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Bee Good

Another great inspection this week with lots of good news to report.

In the national hive, the bees have made good progress at 'drawing out' comb on the new super I added last week.

The queen is still laying well, with lots of eggs visible. 

Meanwhile the new colony inside the WBC in the nuc box is also establishing nicely. There are more fresh eggs that have been recently laid, and the bees are bringing in good stores. They are building comb on the new frames and in a week or two we will transfer them into a full brood box.

While doing the inspection, I also noticed a lot of bright orange pollen being brought back to the hive. You can see the bee in this picture with its bright orange pollen sacks. If anyone knows what plant this is likely to be from then please let us know!

The sainfoin in the field beside the apiary is helping to keep the bees happy and busy! It’s now flowering for the second time after being cut, and the bees are loving it. I walked through the crop and there were honeybees everywhere!

Bees Beat the Heat

We’ve been back to check on how the Honeydale apiary is faring following its demolition by sheep. I took Jack, our work experience lad, to inspect the new nuc in the WBC hive and the big National hive. It was hot work during this heatwave, but very cheering.

The Nuc box now has a mated queen and she is laying well (if you remember we got this box started by spitting one of Chris' hives when the queen was still a larvae.) We'll locate and mark her at the next inspection.

The big white National hive is doing amazingly well. It has now filled the second super we added on the last inspection (pic above) and we have added a third for the bees to fill. (pic below) This is very encouraging considering we lost two hives over the cold winter and we were surprised to see it doing so well when the weather is now so hot and dry.

Plants need water to produce nectar, so the bees must have located plants nearby, with plenty of nectar flowing. We suspect this is thanks to the very deep-rooted sainfoin which we have growing in the field adjacent to the apiary, proving how great sainfoin is for bees and beekeepers. Not only does it produce amazing honey, but it’s very drought resistant.

Launch of the Honeydale Kitchen Garden

Exciting news. We’re very pleased to welcome The Kitchen Garden People who have begun setting up the Honeydale Kitchen Garden.

Emma, Christine and Dan have been running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme in Chadlington, near Honeydale, for the past couple of years. Dan is passionate about growing and is a genius at growing all sorts of different plants, including herbs and lesser known varieties of lettuce. He worked as a grower for Cultivate for many years, growing local food for local people in Oxford. Emma grew up on an environmentally-focused farm in Wales and is in charge of most of the behind-the-scenes admin and communications. Christine, trained as an agricultural engineer, is founder of the Charlbury Green Hub, and is also an apple expert. They all enjoy being outside, getting their hands dirty and feel passionate about combining conservation and farming.

‘CSA schemes are a way of being able to supply vegetables and other fresh produce to local people, eliminating waste and the risk to the grower,’ explains Emma. ‘It removes the danger of producing a wonderful crop and taking it to market, only to find that not enough people come to buy it.’

The food is incredibly healthy. Because it’s not grown for shelf life, and can be picked at just the right time and harvested and sold on the same day, the nutritional value is much better. No pesticides are used and it also allows for the reintroduction of different varieties. A century ago there were 288 different beetroots but now there are only 17. Due to the demands of supermarket shelf lives, lettuce varieties have plummeted from 417 to 36. Emma explains that they are free to choose what they grow for taste rather than shelf-life which makes each share reminiscent of what her grandpa Bob used to grow on his allotment with all it’s flavour and scent.

The CSA scheme is extremely practical. People pay a monthly subscription of £25 for seasonal food and whatever is produced that week is simply divided up so that everyone gets an equal share. ‘It does require a change in mindset,’ Emma explains. ‘Because some weeks you get more than you are paying for that week, and others you get less, but all our subscribers have had a £160 saving over the year so it really is a win-win.

‘A weekly email is sent to members telling them what to expect in their share to be collected on the Friday and there’s lots of variety. There are salads all year round thanks to the polytunnels. We only had one week when we weren’t able to harvest anything, during the cold spell, when the salad just didn’t thaw.’

The Chadlington Kitchen Garden began in 2016 on a ⅕ acre site at The Grey House in the village and Emma, Christine and Dan spent over a year growing and selling ad hoc. The plot is not much bigger than an allotment but there was a polytunnel, greenhouse and asparagus bed which meant that they were able to grow and sell asparagus straight away. The ⅕ acre was soon providing for 30 members. It has a lovely history too as it used to be Mrs Moore’s herb farm. Fred and Pete used to work for Mrs Moore and they bought the workers cottages after she died and now they peer over the fence at The Kitchen Garden People and like to see that the land is producing again. They are very helpful and insightful too, says Emma. ‘Pete sees us planting and says, “there’s frost in the air, wait a week.” And he’s always right.’

