Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the UK. For a moment the Earth tilts furthest away from the sun in the northern hemisphere, before it turns back towards the light.
My pagan friends celebrate the winter solstice, Yule, by lighting candles to mark the sun’s rebirth. While it is a long time till spring from this point on we can all welcome back the lengthening of days.
In beekeeping traditions the darkest day of winter is a point of stillness inside the hive. The queen has stopped laying and the workers cluster around her in a broodless nest. A perfect time to give the bees a solstice stocking filler of warmed oxalic acid in syrup.
Yesterday was bright, cold and dry at the apiary. The beekeepers were feeling festive as they ate mince pies and drank home-brewed beer. Everyone was soon very merry!
Andy Pedley was amused that I had decorated our hives a few weeks ago with pine cones and berries to look Christmassy, he tweeted:
There also had been exciting news from Andy during the week, he wrote: “This might justify a special email?” He and John Chapple had been interviewed for Alan Titchmarsh’s The Queen’s Garden, which airs on Christmas Day at 3.10pm on ITV. Wow, beekeeping royalty to follow the Queen’s speech. I can’t wait till Christmas! (You can see John Chapple looking like Father Christmas in his red coat and white beard above.)
Elsa helped us to warm the oxalic acid that we were giving to the bees by standing the bottles in an upturned lid of a teapot. As we marvelled at her practicality, she said in her gentle Australian accent, “I wasn’t a Girl Scout, but I was raised in the bush”.
The sun was dropping fast through the trees and the mince pies had all been eaten. It was time to give the bees their stocking filler.
I’ve blogged about giving the bees oxalic acid before, this year two beginners gave it to the hives. They will make excellent beekeepers. The oxalic acid is meant to burn the mouths and feet of varroa mites feeding on adult bees, so they drop off. It is given in midwinter when the colony is thought to be almost broodless and the varroa mites have fewer places to hide.
Some beekeepers now check their hives for brood a few days before giving the oxalic acid following last year’s findings by Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), which caused something of a stir among beekeepers. The research suggests any time between 10th December and Christmas is a good time for oxalic acid treatment and that you check for sealed brood, and destroy it, around two days before. I hadn’t forgotten the advice but we didn’t do this. I could tell by looking at the way the bees were moving around and over the frames that there is likely to be sealed brood inside the hives. Perhaps it is a knock-on effect of a longer brooding season due to a milder autumn and winter? What effect that will have on the oxalic acid treatment, I don’t know.
Even so, all’s looking well inside the four hives. Chili’s bees were playful, Melissa’s bees were peaceful, Chamomile’s were curious (a good sign) and Pepper’s were spirited!
Merry Christmas lovely bees!
This is my last post of the year as I take a break for Christmas. So, as an aromatherapy beekeeper, I’ll leave you with a picture of the apiary on the darkest day in winter and a stocking filler from the bees – a home-made honey-and-lavender lip balm that you can make quite easily. The recipe is in the Postnotes below, along with more details about The Queen’s Garden.
All that remains to be said is a Very Happy Christmas bees, humans and everyone!
See you all in the New Year xx
Home-made honey-and-lavender lip balm
- 40 ml olive oil
- 10 g beeswax
- 1 tsp honey
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
- Heat the oil gently in a saucepan over a low heat.
- Add the beeswax, stirring till completely melted.
- Mix in the honey then pour into a warmed bowl.
- Add the lavender essential oil and stir quickly before the balm starts to set.
- Pour the warm balm into small pots and leave to set, then lid and label your honey-and-lavender lip balm.
Of course, the lip balm is meant as a gift – you can’t sell home-made cosmetics without special safety requirements. As an added precaution too, skip the lavender oil if you are pregnant. Aromatherapy texts differ on which essential oils to use in pregnancy and at which stage of pregnancy, and the proper advice is actually a lot more involved than this. I’m not going into that now, so skip the lavender to be on the safe side – the balm really is as nice just as honey and beeswax.
The recipe is also posted on the Ealing and District Beekeepers’ website which I run, as a news item along with a link to the recent Bee Craft live episode on using hive products.
The Queen’s Garden
Don’t forget to watch The Queen’s Garden on Christmas Day! Elsa is sure from a preview that you’ll at least see John Chapple, the Queen’s Beekeeper, pull a frame from a hive!
The Queen’s Garden
Thursday 25th December at 3:10pm on ITV
Queen’s Garden, Episode 1: The first of two programmes in which Alan Titchmarsh gets exclusive access to the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace for a whole year. He watches the garden change over the four seasons and reveals its hidden treasures that have evolved over five centuries. In the first part, he arrives along with 8,000 others to attend the Queen’s summer garden party, but unlike the other guests, he has a different itinerary. He begins by venturing into the garden’s wilder spaces where nature has been left to rule. He meets the Queen’s bee keeper John Chapple, delves into the history of the garden and finds its oldest tree. Late summer is the ideal time to visit the rose garden with its 18th-century summer house. Later, as Christmas arrives, Alan helps royal florist Sharon Gaddes-Croasdale bring in plants to decorate the palace.
