Thursday, 23 December 2010

Pressing Subject

I've spent the last few days sorting out the pressings i collected in the summer at YSP. I gathered many plants that bees were feeding on and am now mounting them onto paper, labelling and stamping the sheets.

To make sure none of them have any infestations all the pressing have been put into the deep freezer for 10 days and they don't seem to have been affected by it (apart from now having no bugs / mites on them).

top image: Bitter Vetch Lathyrus linifolius
middle image: Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis
bottom image: stamp and label

Monday, 20 December 2010

Learning to Relax

In July while looking for bees around YSP me and Brian, the ecologist, collected some solitary bees so we could ID them later. They are now pinned into a box, but i want to use the bees to make some screen prints for the exhibition and they aren't set in a perfect pose. At first i thought i might have to dissect them, take images of the different parts and put them back together with a bit of photoshop magic, but it was suggested i could relax each of the specimens instead and reset them.

Adam, the entomologist, sent me the instructions for making a relaxing jar so a couple of weeks ago i had my first go - with some dead honey bees as a test run.

To make a relaxing jar you will need:

A wide mouth glass jar with a screw on lid
Some absorbent material (news paper, sand or cotton)

Some blotting paper

Ethyl acetate (found in some nail polish removers)

Place the absorbent material in the bottom of the jar and moisten with water and add a drop or two if ethyl acetate. Cut out a disc of blotting paper to fit tightly inside the jar and sits on top of the absorbent material. Place the insect on the blotting paper and close the jar tightly. Let it sit for about 2-3 days, at high humidity. After that period, if the insects are flexible, mount them immediately. If the specimens are still too stiff, keep them in the relaxing jar longer, checking them everyday for signs of mold.

I went and bought some nail varnish remover and made my relaxing jar and put a couple of bees in. Then put the jar in the airing cupboard. I checked on them a few times eager to see if my bees were all floppy and pliable, but after about 3 days i forgot to check...

So, here are my first relaxed bees - a bit of a moldy disaster, having spent over a week in our airing cupboard.
I'm glad i didn't try it with my solitary bees. I'll keep trying on other bees in the next few days to get better at it before attempting it with the solitary bees.

Monday, 13 December 2010


Last week it was the final session of the beekeeping course i've been attending here in Preston.

It was so much fun going to the lessons - Viki, our fabulous tutor, knows masses about keeping bees, bee anatomy, life cycles, pests and disease management, making honey and everything to do with honeybees. I really enjoyed meeting everyone else too - our only connection being the desire to learn more about bees.

I've been assigned a 'bee buddy' called Chris who lives near me and will help with any questions when I set bee hives up - which i'm not going to do, as it goes. Chris has still offered to show me her hives and how she manages her colonies. She has top bar hives that i've never seen before so that will be fascinating.

I loved the class and will miss my Thursday night outings to the church hall.
Above is the certificate i was given to prove i turned up and listened.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bee News

It's snowing here in Preston today - I wonder how the bees are at the YSP hives in all this snow?

I had an email yesterday from a friend in USA sending a link to an article in The New York Times, and then this morning another friend in Toronto sent a link to the same article:

I've spent the last week doing bee maps and finishing the screen prints of the YSP landscape - i'll bring the prints home next week to start to overlay impressions of the blue and yellow meadows.

I also read and finished Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede - the concept is far better than the book itself and was wildly overpriced at 1p on Amazon. I'm not keen on books that state facts but never reference the source (wikipedia i reckon).

Saturday, 20 November 2010


I've spent a while now developing / designing the maps of YSP showing all my bee records for the summer. I've had to go back through my note book and decipher my writing, which isn't neat at the best of times. When i was out surveying YSP looking for bees I would take with me a net to catch the bees; a small glass tube to look at them; camera; magnifying lens; ID book; specimen jars; bottle of water; notebook and pens (and various other tat). I tried to record all the species I found and make a note of location and also what plants they were feeding on. But, now i'm going back through my notebook i'm having to remember the code i used.

I'm also still attending the BBKA beekeeping course. I missed one on the beekeeping year, but the last two sessions have been on queens and swarming and have been really interesting. The more i go though, i know i'll not become a beekeeper myself.

Friday, 12 November 2010


I've started in the print rooms at Uclan. I'm printing views of Yorkshire Sculpture Park in b&w so i can overlay an impression of how the blue and yellow meadows could look.
So, with the help of Magda i did some test prints the other day to try grades of colour and also try out different sizes of dots in the print. The different tests are now on my wall so i can choose which to go with.