The weekly collection takes place opposite the gates at Chadlington Primary School. The idea being that lots of people are going there anyway, so it’s convenient but also keeps the carbon footprint low. It also means the children get to take part and they’ve visited the kitchen garden to talk about the food web and worms and practice their maths, helping to divide up equal shares of the salad.

The Kitchen Garden People at Honeydale will operate in a similar way, but on a larger scale, which will be wonderful to see.

The 1.5 acre fieldscale site at Honeydale and large polytunnel will give Emma, Dan and Christine scope to expand. It will take a few months to get everything established, and subscriptions are full for this year, but the aim is that by March 2019 the Honeydale Kitchen Garden has the potential to provide for a hundred or so subscribers on the salad share, or fewer who would perhaps want to pay more for a bigger box (so they won’t need to go to the supermarket at all!)

The plan is to grow salads and veg including asparagus, kale, rainbow chard, courgettes, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, leaf beet spinach, spring onions, flower sprouts, winter squash, onions, leeks, cucumbers, peppers, florence fennel, french beans, garlic, parsley, coriander, mustard, and different varieties of lettuce as well as redcurrants, pears, plums and rhubarb. It will also be possible to add some more root vegetables, and of course there’ll be the different varieties of apples from local orchards and the Honeydale Heritage Orchard. The beauty of these is that they will be ready for picking at different times .

Interested subscribers for 2019 should contact Emma on thekitchengardenpeople@gmail.com


I received a call mid morning from Ian to say there had been and 'incident' at the farm involving sheep and the apiary. On arrival it looked like a bomb had been dropped. Six hives had been knocked over and the stands had been thrown several metres away. This had been done by a flock of sheep which had run amok during a planned movement between fields. There were lots of bees buzzing around - obviously disturbed and a bit angry!

Luckily most of the hives, though upside-down on the ground, were in one piece so it was a case of very carefully lifting and turning them back over. This was particularly difficult because the hives are made of lots of separate parts which are not fixed together and are also quite heavy, so reconstructing the stands and putting the hives back in place without getting stung was challenging. Two hives had fallen apart when they were knocked over, so I needed to reconstruct them, hoping the queens were still inside.

Unfortunately the sheep had also hit the WBC hive containing the new nucleus of bees we had split from one of the other hives on the previous inspection. (pic) Miraculously, although the lid was off the nuc box was still upright and undamaged. Thank goodness it was inside the WBC when the sheep descended or it would have been smashed to pieces!

Fortunately for us our large white national hive with the thriving colony was close enough to the fence to avoid the stampede.

Soon after I had reconstructed the hives Chris arrived so that we could inspect them and make sure the queens had not been lost. The good news is that all the colonies seem to be ok, even the split colony in the nuc box was doing well, and the bees had sealed the queen cup we had placed there for them. Not only this, they’d started a second queen cup complete with larvae and royal jelly, so we are hoping one of these queens will survive and the colony will fully develop over the coming weeks.

I think it's fair to say that we've learnt our lesson regarding sheep at Honeydale - in the future we'll make sure they are not herded anywhere near the apiary!

Survivor Bees

When we inspected our only remaining hive this week, the National, it was great to see that the colony appears to be thriving. We found the queen almost instantly and could see lots of eggs indicating that she is healthy and well, and the brood was plentiful.

The colony has already filled it's first super with no sign of swarming and we also found good amounts of pollen and nectar stores which is another good sign .

These bees are still twitchy and quite aggressive but this could be the reason they survived the winter and late spring so well. We've added an empty super so they can start filling that too.

The next job was to help Chris inspect his hives.

He has lost two colonies over the winter but the others look good and strong. Two of the hives had unclipped queens so we quickly clipped those and let them carry on the good work. Under one of the hives we did find a lot of dead bees, but the hive above seemed healthy, so we think at some point there has been a swarm and it had hung to the underside of this hive without a queen before sadly perishing.

During the inspection we saw lots of bright yellow honeycomb which is a classic sign that the bees are foraging on the Sainfoin which has been in flower for some weeks now, and will be for several weeks to come.

In one of Chris' hives we found a queen cup with an egg so we took the opportunity to split this colony and put this, together with a few extra frames, into one of our empty WBC hives in the hope that this colony will develop into a full colony.

