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Bee Blog - November 2021

This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby

Autumn has arrived. Mornings are cool and there is little activity in and around the hives early in the day. Like me the bees seem to prefer being tucked up inside a warm home for longer at this time of year before venturing out to deal with daily business. This does not mean that all activity has stopped. My photograph this month show a bee I found yesterday resting on the covering of my poly tunnel having collected a considerable amount of pollen from some nearby plant that is still flowering.

This time last year I was bemoaning the reduction in the planting of oil seed rape by farmers throughout the country. My bees love oil seed rape flowers which provide an early source of nectar and pollen and results in a light creamy honey. I reported that Adam, from the BBC’s Country File programme, had explained that farmers were not planting oil seed rape as yields were being devastated by the flea beetle with a reduction of 75% of yields rendering the crop unprofitable. In previous year this flea beetle had been controlled by neonicotinoids which had now been banned.

I had thought that there would be no more rape honey but I was possible wrong. I am always saying that bees are clever, perhaps farmers are just as clever. Viewing Country File recently, there was Adam standing in a field of oil seed rape on his farm in the Cotswolds. Adam explained how they had outwitted the flea beetle without having to use neonicotinoids. Along with sowing the oil seed rape seeds they had planted buckwheat. This had produced a shield with its leaves over the germinating rape plants masking them from the flea beetle. To reinforce this that had sprayed the two crops with some concoction of pungent slurry, providing fertiliser and masking the smell of the developing rape plants from the flea beetle allowing the rape plants time to develop. Adam said the trial had been successful so who knows, perhaps oil seed rape creamed honey will be back next year if other farmers take up this idea.

Regular readers will remember that earlier in the year I became aware of 35 new hives being moved into the Village. I was concerned that with this influx of bees, in the region of possibly an additional 1,750,000 bees, the honey yield would be poor with so many bees competing for the same nectar. As I mentioned last month however my fears were unfounded and my bees produced more honey this year than any year since I have been keeping bees. How can this be?

Presumably there was enough nectar to satisfy the demand. It is difficult to visualise and quantify nectar. Unlike other crops you can’t see it. It is not a one time product like a seed or fruit that can be quantified, it is continuously produced by trees and plants but there is no direct indication as to when the production starts pauses or stops.

Beekeepers talk of a “nectar flow” not because they can see anything happening on the plants and trees but because they notice a lot more activity with the bees in and around the hives collecting the nectar.

On the same Country File programme I was referring to above there was another article on the development of farm machines. We were shown film of harvesting with a combined harvester cutting the corn and a tractor and trailer driving alongside and collecting the grain before driving off to store the grain in a silo. A normal harvesting scene that has been happening for years. On closer inspection however you could see that there were no drivers in the combined harvester or the tractor and trailer. The whole process has been automated and controlled by computers and GPS. All very clever for harvesting cereals.

As far as I am aware however no one has develop any process, computerised or otherwise, for harvesting nectar. It is a wonderful resource, continually produced which only bees and pollinators can harvest. Perhaps the farmer is still not quite as clever as the bee.