On another note, i just finished a wonderful book about insects Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles. One of the chapters Language is about the work of Karl von Frisch and his life-long research about bees. I was recommended the book by a friend Anny and it was one of the most fascinating books i've read for ages - chapters on Chinese cricket fighting, crush fetishists, the traditions of beetle selling and collecting in Japan - i loved this book.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sound Links

For all of last week i was transcribing bee sound recordings on to paper. I collected the recordings over the summer at the YSP hives. I've loved drawing all week - over layering lines and lines of noise.

I got an email from my friend David today with a link to a website about bee recordings:
Plus, i've been listening to extracts from the recordings of sound artist Francisco Lopez - absolutely amazing, intense sounds. It's been mentioned that he has used the recordings of bees, although i'm yet to find the exact work. You can listen to extracts of his work in the discography section of his website:

Also - please read this little story about a Mellotron (a keyboard instrument manufactured in the 60s and 70s that uses pre-recorded tape as its sound source) and the use of recordings of bumblebees by Gaby Stenberg.
then watch this video of someone playing the sounds:

Monday, 1 November 2010

New Phase

I'm into a new phase of the Bee Project - with there being no bees around for the winter (apart from a few honey bees feeding on the ivy on occasional sunny days).

I'm not based at YSP any more and am now spending all my time sifting through all the research, developing ideas and trying stuff out ready for the exhibition in April next year.

I am also still attending beekeeping classes in a church hall at the other side of the city - the electric sockets weren't working in the last session so our teacher couldn't show us her powerpoint presentation and instead had to resort to telling us about the history of beekeeping through the medium of dance. It was enthralling. And the karate class were on half term so i could concentrate for the whole 2 hours.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Test Plots

Last week I went to YSP to scatter the seeds onto the 2 test meadow plots behind the Garden Gallery.

When I first proposed the 2 big meadows for the site back in July, it was suggested that we might do test plots so we could try it all out on a smaller scale and learn and modify anything before planting the 2 bigger meadows.

As it goes, for various reasons (which i will explain some other time) it's now become apparent that although YSP is 500 acres in size there isn't any areas that 2 x one acre meadows can go.

For a while i wondered what the point of test plots would be knowing we were never going to achieve the final vision. But with time to think (and some coaxing) I decided it was worth the effort if only to point out the absurdity of policy, funding and management of land and what effect that can have when trying, in this instance, to plant 2 meadows for bees. What you want and need is very different from what you can have.

The day of seeding the plots was beautiful and sunny. Claire, who works in the park, showed me the technique of how to scatter seeds (it's trickier than you'd think!) and Tom and me raked each plot when finished. Now we have to wait and see what comes up next year...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Bee Club

Thursday night is Bee Club night - and i know i'm breaking the rules of Bee Club when i write about it on the blog*, but i must say i am really enjoying learning so much about beekeeping.

All us novices test the teacher time and time again with loads of questions such as can a honeybee mate with a bumblebee (no kidding) and she always tells us the many answers (no, in that instance).
I'm still finding the karate club activities in the next room a little distracting, so i think i missed the bit about how to look out for when a queen is getting ready to swarm, but i expect it'll be covered again in one of the next lessons.

The next session is in the back of the church, so unless the karate class are practising in the aisle i think i might have a better chance of concentrating.

* Rules of Bee Club:

1 You do not talk about Bee Club

2 You DO NOT talk about Bee Club

3 When someone says stop, or goes limp, even if he's just faking it the Bee Club is over

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Honey Shot

I was back at YSP this week after some time away and Ivor came to deliver the honey that our hives have produced. I've been so excited waiting for the honey. He said that the bees have produced about 25 jars and for two new colonies that's not too bad. The mixed summer weather didn't help too much either.

It smells and tastes of all the flowers of the park: rosebay, lavender, lime and bramble all mixed together. It is a pale, slightly cloudy golden colour.

I couldn't wait to get home and try it - dipping crusty bread in and getting sticky fingers. Yummy, yum.

I've drizzled it onto almost every meal since (feel a bit sick now).

Monday, 11 October 2010

Beekeeping Course

I've signed on to a British Beekeepers Association Introduction to Beekeeping course here in Preston and it was the first session at the end of last week. It was two hours and the course leader, Viki Cuthbertson, told us masses of stuff about bees.

There are about 15 of us on the course and we're all keen to learn more (i seem to be the only one to confess that i will probably never keep bees - only from seeing what a responsibility and commitment it is during the YSP project). Everyone else either has a garden or allotment big enough to accommodate hives.

We did a quiz at the end of the session to see who had been listening and although there was a time during the evening when the grunting of the karate class in the next room was a bit distracting - we all seemed to do quite well (self marking).