These frames are staying inside a nuc box for a few weeks to keep them in a nice compact space while the colony develops.

We hope to be able to repeat this exercise over the coming weeks with another of Chris' hives so that we can populate our other WBC.

Chris also needs to repopulate his empty national hives soon, replacing the colonies that have been lost over the winter, but there is a shortage of nucs available this spring due to the tricky winter and late spring, so it'll be a case of watching this space to see if we can find some more colonies.We also took the opportunity to do some gardening during the inspection, as the grass around the apiary had grown quite long and was starting to creep towards the hives, so we chopped this back and tidied it up.

Busy Bank Holiday at Honeydale

Earlier this month we hosted a farm walk for a group of post grad students from the RAU, who came to hear about diverse and sustainable farming. They were the last visitors to use the old entrance, since the new relocated entrance, complete with dry stone wall and farm track, is now finished and waiting to welcome visitors.

Busy Bank Holiday Weekend
We had a busy bank holiday weekend at Honeydale. As part of our rotation, we’ve sown an enhanced wild bird seed mix, with an increased variety of species to make it more productive as a fertility builder - so we’re feeding the soil as well as the farmland birds!

In the strip next to it, we sowed herbal ley with buckwheat to act as a nurse crop in the hot weather, and to increase the phosphate levels. We’re experimenting to find the optimum sowing rate and sowed the buckwheat at a rate of 8kg/acre (20kg/ha) which is lower than last year.

The seedbed conditions were perfect with an excellent tilth. We used the Cambridge roller before and after sowing the wild birdseed mix, and the heavy flat roller after the herbal ley seed mix. The flat roller provides more consolidation but can lead to capping, so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.

We also set up two mob-grazing sites, with electric fencing and water, for an anthelmintic experiment that’s being run on the farm by Nicola Smith from Aberystwyth University. Nicola is studying for an MA and works for the Organic Research Centre and National Sheep Association and is collecting data on herbal leys as natural wormers.

The sheep were also shorn this weekend, which has nothing at all to do with the experiment, but will help them to keep cool in the hot weather!

New Bee-ginning

It’s the start of the new season and Paul went to do the first proper inspection of the Honeydale hives since the Autumn. We visited the apiary only briefly over the last few weeks due to the cold and wet weather, and it was clear that the last surviving WBC was struggling with low bee numbers, but we now have to confirm that all the bees have died and the colony cannot be saved. This is the second WBC colony to be lost, following the destruction of the first one by wasps late last year.

This means that we only have the one Honeydale hive remaining, which is the donated 'National' hive (see pic). The good news is that this appears to be going strong with lots of activity.

The success of the National colony over the long, cold winter is likely down to the more aggressive nature of the bees, behaviour which is commonly associated with being more defensive, robust, and more effective at foraging. This colony had been left unmanaged for sometime before we took ownership, so the fact that it had survived at all during that period would suggest a colony with good genes and a strong queen.

Most of Chris' Cotswold Bees' colonies have survived, but we think he has lost some of his colonies too.

We will now need to clean and refurbish both our WBC hives before re-introduce new colonies to them this year, but from what we’ve heard on the grapevine, colonies for purchase are few and far between this season due to the difficult winter and cold spring so far, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Honeydale Planning Approval

We are delighted to announce that the plans for the Centre at Honeydale Farm have been unanimously approved. We are now in the process of putting everything in place so that construction can begin as soon as possible. Watch this space!

New Bird Species at Honeydale

Richard Broughton was at Honeydale this weekend conducting a bird survey, with very pleasing results - two new species were recorded at the farm: A pair of coots have arrived and are building a nest on the pond and a Sedge Warbler was seen singing next to the pond. This is further proof that the creation of the wetland area is really paying off; the number of breeding species has increased by around 15% in the few years it’s been there. Canada Geese are sitting on eggs on the small island, and there are at least two (maybe three) pairs of Reed Buntings nesting around the pond area. Moorhens are still present (Richard heard one calling from the sedges) and Mallard feathers are on the water, (and have bred in previous years). None of those species were present before, and their arrival is purely down to the wetland creation.

Elsewhere, there's a pair of Kestrels nesting in a broken Ash tree at the bottom of the sheep field (opposite corner from the pond). Also a pair of Red Kites are very much at home (probably non-breeding first-years - they don't generally breed until 2 yrs old), 4 Buzzards, 2 Yellow Wagtails and at least three Lesser Whitethroats (the highest total so far). Two Willow Warblers were also recorded - only the second sighting - although they were silent and probably passing through on migration.