Beautiful Beekeeping – Observation Hives

An observation hive is one with glass or clear plastic sides so the bees can be observed. These hives are both educational and beautiful.

Observation Hive

Observation Hive

Having one, in addition to your hives, gives you an idea what is happening outside in the other hives. You can see if pollen is coming in, if nectar is coming in, and if robbing is happening. You can watch them raise a queen. Watch how the hive acts while the queen is mating, watch them swarm. You can count days or hours on capping times. You will get to see waggle dances, and “get it off me” dances. You get to hear what the bees sound like when they are queenless, when they are being robbed, and when the queen is emerging.

Recently, beautiful observation hives were featured on the US television show Elementary about a modern day Sherlock Holmes. The Arthur Conan Doyle character of Sherlock Holmes was in fact a Victorian beekeeper, which makes the show all the more entertaining!


Beautiful Beekeeping – Beautiful Beehives Of The Day – Simple But Elegant

I’ve posted a lot of pictures of decorated hives, but I love the look of simple white hives too, especially when they’re a beautiful part of the landscape.

I think these are especially elegant.

Exquisite white National-style hives in the UK

Exquisite white National-style hives in the UK

My own White Hive surrounded by Nepeta and David Austin roses

My own White Hive surrounded by Nepeta and David Austin roses

Lovely placement

Lovely placement

Hive and white dogwood tree

Hive and white dogwood tree

My friend Eric's new white hives

My friend Eric’s new white hives

Poetry Month – “Telling The Bees”

Until the early 20th century, beekeeping was almost exclusively a family affair.  It was common for households to keep at least two or three hives, and bees were considered valuable members of the family.

It was a common belief that bees could understand what was said and done around them, and they were often treated as having human emotions. As a result, families were careful to inform the bees of important  family events such as marriages, births and deaths. This custom became known as  ”telling the bees.”

“Telling the bees” was done in various ways,  including tapping the hive with a key, whispering the news to the bees, and leaving an appropriate gift – a piece of wedding cake or some other refreshment – at the entrance of the hive. It was also customary to drape the hives with black crepe or wool.

It was feared that if the bees were not properly informed, they would die or desert the family. This custom was so prevalent that it was celebrated in 19th century literature and art.

British artist Charles Napier Hemy painted the poignant Telling The Bees.

Telling the Bees

American Transcendentalist poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem of the same name.

Telling The Bees

Here is the place; right over the hill
Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.

There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
And the poplars tall;
And the barn’s brown length, and the cattle-yard,
And the white horns tossing above the wall.

There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o’errun,
Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.

A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,
Heavy and slow;
And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,
And the same brook sings of a year ago.

There ‘s the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;
And the June sun warm
Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,
Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.

I mind me how with a lover’s care
From my Sunday coat
I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,
And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.

Since we parted, a month had passed,–
To love, a year;
Down through the beeches I looked at last
On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.

I can see it all now,–the slantwise rain
Of light through the leaves,
The sundown’s blaze on her window-pane,
The bloom of her roses under the eaves.

Just the same as a month before,–
The house and the trees,
The barn’s brown gable, the vine by the door,–
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

Then I said to myself, “My Mary weeps
For the dead to-day:
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
The fret and the pain of his age away.”

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

And the song she was singing ever since
In my ear sounds on:–
“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

Many modern beekeepers will understand their ancestors’ desire to treat their winged charges with love and respect.  I know I talk to my bees. They seem to like it.

Arrivederci, Italian Bees…

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive e...

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must have had a premonition when I posted about “bee on bee” crime.  I wuz robbed!!

I’m leaving town this afternoon for the weekend, and I went out to check the hives.  My Buckies were flying wildly, but my Italians were strangely silent. Worse than silent. Nowhere to be seen.

Fearing the worst, I opened the hive.  It had been stripped clean of honey and brood.  The only things left were a few sniggering wax moth larvae.  They and the denuded frames went straight into the dumpster.


My Italian bees had always seemed a bit too fragile and beautiful for their own good. I didn’t have to smoke them before inspections. They followed me around while I gardened, gentle and curious.

In retrospect, what I thought was aggressive grooming behavior at the entrance to their hive was actually my Buckies subduing their unwelcome adopted siblings. Even though the two hives were nowhere near each other, apparently the Buckies could sense the competition, and were having none of it.

I will have to revise my thinking on robbing situations. They don’t all look like “The Attack of the Killer Bees From Outer Space.”

No, this one at worst looked like “bearding” due to heat. It was a nearly bloodless coup. It probably started the day I installed the package of Italians and fed them that tasty sugar syrup.

So what now?  I called the nearest breeder, but they’re out of packages for the season.

But my Buckie hive is huge!

So I’m going to try an even split.  My first ever!!  If my Buckies don’t want competition, let’s see how they do with creating a second hive by themselves.

More later…


Preventing “Bee On Bee” Crime – The Robbing Situation

I’ve been keeping bees for almost seven years now, and for the most part I’ve had good luck.  My two hives are strong and disease-free, and one has successfully requeened itself.

One Of My Healthy Hives

I’m sure my success is due to where I live and the quality of bees I’ve purchased rather than any particular skill on my part.  I’m the only beekeeper for miles, and my neighbors are avid gardeners.  I’ve ordered my bees from reliable suppliers with good reputations in the industry.

I have had one disaster though. I don’t like to think about it because it was totally my fault.  And I lost an entire colony in less than three days.

It happened in September of my second year of beekeeping.  My colony of Buckfast bees was healthy and strong, and had just produced a bumper crop of honey.

