I was given a bee house in May. Previously I was the proud owner of a bumblebee nest box, which didn’t seem to be a success until, in early Spring 2014, I watched a small, dozy bumblebee crawl out of it, slowly get its act together, and fly off…

I wasn’t certain how a bee house would work, so I put it in a quiet south-facing out-of-the-way corner, later adding a pot of lavender under it.

Bee House, Totnell 1

After a couple of weeks of nada and niente, I decided to move the house to a length of wall that stayed longer in the morning sun, and to dispense with the lavender.



This looked more promising, but I was highly doubtful that such a fine multi-apartment abode would find favour with the bees. The holes looked good – a range of large down to very small – but still, it looked a bit… NEW. I thought it would need to be weathered for 6 months to get rid of the smell of ‘shop’. 

Gratifyingly soon, however, I was proved wrong. One morning we found (a) a bee inspecting one of the penthouse suites and (b) 2 partial wax capsBee House, Totnell 3

Note bees on the roof and on the lower storey; 2 partially capped cells on the upper storeyBee House, Totnell 4

The following morning there was evidence of further activity – one completely capped cell

Bee House, Totnell 5Bee House, Totnell 6

Since then a number of bees have taken overnight accommodation in the bee house. They prefer the holes drilled in wood over bamboo holes for a short stay, and at any given moment there are two or three small faces visible.

So overall we are pleased to report that the experiment can be counted a success. The garden has been revitalised during the last 2 years following 20 years or so of benign neglect, and bee-friendly plants have been a priority. So far, so good.

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This is a small selection of bees visiting a Dorset garden during the last month or so. The favoured flowers have been Hyssop, Lavender, Alium and Cosmos. And if anyone knows the name of the pale bee in photo #4, I’d be pleased to know – it’s a real beauty.

Summer Bees Dorset 1Summer Bees Dorset 2Summer Bees Dorset 3Summer Bees Dorset 4Summer Bees Dorset 5Summer Bees Dorset 6Summer Bees Dorset 8Summer Bees Dorset 9Summer Bees Dorset 10Summer Bees Dorset 11


First of all, what is this insect? (Amelia? Anyone? NOW SEE BELOW FOR ID) I saw a couple in the garden last year but had no camera with me. Today I at least had my phone. I’m sure it’s completely obvious – ‘a sting-snouted lesser hornet’ – but I’d like an authoritative ruling. Additional clue: they can hover.Bee Query Totnell 1 Bee query Totnell 2

Thanks to Jessica of  the excellent blog NATURE IN FOCUS  for ID as a member of the Bombylidae family, with the common name of bee-flies (see comments below). That lead me to the Natural History Museum website, where I found a very similar creature Bombylius major. The wing patterns in particular look much the same.Here’s the NHM image.

Bee Fly Bombylius maj NHM

Secondly, there’s supposed to be a pink moon either tonight at around 3.00 a.m. tomorrow morning; or possibly tomorrow night at 3.00 the next night… It’s caused by a lunar eclipse, expected to last from 2.00 am to 4.30. The pink / red is to do with angle and atmosphere (as with dawn and dusk). Apparently. I tried to photograph the moon last night here in Dorset, where the light pollution is not too bad. It shone with extraordinary brightness and ‘flared’ my attempts. I’ve pinked one up in case I don’t wake up for the real thing…Pink Moon

An opportunity to remember Nick Drake, I think… Here’s the full album for nostalgics – and just the title track to follow.



A strange yellow disc appeared intermittently in the sky today. It is warmer. Time to venture into the garden. First stop – the lupins. Bees in residence? Check. Looking closely, I notice that they part the individual pods with their legs to get at the contents. There’s certainly bags of what they are after, to judge by the leg pouches.Bees June 1 Bees June 2 Bees June 5 Bees June 6

Next stop: the nice pink flowers that are called… well, if someone wants to remind me, please use the comment box. They came from a nice house in Kent and have flourished on my regime of benign neglect.Bees June 7 Bees June 9 Bees June 10 Bees June 11 Bees June 12

Now that blue thing – Canterbury Bell, is it? Bee inside? Tick.Bees June 8

The foxgloves seem popular with the bumbles today. Only the purple ones, not the white ones. Such pretty patterns close-up, and such long hairs inside. The technical term for these is… forgettable.Bees June 13 Bees June 14 Bees June 15 Bees June 16 Bees June 18

GOOD GRIEF! When I pressed the ‘publish’ button, this turned out to be my 100th post on this ramshackle, poorly curated website. Thanks to the select, small (but slightly increasing) numbers who turn up to have a look from time to time. This isn’t my main project, but it’s a place to put a few nice pics from time to time. Merci, all. RH


Camley Street Natural Park entrance


The London Wildlife Trust has several small urban nature reserves close to the centre of the city. The Camley Street Natural Park was created in the early ‘8os on the site of a derelict coal yard, sandwiched between rail tracks and a canal. The site had become naturally colonised by plants over the years, and the small strip of land was preserved as a wildlife haven near the very heart of London

