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.

Queen Is Missing, Presumed Dead

A while ago I mentioned on the blog that we were chuffed that the hives both had new queens (that we marked) and saw were laying etc. But since then, for reasons we can't figure out, we have lost one of the queens and it's taken far too long for the hive to replace her. Here are the entries into the hive log book about hive 2:

17th July 2010: Hive 2 - Queenless. Sealed queen cells. All but one destroyed. 2nd super mostly drawn out.

30th July 2010: Hive 2 - No laying queen as yet. Remaining brood all hatched. 2nd super mostly drawn and part full.

12th Aug 2010: Hive 2 - Still no laying queen. Bees are working the balsam (off white pollen).

Presumably with no new brood being raised eventually we'll loose the whole hive. Bees only live on average for 36 days (worker bee) or 22 days (drone) in the summer. With this in mind, and the dates in the log book, we're very close to loosing the whole colony. Arse.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Close Up

On friday I went back to use the microscopes at the University of Central Lancashire to get more shots of the dead bees i've been collecting. It's been ages since i was last there, with being so busy and also away from Preston. I really love looking at the bees under such scrutiny - examining their wings and hairs and eyes and stings.

A big thanks to Adam for his time and patience (and bad insect related jokes).

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Tricky Subject

Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera is a tricky plant. It's an invasive species and can create large stands on riverbanks shading out and suppressing grasses and native plants. When it dies back in autumn and winter it leaves the riverbanks bare and therefore liable to erosion. It grows to 2m in height and the explosive seeds can fall up to 6 - 7 m from the original plant. Each plant can produce up to approx 2,500 seeds.

But talking to Ivor, the beekeeper, he said he loves that there is Himalayan Balsam on the YSP site as bees absolutely love it. And, if it wasn't for the presence of Himalayan Balsam in the past two dull, rainy summers bees would have been in real trouble.
However, research is being conducted on the effects caused by bees preferring to feed on the balsam instead of other native flowering plants in any given area.

The bees at YSP do love the balsam, but i'm not convinced that any monoculture in the landscape is a good idea. It's not just about bees is it? Surely if Himalayan Balsam spreads so much, to the detriment of other native plants, then lots of other species, like insects and birds etc, will decline too. Isn't it all about the whole picture, not just supplying honeybees with an easy food source?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Bee Object

This beautiful little object was sent to me from my friend David who lives in Italy. It's 11 cm long and when i first unwrapped it I didn't know what it was. Here is his note:

"I'm enclosing one of my treasures - an old 'queen excluder' given to me by an old beekeeper in Scotland. A beautiful abstract object, I thought you might find it useful for your bee show perhaps?

ciao ciao


So this little object has travelled quite a bit and is now sitting on my work desk.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Other Summer Plants

Here are a couple more plants that the bees are loving feeding on at the moment:

top image: Ragwort Senecio jacobaea
middle and bottom image: Corn Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis

There are a few small patches of Ragwort at YSP and the Corn Sow-thistle is edging the arable fields on the site.

Monday, 9 August 2010


I was back at YSP briefly last week and although it was a blowy day with rain showers passing through there was still lots of bees about - some looked pretty bedraggled though.

The Lime trees (Tilia x europaea) at YSP are attracting both the honey bees and bumblebees - when we (me and my friend Charles) stood under one of them the tree was humming with the sound of busy bees. They obviously love lime trees.

YSP Bee Boxes

Yorkshire Sculpture Park have run a couple of workshops with families to make bee boxes for gardens. These here, made during the Bee Event day in July, are for solitary bees, but you can get others for bumblebees too. You can buy quite a few different ones for your garden, but perhaps it would be more fun to make your own.

I found this great website with a page on how to make a solitary bee box

photo by Helen Moore

French Bee

I've been away from home for two weeks and only now able to up date the blog. For the first week I was in France in a beautiful area near Vimoutiers. While visiting someones garden i saw this fabulous bee - just look at the size of it!
My friend who knows lots about bees did mention what it's called, but i forgot to write it down - so i'll add it later.

Up date: after doing a bit of searching on-line i reckon this bee is a Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa violacea. It's a solitary bee and one of the largest in Europe. It nests in dead wood - the genus name Xylocopa comes from the Greek noun xylon = wood and the Greek verb copto = to cut.