Can't wait for the next session.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

USA News Link

I just got an email from a friend Anny, who lives in America. She sent a link to an article In The New York Times about research into what is killing honeybees in USA.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In The News

Bee are in the news today:

So, things are being done for the rare bumblebees of UK (with reference to the bbc article please see points 1 and 2 in blog entry below 'Proposal')


So, I've spent the spring and summer at Yorkshire Sculpture Park researching the subject of bees. In that time i've been constantly thinking of how to translate all the information gathered and reveal my findings.

YSP is 500 acres in size - mainly grazed areas, with woodland around the lake and some arable. The house has virtually no formal planting schemes anymore - but there is a couple of boarders near the YSP info centre planted with shrubs. Being on the site all spring and summer made me realise that habitat for bees is very scarce and usually by coincidence (i.e nothing is deliberately planted with wildlife in mind). The size of YSP could accommodate a wider range of habitats that are highly valuable to bees (and therefor for other insects, butterflies and moths, birds and small mammals etc too) and also to the visiting public who come to experience and enjoy the surroundings.

With everything i found during the research i decided to propose a planting scheme that will redress this unbalance within the YSP landscape and that will have a visual impact on the site.

So, my idea for the future of the Bee Project is that two meadows, each an acre in size, will be planted on the YSP grounds. One will be made up entirely of yellow flowering plants and the other entirely of blue flowering plants. The two meadows will be an acre each to help make a difference to the local populations of bumblebees, solitary bees and also to honey bees in the area.

Almost every inch of land in UK has a financial value and this limits the usage that a landowner is prepared to manage it for. Why would you plant an area with wild flowers for bees with no financial gain when you can rent the land out for grazing or plant consumable crops and earn money?

To set land aside purely for the benefit of wildlife, a landowner would have to be one of the following:

1) a conservation charity / organisation supported by donations / funds to cover the costs

2) paid by someone else (usually the government) for the loss of value

3) rich with lots of land and lots of money and a passion for wildlife (possibly only Prince Charles fits into this category)

4) brave / bonkers (see above)

We are all aware of the threat to bees from the loss of habitat, but who is prepared to do anything about it?

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Ivor the bee keeper wasn't able to make it the last time I was at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I miss him being around to ask loads of questions (usually the same ones every time) and I always feel more confident with the bees when he's there. I noticed the entrance of the hives had new guards on them so i emailed Ivor to ask their use. He replied saying that they were put on to limit the entrance size and to help the bees defend against wasps.

While i was there I did notice masses of dead wasps on the ground around the entrance of the hives - so the bees are defending themselves ok. I collected all the dead wasps for the collection - they are in a box - it really stinks.

In his email he also mentioned he'd taken some honey off and also started feeding the bees for winter. I can't wait to try the honey - the taste of YSP.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Andrena subopaca

I'm finding the subject of solitary bees quite tricky - there is over 200 species in UK and trying to find them has been far more complicated than looking for the distinct bumblebees or familiar honey bees.

Looking for and catching solitary bees in summer with Brian (the ecologist) revealed that their behaviour and how they look is entirely different from what i was expecting.

Here is one of the bees we caught in summer: Andrena subopaca. It's a common small black bee and even though we caught it in July we were only able to name it after taking it to Liverpool Museum to be able to identify it properly.
As you can see from the image it is tiny and not at all what i thought bees look like.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Trip to the Museum

Last Thursday I went with Brian, the ecologist, to Liverpool Museum to meet with Carl Clee the Honorary Curator of Aculeate Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants). We took with us the solitary bees we'd collected at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in July. Brian had identified them, but needed confirmation form Carl.

What an amazing place - and it was really great to meet with someone so knowledgeable on the subject and who is keen to share that knowledge. Identifying solitary bees is a really complicated, tricky subject - one of the collected bees turned out to be a solitary wasp!

Carl also showed me some the collection of bees, wasps and ants in the cabinets - i loved it.

Our solitary bees identified on Thursday are:
Anthidium manicatum
Andrena helvola
Andrena denticulata
Andrena subopaca

Halictus rubicundus

The collected wasp was a Crossocerus tarsatus.

Brian has written out lots of info for me which i will put on the blog when i've also taken some close up shots of the bees.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Dead Queen

When Ivor and I were looking for the new queen in one of the hives the other day we also discovered three other queen cells. As we didn't want more then one queen Ivor destroyed two of the queen cells (i kept them for the collection - you can see the royal jelly in one of them), but as he was destroying the third cell a new live queen popped out. If we'd left her, the other queen would have searched for her and killed her, so Ivor removed her from the hive.

I didn't imagine that bee keeping would involve such things as killing queens, but I asked if i could keep the dead queen bee for my collection.

So, I took her to the laboratories the other day to look at under the microscopes.
What a beautiful creature she is.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Pollen Patterns

Ivor, the beekeeper, showed me the pollen in the cells of one of the frames in the hive the other day. All the different colours representing different sources in the local area. Colours of the landscape.