Download a free ebook stocking filler here, a Christmas gift from me and the bees.
Merry Christmas Emma. The pictures are up to your usual high standard and most beautiful. Thanks for the lip balm recipe, I’ll be making that today for some last minute stocking fillers having already had experience of your aromatherapy receipts before, I know the lippy will be good.
….of course I meant recipes and not ‘receipts’. Oops 😁
That’s ok, I’m always fumbling with WordPress app!
The candle photo and Christmas decorations were taken at Osterley House when I was pracitising night photography. Yes, lip balms make a batch of last minute stocking fillers and tend to last a 4-6 weeks stored properly (not in heat or sunlight) as there’s no water added to the recipe like homemade creams. It will protect lips for winter months.
The balm sounds lovely. I think I will try making some after all the festivities. Might it also be useful to protect on hot days and when exposed to salty air at the seaside do you think?
Yes, lavender is very good for protecting the skin in hot and dry or cold and windy weather. Like geranium, it helps to balance the skin and keeps it in good condition. It is one of my favourite essential oils, apart from Myrtle of course!
Why just a ‘tiny bit’ pagan, pagan sounds ok to me. Anyway on the serious side, I say down with all veroa mites, may they be no more! Love the photos, especially the Christmas decorations and the one with Santa in the background, does Santa keep bees too I wonder? Wishing you all the best for next year’s beekeeping and thanks for the lovely ebook, ok if I share on Facebook?
Well, I was an editor of a successful mind body spirit magazine for several years so picked up many pagan traditions. My own on winter solstice is turning on the Christmas tree lights today as well as lighting a scented candle. And though I don’t hold all the traditions I have many lovely lovely pagan friends.
Yes do share the joy of bees ebook with one and all!
Thanks for the tip about the programme on the Queen’s garden, I shall ask for it to be recorded for me so I can watch it peacefully during the holidays. I wish all the bees a very happy New Year with a very little trouble from those mites. Amelia
Thank you Amelia, I’m not worried about the oxalic this year – the seasons don’t follow the books anymore and neither do the bees, it’s learning on your feet for all beekeepers. The bees looked so well that I’m very happy with that. I’m especially looking forward to reading gardening tips on your blog next year for a secret I hope next year will bring true. All the best for a wonderful festive season x
John really does look like Father Christmas in that photo! Love the way the decorations glow from the darkness in the first two pics.
The photo of the candle really said ‘solstice’ to me, the darkest day in winter meaning ‘sun stands-still’, when I took it at Osterley House a couple of years back. Out of the darkest day of winter comes the smallest light of the sun starting its passage to spring again. Merry Christmas and see you in 2015!
A merry solstice to you and your bees. I like the picture of your apiary as the sun goes down.
Thank you, I liked that one too – the apiary on the darkest day of winter, before I see it again in new year. Have a great Christmas.
Why do you cover the bee hives with chicken wire? Is that just to hang decorations on?
The hives are wrapped in chicken wire to protect the wood from woodpeckers, although we’ve wrapped them so poorly it’s not much good except for hanging Chrissy decs. There isn’t much trouble with woodpeckers at our apiary more a precaution. The bees like the decs though, last year they got cross when I took away the tinsel 😉
Mince pies and Christmas decoration, lucky bees. I don’t know much about bees but a good idea the bees standing still as the sun reaches a turning point on the darkest day, poetic. Thanks for writing.
Thank you for commenting. Do the bees notice the solstices and equinoxes? I’d like to imagine so, though it’s probably only my imagination. I’ve always noted them since a childhood fascination with Egyptian and Celtic mythologies, and since learning more about them during my time as a mind body spirit editor. It’s a bit of fun to break up the year.
Right best bit yet is beekeepers, mince pies, beer…
It smelt a bit boozy. I think I know that monkey 😉
You capture the season and the feeling very well.
Did you see these pictures of the solstice at Stonehenge? : http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2014/dec/22/winter-solstice-2014-celebrations-at-stonehenge-in-pictures
I did. I observe the solstice and equinox celebrations every year just to see if I can spy my old and lovely mind body spirit authors, as I rather miss them – they were a fun bunch to work with!
I also liked the BBC Winter solstice video: ‘Summer is on its way’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30568325
Thanks for the lip balm recipe. I enjoy reading about the world of bees on your blog and look forward to more stories next year.
Welcome. My blog has reflected my life and interests over the years, and so it changes as my life changes, which is a good thing. I’ve enjoyed sharing these stories here with family, friends and fellow bloggers. After having worked very hard to overcome many challenges in recent years, next year will bring new and exciting changes that I’m looking forward to sharing here in due course. Again, thank you.
Merry Christmas to you and your bees, EST. RH
Thanks RH, and a Happy New Year also. 2015 is going to be exciting.
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