A Christmas letter


Once again Christmas in Hereford was a magical experience. We arrived from London in time for the candlelit carol service on Christmas Eve. A starry sky and glowing barns lit up the muddy foot path to Amberley Church. We sang as the cows grazed contentedly outside and the fairy lights twinkled inside.

Christmas Day was another beautiful day of bright sunshine and blue skies. It was bitterly cold but that didn’t matter with a log fire roaring in the living room. After dinner, we watched The Queen’s Garden on ITV, presented by Alan Titchmarsh, for an appearance by John Chapple, Queen’s Beekeeper and Ealing member.

A bee on the thumb of Royal Beekeeper John Chapple, taken at London Beekeepers Bee Health Day.

A bee on the thumb of Royal Beekeeper John Chapple, taken at London Beekeepers Bee Health Day.

Alan Titchmarsh spoke to John about keeping the royal bees as he helped to harvest honey from the hives. “Nectar of the gods,” said John, scoring honeycomb with his hive tool. Alan described the taste of the honey as like “dessert wine” and asked what made it so good. John explained that there’s a large variety of trees and plants in the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace, which gives the honey a unique flavour: “If it’s in here, the bees will find it, and we’re tasting it”.

The honey is used in the Queen’s kitchen and she has even given some to the Pope. John must be very proud. It was a pleasure to watch him talk about the bees on TV just as he does at Ealing apiary. Andy Pedley was also there on the day of filming and is John’s Assistant Royal Beekeeper. (Thomas Bickerdike says you can hear John tell Andy to put the queen back in the hive!)

If you missed the Royal Beekeeper on Christmas Day, The Queen’s Garden episode 1 is available to watch here for the next 30 days. My work is just round the corner from Buckingham Palace and I enjoyed watching the hidden treasures of its gardens.

John Chapple is well-known authority on beekeeping and he gave our new queens the thumbs up.

Here’s John Chapple inspecting our bees at Ealing apiary with beekeeper Rosemary watching.

It rained on New Year’s Day washing the world clean outside my window. The first Saturday back at the apiary I had a cold and it was drizzling, but that didn’t dampen my spirits or those of the beekeepers chatting over tea and a table of Christmas leftovers. I was also wearing my new Joules bee wellies, a Christmas gift from my boyfriend John’s mum, which were much admired by the women beekeepers.

Jonesy and Albert were giving their bees oxalic acid. “You’ve already poisoned your bees, I hear,” grinned Thomas. “Yes” I said, “But they are on a January detox.”

Emily and I checked the varroa boards under our hives to find varying results of mite drop. Still it is good to see mites on the board rather than in the hives. It has been an unusual winter, the bees haven’t slowed down much and already I saw signs of buds and blossom in the bracken. Here are more Ealing beekeepers at work on the first cold rainy Saturday of January.


There was more to tell of this afternoon’s beekeeping, but I’ll leave those stories of craft and sneaky bees to Thomas and Emily to reveal on their blogs.

I had brought new fondant for the bees, who had mostly munched their way through the first block. The warmer autumn might have meant that they had used their winter honey stores more quickly.

We followed John’s tip of cutting a hole in the middle of the old block and the new block, then carefully placing the new fondant on top for the bees to crawl through. This helps to avoid squashing the bees by removing the old fondant and putting on new fondant.

Our four hives are doing very well this winter and I am hopeful that they will be strong in spring. John has said, wryly on occasion, women make the best beekeepers because we are gentle and patient with the bees, although I learned that from him. He also attributes our good fortune at Ealing apiary to witchcraft! I’ll leave you to decide which is true…


In more good news, another Ealing beekeeper is blogging – the inspiring Matwinder Randhawa tells us about her travels in Postcards from San Francisco. Do join her “journey of unbelievable adventure and beauty” in 2015.


19 thoughts on “A Christmas letter

  1. I enjoyed watching the programme about the Queen’s garden when I was in the U.K. I would not have known to watch it unless I had been alerted by your blog so that my daughter could record it for me. I recognised John Chapple, from your blog photos, straight away! The programme was fascinating, I envied the Queen all that manure from the royal horses. I think the bee he has is the Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva, it visits my blackcurrants when they are in flower. I think your first photograph is so Chrismassy! Beautiful. Amelia

    • Amelia – I think that’s hilarious you envy the Queen her manure 😉 John was at the apiary yesterday and as usual not bothered by it all. He is just about the bees 🙂 Thanks for identifying the bee, I remember this creature was cold and crawled on John’s thumb for warmth, sitting there for a long time before flying away. And sadly I’m taking our decorations down today before 12th night, but they have been enjoyed.

  2. I’m looking forward to watching The Queen’s Garden and seeing your John Chapple. I’m in the U.S. and it’s scheduled to play on PBS on January 11. Thanks for the info – it sounds like a great program!

  3. Thanks for your heads-up on The Queen’s Garden. Not a lot translates from your gardens to ours, but I still enjoy seeing them. Best of luck with the bees in 2015!

    • I like the allure of ‘secret’ gardens, thus the added fascination of the show. Thanks, I’ll pass on your best wishes to the bees. Looking forward to seeing what grows in your garden this year too 🙂

  4. I have yet to see any bees floating around but there is plenty of flowers about for them to visit, unusual in my experience in a winter. The weather has been schizophrenic here in Colchester, but on average warmer for the bees needs.

  5. I really wanted to watch the show, but it would not accept my zip code when asked to register. Then I tried one from London and it was rejected too. Oh well. I will wait for it on our PBS which often broadcasts show from the UK. That little hippo is from Finland. I got mailed one from there a few years back.

    • I heard (comments above) it’s playing on PBS on 11 January so hope you get to catch it then.

      Ah, Moomins, I grew up watching the cartoon after school then when I went to Sweden to visit a friend, I saw them everywhere. Now a Moomin shop has opened in Covent Garden. I love those Finnish hippos!

  6. Pingback: A beekeeper’s notes for January | Miss Apis Mellifera

Say hi! Your comment is appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s