Bees and the RAA

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Bees have been on Knight’s Hill for millions of years! But it was only in 2004 that hives of honey bees were brought to the allotments.

There had been a fair bit of preparation. An observation hive and local honey for sale had been brought to an annual barbeque. A motion at an AGM (bye-law changed from “no animals or bees” to ”no animals except bees” – well, bees are animals so something had to change) had got through with only a couple of votes against. The regional bee inspector (a government official, no less) had given his opinion, out of which Beekeeping Regulations and Guidelines had been written and approved by the committee. A plot had been assigned. Rumour was that there was so much bramble on the plot that it was unlettable. (The previous plot holder was into bramble wine!).

Finally, at 7am one May morning in 2004, two hives full of bees were brought from the home garden to Rosendale Road. Amazingly, there was a reception committee. Danny and Victor had got up early, and were waiting to see them arrive.

An inspector calls

Since then the number of colonies has risen to seven and fallen to three. Some years are better than others. 2014, unlike the previous two seasons, had a good spring which encouraged the bees to reproduce. If the beekeeper is on top of things the reproducing colony will expand from one box to two, and all will be well. Sometimes the bees get on top of the beekeeper (they’re clever like that) and then you may see a swarm. Incidentally if you see a swarm please don’t panic. Let the beekeeper know, and with a bit of luck, soon the bees will be safely back in a box, swarming bees are usually not aggressive, so don’t worry. There is a phone number to call on the apiary fence. It’s probably wise to let the bees settle before going to read it!

2015 was a particularly swarmy season. Sometimes the bees seem to realise that conditions are right. Sometimes the beekeeper has other things to think about. But outcomes were largely good and the number of hives expanded. Quite a few were found new homes. Meanwhile, there was enough food to encourage the bees to think about reproduction, and they got it out of their system soon enough to be a ready work force when the flowers went into overdrive in late June. For three weeks the nectar flowed in and the honey stocks grew. It was a good year all round.

A handy swarm
It is commonly thought that bees will be good for pollination around the allotments. Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case. Bees send out scouts who come back with news of the best blocks of forage. If an avenue of lime trees is producing nectar the bees probably won’t give your runner beans a second look. If you want to attract honey bees for pollination services consider planting a large block of a single crop of insect pollinated plants on your allotment.
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But generally the honey bees will do some pollination around the site, and hopefully will give some interest to plot holders. If they fly near you, just keep still. If they don’t get a sense that you are trying to attack them, they will usually fly on. You are not a bee food source. Do remember that there are plenty of other pollinating, and stinging, insects around. Be calm and none of them really need to sting you. If you need advice, get in touch with your local bee keeper. Since 2004 that’s been Mary Slater and Bob Jackman. Lizzie Forte was with us for a while but has now moved on. New for the 2016 season, although he has been a long term plot holder, Dominique Bernard will be moving some honey bee colonies from his garden to his plot.

© Bob Jackman, February 2016

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Update: early May 2016 bee news
Firstly the good news. We have a new beekeeper on site. Hopefully your beans and raspberries will receive an even better pollination service this season. Dominique Bernard has moved bees from his garden in Brixton onto his plot. His neighbours may have noticed the two metre high netting surrounding the new apiary for some while. Dominique has been a plot holder for more than ten years, and a beekeeper for five of those years. He is a member of London Beekeepers Association, and has passed the British Beekeepers Association basic proficiency assessment, so he has served his apprentiship, and is well ready for beekeeping in a more public situation.

Now for the even better news – well, better for some. A colony of honey bees in Mary and Bob’s apiary did well in 2015, being docile and producing a fair crop of honey. When first opened this spring, they had clearly changed their attitude. They were rather buzy, tended to follow, and generally showed a much more aggressive side of themselves. The queen was still the same queen, showing the spot on her back that was put there last year. This wasn’t a case of the colony producing a new queen who had gone out and mated with the local riff-raff. She was taken out and put in isolation. That often improves behaviour, but this time it didn’t. Instead, things got worse. Passers by were chased, and sometimes stung. Local plot holders were having trouble working their plots.

It was time to act, so, last night the doors were shut tight after bed time. This morning (7 May 2016) they were wheel-barrowed down to the car, and taken off to an isolated spot in Grove Park. That’s beyond their flying range, should they contemplate flying back. We hope that’s good news for those who have been troubled by those naughty bees. Apologies to all who have been chased and or stung. Hopefully, life will be quieter now.
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The buzz goes on.

© Bob Jackman, May 2016

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