Review: Living with essential oils

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Last Sunday evening I stood in the kitchen grating orange zest for a citrusy sponge mix. The sweet orange smell brought joy to my baking and the cake rising in the oven fragranced our house with the taste of home. It reminded me what a difference scent can make to daily life and got me thinking about a review I was recently invited to do.

I was over-the-moon when Buff & Butter offered to send me five essential oils to review. Given that winter came in February, I chose rose geranium and myrrh for warmth and comfort, and cedarwood, mandarin and peppermint to uplift and energise.

As an aromatherapist I love to make fragrance a part of everyday life. I also like to share recipes that anyone can make with ingredients and equipment they already have at home. For my review of Buff & Butter, I used one essential oil for five days of the week. I hope that you find the recipes as easy and enjoyable to use as I did.

Monday: Mandarin-and-vinegar fabric conditioner

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I opened my bottle of mandarin oil on Monday. The sweet citrus scent with a touch of flower blossom was pleasing and playful. Mandarin is a lovely essential oil that is gently uplifting and soothing.

Inspired by the aroma of Sunday baking, I used my mandarin oil as a homemade fragrance for Monday’s laundry. I like my housekeeping to be as natural as possible and use washing soda, or substitute washing powder for part bicarbonate soda, for laundry detergent and use distilled white vinegar for fabric softener. These clean clothes nicely and don’t leave them smelling of either soda or vinegar.

Method
Add a teaspoon of mandarin oil to half a cup of distilled white vinegar for the laundry rinse cycle to give bedsheets and towels a beautiful sweet orangey fragrance, while the vinegar softens fabric beautifully.

Buff & Butter mandarin essential oil (Citrus nobilis).

Tuesday: Cedarwood room spray

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Tuesday 1 March was the start of meteorological spring but someone forgot to tell the weather. It was cold, windy and rainy in Ickenham, not the sort of day for opening the windows to let in fresh air.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) is a wonderful essential oil with the clear scent of lofty trees. Some find the aroma calming and others find it strengthening, like a walk through a mountain forest. It’s also a good oil for inhaling due to its decongestant properties – helpful for those leftover winter colds.

Method
Cedarwood is ideal as a fragrance for the living room. If you don’t have an aromatherapy burner or vaporiser, you can use a plant spray. Add 10 drops of essential oil to 300ml of water then pour into the bottle and shake well before spraying the room.

I spray two or three times in the air to finely disperse in the middle of the room and avoid polished surfaces or leather furniture. The cedarwood room spray has a subtle and lingering sweet leafy aroma.

Buff & Butter cedarwood essential oil (Cedrus atlantica)

Wednesday: Myrrh room fragrance

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I opened myrrh as my midweek essential oil. It had a dark spicy scent that would make an exotic room fragrance. Some find myrrh’s rich resinous aroma calms the nerves. I find the fragrance has a tranquillising effect when used in small amounts, which is sometimes more helpful to an overtired mind than an essential oil with a sedative effect such as chamomile.

Method
This is another simple method to fragrance a room when you don’t have an aromatherapy burner or vaporiser. I poured boiling water into a small bowl and added six to eight drops of myrrh oil. I left the bowl on the dressing table in the bedroom, closed doors and windows and let the scent evaporate into the room.

Buff & Butter myrrh essential oil (Commiphora myrrha)

Thursday: Lazy peppermint lip balm

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One of my favourite uses for peppermint oil is in lip balm. A lip balm is so easy to make by melting a little beeswax in olive oil, but this week’s recipes were for everyone to make using other ingredients around the home. Not everyone has beeswax in their kitchen cupboard unless they’re a beekeeper or aromatherapist! But most people have a tub of vaseline in the bathroom cabinet. This peppermint lip balm is even easier to make.

Method
I never buy perfumed vaseline when I can add a few drops of natural fragrance. Add two to three drops of peppermint oil to a 25g jar of vaseline and use a cocktail stick to stir. (I warm the vaseline in sunshine first to make it easier to stir.) The method can be a little messy, smooth the mixture with the back of a teaspoon and wipe off excess around the sides with a kitchen towel.