Pollen is a rich source of protein and fat and is fed to the growing larva in the colony. At this time of year the workers feed very heavily on pollen so they are ready to live over the winter - instead of living for the usual 36 days, the winter bee lives for as much as 6 months.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Executing the Drones

While watching the hives the other day i saw a worker bee and a drone (male bee) having a fight. The worker didn't stop attacking the drone until it was pushed over the edge of the base of the hive. With their only task of mating with new queens being over by now, I suppose getting rid of all the drones seems like good hive management. The rest of the hive will not look after the drones over the winter and so they are all thrown out or executed.

It seems a bit brutal being a drone: you either mate with a queen bee and in the process rip your genitals off and die; or you don't get to mate and get executed at the end of the summer by the female worker bees for being of no use anymore.*

I'm aware these images aren't quite in focus - as it goes when i have my bee suit and hood on I can't clearly see what i'm taking images of.

* I can think of a couple of people who i hope come back as drones.

Monday, 6 September 2010


With summer ending there isn't many flowering plants that the bees can feed on now. However, there is a large late-flowering fuchsia bush near the Camellia House at YSP that both honeybees and bumblebees have been able to feed on.

While i watched the bees flying around the fuchsia and then landing on the flowers I noticed that the bumblebees were piercing the top of the flower to be able to poke their long tongue in to feed - they can't reach up along the long flower head otherwise. I then noticed almost all of the flower heads had a little puncture wound where there had been previous visits.

As it goes, i've noticed they do that with comfrey flowers too.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bee v Wasp

Watching the hives so closely i've noticed that wasps are often hanging about. I've seen quite a few go into the hives - they are trying to rob the honey. This is when guard bees of the colony will challenge the wasp, and the wasp will either fly off or they will fight with each other. The fight may end in the death of one or both of them.

Here I saw a wasp and a bee having a fight just outside the entrance to the hive - the wasp was the winner in this case - the bee hardly visible in the photos.

I've also watched wasps clear up any dead bees from the ground around the hives. I used to gather any dead bees in early summer for my collection, but noticed there weren't so many in the last month or two. I then observed wasps picking up dead bee parts and flying off with them. As much as the thought of wasps eating bees isn't a great one, at least they are keeping the area around the hives clean of carcasses.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

New Queen

Earlier this month I mentioned that we had no queen in one of the hives and that we were in danger of loosing the whole colony (if we didn't do something about it). On friday Ivor and I did a check of the two hives, plus the two smaller ones, and we were relieved to find a new queen in hive 2 that is already laying. Just in time i think.

There aren't many flowering plants left now, apart from the Himalayan Balsam, which continues to attract the honeybees. But i didn't see many bumblebees this last few days - a few B. pascuorum, B.terrestris, B.lapidarius. The small plot with the rosebay, meadowsweet and scabious has been cut so there isn't much about to feed on around the grounds.

It's september tomorrow - summer seems to have gone so quickly...

Top image taken by Adrianne Neil - getting as close to the hives as she possibly dare.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Soil Samples

For various reasons* I'm collecting and testing soil samples from certain points on Yorkshire Sculpture Park. So, last week as the sun was setting, I collected samples from different spots and brought them home to test for pH, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

* My ideas for the future development of the Bee Project involve creating and managing areas of meadow that will benefit bee populations and have a visual impact on the landscape.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


During the last few months i've been recording the sound of the bees at the hives. The sound of the hive when they are all active is intense - a mass of noise. I've also recorded the bees coming out and taking off to look for food and then coming back into land - whizzing by the microphone. Sometimes one or two land on the mike shield and i can hear them in my headphones nibbling at the sponge.

In 1609 the work of Charles Butler was published: The Feminine Monarchie or A Treatise Concerning Bees, and the Due Ordering of Them: Wherein the Truth, Found Out by Experience and Diligent Observation, in which he attempted to transcribe into musical notation the 'piping' and 'quacking' sounds produced by rival queens within a hive. Check this website out for more information on the books and images of his findings:

I've been translating my recordings into a visual form too - shown above.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


There is one little plot of flowers on YSP (in the nature reserve, by the lake) that i love going to as it always has loads of bees, butterflies, hoverflies, wasps, flies etc feeding on the plants there.*

The Rosebay Chamerion angustifolium is such a striking plant - and one to flower later in summer. The bees love it.
I've collected and pressed a couple of specimens too.
Now it's going to seed, which are all fluffy and drift along on the breeze, catching the sunlight.

The photo of me looking for bees is by Charles Quick.
*See also blog entry Meadowsweet (July) - it's all on the same little plot.