Summer surprise 

Our first summer in the Crooked House is passing quickly. The blue tit family has flown away and the mason bees are sealed behind mud doors.

This year’s crop tastes of blackberries and lime. My kitchen was filled with the smell of freshly spun comb after I took three frames of honey from Queen Melissa’s hive. The comb dripped generously as the wax caps were taken off.

The honey was not as clear as last summer’s pale straw-like harvest, but it was surprisingly easy to spin out in a new extractor. I poured some of the golden liquid into a mini pot for Emily, leaving the rest to settle in a bucket before it is filtered and jarred.

The smoker was billowing in the hazy sunshine when I arrived at the apiary. There were more surprises waiting inside the hive.

Queen Melissa’s workers had built a wave of natural comb in the space left by one of the super frames. We carefully upturned the crownboard and removed it intact to take home.

A quick inspection of the supers showed that the queen cells had now disappeared. Had the workers succeeded in their attempts to supersede the queen, or given up?

I returned the wet frames to the supers for the bees to clean up, before opening the brood nest. There was no sign of Melissa for a second week. The numbers of bees climbing over the frames made the inspection difficult and I couldn’t clearly see eggs. The brood nest looked small, had a young rival overthrown Melissa after all? We decided to wait till next week before putting in a test frame of eggs to find out.

The swarmed colony from Pepper’s hive is building up strongly. The new queen has been named Peppermint for her mother, and for the lively spirit of the bees that she makes. I didn’t see the queen, but the brood nest gives confidence that she is inside and laying well. I’ve noticed that queens are good at hiding later in the season.

Pepper’s workers were busy licking up a pool of honey from more natural-built comb inside the hive. We’re going to tackle that next weekend.

Tom’s experiments in natural comb-building have been a success at the apiary. He pulled frame upon frame of curved comb built without foundation or wire by the bees. “I’ve noticed that the bees use every bit when they make the comb themselves,” said Tom. “Whereas on the foundation they sometimes leave cells untouched.”

At the entrance of the hive, Tom pointed out the drones being kicked out in droves by the workers. It seems early in the season for a drone exodus, but perhaps another sign of how quickly this summer is passing by.

The flower beds in my garden have been full of their own surprises this summer. A Sunday afternoon of weeding revealed a beautiful yellow Missouri primrose hidden behind a wall of thistles. She blooms at dusk and has had a lot of visitors in the morning. A lacewing, a hoverfly and a sweat bee (Lasioglossum sp.) have basked in the sunshine of her petals.

The rampaging weeds at the back of the garden in the vegetable patch remain untouched. I’ll dig over the earth in autumn to sow runner beans and potatoes, but for now the foliage is providing a habitat for creatures like hornet mimic hoverflies and the new leafcutter bees in the bug hotel.


I’ve called the big leafcutter who comes and goes most, Albie. They are more shy than the masons.

A new family of baby sparrows have been landing on the garden decking to play in the makeshift bird bath (a large salad bowl filled with water and stones). They give hope that despite the march of the drones, there is still new life to come from this summer.


18 thoughts on “Summer surprise 

  1. I noted the drones are being kicked out, a better indicator of the change of seasons, even if the changes in the cycles is out of synch this year in the UK.

    • Everything has come early this year even though we had a cold wet spell in May. I agree that signs in nature are a better indicator of the turning seasons than the calendars we set. If the bees are kicking out drones and the leafcutters are already nesting, then perhaps autumn is not far away.

  2. Loved this post Emma. and was fascinated with the wavy combs they made .. I am learning lots about bees, and I think you are right, Nature is always a better indicator than the calender .. And have you seen the amount of berries on the trees this year.. Nature is making sure there is plenty for Winter, and I feel this year may be harsher than in the past..

    We put our Bug Hotel up late so no takers as yet that I have seen.. But I live in hope 🙂
    How are the Fish?… we used rain water and did a partial water change and its clearing much better…
    And that Honey looks delicious 🙂 wonderful..
    Enjoy Sunday… 🙂 Hugs Sue xx

  3. Beautiful images. Watching the passage of natural events during summer is fascinating but it always seems to go to quickly for all I’d like to do.

  4. Do you really think that autumn is close by in your locality? My queens are still laying drone brood. I hope that the weather stays good for a couple of months yet. I am not even nearly ready for then end of bee season. Very impressive photo’s Emily I like the one of the leaf cutter’s tube with the big leaf being used. Thank you

  5. Autumn seems rather far away here in Virginia. We’ve had heavy rain every few days and temperatures mostly above 85 Fahrenheit (30+ Celsius). So far the bees remain active though if the rain stops I suspect we’ll hit a summer dearth. Great pictures, thanks for sharing.

    • After yesterday’s sun, it has rained all today where we are. But the garden needed a good watering and the fish enjoy swimming beneath the raindrops splashing the pond. It’s like an all-over fountain for them. Each year is hard to predict the nectar flow, I think, because in London you’ll never know what’s flowering next around the corner. I’ve heard some beekeepers say the main nectar flow may be over for the year, but I’ve a feeling the parks and gardens have more surprises to yield. Happy foraging to your bees too!

    • Thanks David! I’m learning lots from seeing bees (who are ‘new’, to me) and other insects in the garden. I hope to see many more in July and August. Having never had a garden before, I’ll be curious to see what flowers and wildlife visit in autumn and winter too – huge hugs! xxx

    • It’s very exciting to have leafcutters, I’ve never seen them at work before. So far the bee hotel has one hole stuffed with leaves and four more (three of which are extremely small) with chewed leave walls. I’ve seen only two leafcutters and none for the past couple of days, but they’ll be interesting to learn about.

  6. Your garden is a real hive of activity. I have not seen any leaf cutter bees in my nests this year although I have been looking for them. The Hollyhocks are in front of them but I can’t see that should matter. Your honey sounds delicious, lime is my favourite. The white comb looks beautiful. I would like to try some next year to eat as honeycomb. Amelia

  7. Pingback: The beauty of bees | Adventuresinbeeland's Blog

    • Thanks Em! Great post btw 🙂 I can’t comment on it as my WP app is playing up and my Mac is broken – again! Perhaps Drew can look at it if he comes next Sunday to help with honey extraction? 🙂

  8. Thank you for a wonderful adventure of beekeeping and garden news. I do hope that your Melissa hive behaves itself and you succeed installing a queen in that colony.

    I was also fascinated to see the picture of Tom’s foundationless frames. The hive that I brought from the Périgueux region of France – Amelia’s afrenchgarden story – had foundationless frames looking exactly like Tom’s. But somehow the bees appear to have abandoned that frame after partially building it and stocking it with honey. I wonder if Tom’s bees will fully build on that frame?

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