Being a novice, I felt guilty about taking their honey and decided to feed them some sugar syrup.  Since nectar was still flowing, the bees didn’t want any of it.  After a week or so, I removed the feeder and dumped the syrup next to the hive.

That was a huge mistake. You should never dispose of syrup near the hive, or even leave uncovered syrup or honey anywhere close to it.  Within hours, my hive was under major attack from every wasp, bee and honey-loving insect for miles.

A Robbery In Progress

It looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  I tried everything to stop it, including covering my hive with a wet sheet. It was too little, too late.

The Wet Sheet Method Of Stopping The Crime

I tried to save the remaining bees, but ultimately they were decimated.  The hive was even invaded by wax moths.  I destroyed the frames and let the supers freeze outside the next winter.  I felt guilty and depressed.

The next year I started fresh with a new package, and haven’t had a major disaster since. But I know the same thing could happen again if I’m not careful.

That incident convinced me that beekeepers underestimate the threat of robbing insects to the existence of their hives.

What can we do to reduce this threat?

First and foremost, NEVER leave uncovered syrup or honey near your hives, even for a minute.  Once a robbing situation begins, it’s very difficult to stop.

Second, protecting your bees from wasps, wax moths, and robber bees begins with a strong colony that can defend itself. Follow good beekeeping practices.

Third, be vigilant. If you see signs of wasps or other robbing insects at the entrance of your hives, use an entrance reducer at the smallest opening, particularly if the colony is small.  If a robbing frenzy has already started, close up the hive and/or use a wet sheet to discourage the intruders. Pray for it to stop!!

I hope this helps you prevent “bee on bee” crime in your neighborhood!!

Are There Too Many Bees In London? – Comments From Angela Woods, Secretary of the London Beekeepers’ Association

I was surprised and pleased to receive comments from Angela Woods, Secretary of the London Beekeepers’ Association, on my recent posts concerning this important issue.  I’ve set forth her comments below in their entirety.

Angela Woods, Secretary of the London Beekeepers’ Association

Many thanks to Ms. Woods for providing us with additional information on a subject which will likely become controversial in other urban areas.

This is an interesting perspective on the current thinking of experts such as the LBKA, University of Sussex research fellows and the Friends of the Earth who are behind the Bee Cause campaign. Data suggests that 1 sq km of forage can sustain about 5 colonies. Consider that only 25% of that space in London is green and then how much within that is planted in a way that is beneficial to bees. Within a 10 sq km area of my apiary in NW5 which is fifteen minutes from Oxford Circus the NBU has 466 apiaries listed. There will be at least two or three hives at each so that totals a possible 1398 colonies. Only 75% of people register their hives so you can increase this figure by 25% = 1747 hives which equals 174 hives per sq km which is way, way higher than the 5 we think can be sustained. Steve Bebow is right that the weather has played its part this year but the underlying trend, regardless of weather, is that honey yields are decreasing below the level that bees need to get themselves through the winter … an all time low in 2010 of 31lbs per hive across the SE and bees need 35 lbs just to survive the cold months. NBU Bee Inspector’s have been saying for some years now that they think there are too many bees in London. Steve’s reaction is emotional rather than factual and very common amongst bee keepers who make a living from keeping bees for corporates. “Saving bees” does not necessarily mean keeping bees and those that choose to do so will get the support of the LBKA since we have a strong ethos of responsible bee keeping. The LBKA has a message of education, encouraging more forage and not keeping bees on rooftops higher than a tree. They have not evolved to live at heights unnatural to them. The tide may be turning though as corporates begin to understand that piling more bees into Central London may be contributing to the demise of the bee and other pollinating insects who suffer in the competition for nectar and pollen.

London Tonight reported on this back in April which you can view here

Angela Woods
LBKA Secretary

Are There Too Many Bees In London?

It’s been a tough year for bees in the UK.

The rain, wind and cold have discouraged them from foraging for pollen and nectar. They’ve been forced to rely on stores and/or artificial feeding by their beekeepers.

The National Bee Unit (NBU) recently issued a starvation risk and urged UK beekeepers to check their colonies for food supplies:

With the continued spell of poor weather in many areas of the UK, reports are coming in from Regional and Seasonal Bee Inspectors of starving bee colonies, where the beekeeper is not aware that the bees are severely short of food, or the colony(s) have already starved to death.

Perhaps it was inevitable the question would emerge — Are there too many urban beekeepers in London?

Angela Woods, Secretary of the London Beekeepers Association, thinks so.

In a June 15 interview with the Evening Standard, she stated:

 There is simply not enough forage to go around.

A square kilometre of forage is enough to sustain five colonies. If you take a square kilometre around the Royal Festival Hall, there are now 156 registered colonies while there are likely to be many more which are unregistered.

It has almost got out of control in London. It has become fashionable to have bees, partly I think because of the recession. People are going back to nature and there is a celebrity aspect to it as well.

Ms. Woods says there is also concern about a growing trend for businesses to site hives on high rooftops.  She said ideally hives should not be higher than a two-storey house, otherwise bees spend too much energy flying up and down to the hives.

This argument isn’t new. In his recent book, The Urban Beekeeper, professional beekeeper Steve Benbow reports encountering these concerns when he moved his bees from Shropshire to London in 2009:

The increase in urban beekeeping over recent years has forced local bee associations to stir themselves. After an initial panic over the amount of available forage, I’m glad to see they now appear to be working together with local councils to ensure that there is a wider range of nectar-yielding plants in the city.

Unfortunately, it appears the panic is back.

What’s the answer?  There’s no question that bees are starving this year, but are urban beekeepers to blame?

What do you think?