IMG_4083IMG_4084URBAN BEES runs beekeeping taster courses at Camley Street. We went there last weekend to taste the taster course, which is run by Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin. Both are very experienced beekeepers, and the joint authors of 3 excellent books (two of which I already owned, but I had dimly failed to link the authors with the course leaders). More details of the books are at the end of this post. The early morning had seen inauspicious dark clouds and very heavy rain in London. Slowly it began to clear, and by mid-morning the skies were blue and the sun shone brightly.IMG_4089By 11.00, 20 of us had been welcomed to the lecture room by Brian and Alison, and we all settled down in learning mode. It quickly became clear that Brian’s relaxed yet sparky presentation would be (a) informative and (b) entertaining. And so it proved. We covered the ground quickly: bee varieties and their place in the world and in the hive; the caste system; bee anatomy; the birth and life cycles of bees; the basic hive structure; first steps to keeping bees; the pros and cons of keeping urban bees; the equipment needed and the (considerable) costs involved; and varroa.IMG_4091Brian presented the information clearly, with occasional interventions from Alison. They made an instructive double act. Time for a break and a practical demo, so we all trooped out into the fresh cold air and sunshine to visit the hives at the far end of the Park. This involved threading our way alongside the canal and past wild and picturesque ponds.IMG_4094IMG_4093IMG_4099At the ponds, youngsters (with adults!) were encouraged to use small nets to scoop out water and weed and inspect the contents. The rattle of the trains on the tracks into St Pancras barely seemed to intrude on this surprisingly pastoral strip of land.  IMG_4105Beyond the ponds were our targets – real hives with real bees. But would they be showing themselves in January? The team marched on to find out.IMG_4103And suddenly there they were. HIVES! BEES! And active, too (at least in the 3 hives actually in the sun) IMG_4115Brian was kind enough to demonstrate his own “waggle dance” (joking – he was saying “some grow this big…”)IMG_4116With the hive lid removed, we were able to view the hive through perspex. Brian showed us some winter food for the bees. I lost track a bit here – as the tallest person in the party, my head was slightly above the Park fence, and I became aware that it was on some bee ley-line direct from forage to hive… Minor avoiding action was called for (bent knees).IMG_4120 IMG_4123Under the hive was a tray designed to catch varroa mites in particular. The number on the tray is a good indication of the health of the hive. Although Varroa has only been around in the UK for about 30 years, surprisingly there are now no hives completely clear of infestation. So varroa mite control is a matter of limitation, not eradication.IMG_4124On this tray, we were clearly able to see a number of mites amongst the other debris – tiny shiny creatures capable of wiping out an entire hive if left uncheckedIMG_4125Having completed the outdoor practical stage, we wandered back to a sustaining lunch, before the afternoon sessionIMG_4110IMG_4131IMG_4095After lunch Brian dismantled a hive for us, explaining the structure and the purposes of each part. We entered the technical arena of frames, brood-boxes, supers and nukes. We learnt about identifying the queen; and swarming and how to control it (in theory). Any ‘beeks’ reading this (you perhaps, Miss Apis Mellifera?) may be chuckling at the naivety of all this.  Please smile benignly – we all have to start somewhere… By the end of the hive demonstration, interwoven with much of the bee material we had learnt about in the morning, we felt we had had a very thorough and clear introduction to the world of bees and beekeeping.Cliveden Bees 8

Brian and Alison posed some big questions. Why do you think you want to keep bees in the City? Might you be better finding a beekeeper you can help while you get some experience first? Do you believe you will make a living out of it – honey money? (Short answer – there’s no way you ever will). Are you trying to save bees from extinction? And if so, have you considered other ways to achieve this, not just for honey bees but for all bees. Planting bee-friendly flowers and plants is a good way to achieve this, or becoming involved in bee-related groups and projects locally.

Sussex - thirsty bee 6

For our part, we left feeling we had had an excellent day’s course, with information imparted thoroughly but in an easily assimilable way. And we both agreed that we will not be buying a hive, bees, a spacesuit and a smoker. Instead we will add some more bee-friendly plants to our garden, doing our bit that way – and buying local honey (very good as it happens) rather than the bland honey blends that come to us from halfway round the world. (Oh, and the mystic ingredient of Manuka honey that makes it 3 or 4 times more expensive than any other? Marketing skill, apparently…)

Bee engraving 1852

Plate 70, from Volume 2: A History Of The Earth And Animated Nature by Oliver Goldsmith, 1852

I bought the lovely original plate above 2 or 3 years ago for around £10 (there’s one on eBay now for about £11, though not in very good condition). It is featured on page 11 of one of Brian and Alison’s books. Which brings me to Brian and Alison’s joint-authored bibliography. Of the 3 books shown below, I would recommend the first for anyone looking for a well thought out and well illustrated introduction to beekeeping in all its aspects. All can be found on Amazon, ABE and other such places. Or contact the authors with this link URBAN BEES

Keeping Bees And Making Honey    Keeping Bees and Making Honey

A World Without Bees           A World Without Bees

Bees in the City: The urban beekeepers' handbook          Bees in the City

Finally, two recommended websites of active bee-keepers who describe the day-to-day reality of keeping bees, meeting the ‘twin imposters’ along the way and treating them just the same. Also included are details of the beekeepers exams, to challenge the the more experienced beekeeper.



Pride? Ambition? Frustration? What’s going on here?

Cliveden Bees 9

And is there any room for honey-based music and humour? There surely is…