English Blue bell the bells all hang on the same side but in the Spanish Blue Bell they hang at different angles all around the stalk. They also have green to blue pollen whilst English Blue Bells have a creamy coloured Pollen. Blue Bells frequently hybridise and these offspring can be difficult to differentiate.

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