My lazy peppermint lip balm smelt delicious – sweet, sharp and so clean it almost made my lips feel sparkly!

Buff & Butter peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita)

Friday: Rose geranium cream bath

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On Friday I opened my bottle of rose geranium oil and smelt a fragrance that was like a rose slowly unfolding. Its floral scent was simply sensational, I wanted to bathe in it. So I ran a bath and poured in rose geranium oil blended with cream. A luxury bathtime treat worthy of Cleopatra!

Method
Pour 150ml of double cream into a small jar adding 15 drops of rose geranium oil. Shake well to blend and then add the contents to a hot bath, swoosh around thoroughly.

This rose geranium cream bath would also make a lovely homemade gift for Mothering Sunday. Pour the blend into a pretty jar and label for mum to use same day!

Buff & Butter rose geranium essential oil (Pelargonium species)

So there you go, five ways to use five essential oils at home every day of the week.

The iced orange bundt cake also turned out well.

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Disclaimer: I received Buff & Butter‘s five essential oils for free in return for a review and, as you can see, they were beautifully versatile to use. I loved their particularly fresh fragrance which evoked memories of summer meadows.

A beekeeper’s notes for the year

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In summer the stories of different hives hang about like threads in the air as the beekeeper walks around the apiary and the bees criss-cross past the flowers and trees. From early spring to late autumn, the hives are seen with queen cells, artificial swarms, drone layers, pearly brood, rainbows of pollen, and row upon row of glistening nectar. Colonies are inspected, swarmed, re-queened, split and united again. Last year I kept a note of each month’s observations of the hives and of the apiary as it changed around them.

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My monthly notes have been summarised into a small photo book following walks around the apiary through winter, spring, summer and autumn. These past five years of sharing hives with Emily Scott at Adventuresinbeeland’s blog has shown that keeping regular notes of personal observations about the bees, as well as hive records, is so helpful, particularly during times of unseasonable seasons. The beekeeping calendar changes as often as the weather and writing down our experiences of keeping bees through bitter or mild winters and hot or chilly summers is invaluable.

You can freely download A beekeepers notes for the year by EmmaSarahTennant or receive as a free ebook here. You can also order a hard copy on my Blurb bookstore here, for which you’ll need to pay the Blurb store price for printing and postage, and for which £2 I’ll donate to the charity Bees for Development.

I would like to say a huge thanks to everyone who has read, liked and commented on my blog posts in 2015, and a Very Happy New Year to all!

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.

A beekeeper’s notes for May

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Today was sunny and warm for foraging. The garden was buzzing with honeybees, bumbles, solitary bees, and other pollinators. “Do damselflies buzz?” I wondered as a bright blue streak flew past.

Fairer weather had attracted cake-foraging beekeepers to the apiary with a small crowd sitting down for cream sponge and chocolate chip. I tried a slice of each and Jonesy told me his latest queen dramas. “I bought a new queen from Greece,” he said. “I’ve called her Olivia.”

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Pulling on our suits, Emily and I followed Jonesy past the overgrown apiary path to visit Olivia. She was still in a cage with the worker bees desperately crowded around her. We all hoped that they would greet the new queen kindly. We’ll have to wait and see.

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A bumble bee was slowly walking towards the hive reigned by Queen Pepper. Emily tried to discourage her from going inside, because Pepper’s lively ladies would probably nip off her hairs.

The Bailey comb change was interrupted on Pepper’s hive, because the colony was split in an artificial swarm about three weeks ago. This I feel is a possible disadvantage to doing a Bailey comb change later in the season, by becoming interrupted by the swarming instinct, but the wet weather at the start of spring made us wait.

Pepper wasn’t spotted in her hive, but Emily found eggs so the queen was there at least three days ago. The bees were content and doing well for stores and brood, and even have a super on top.

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The split colony was behaving well, but there was no sign of a new queen, eggs or much in the way of brood or stores. We’ll check again next week, as new queens can take their time to settle in, before deciding whether to re-combine the colonies.

Melissa’s hive had completed the Bailey comb change. I found eggs in the top brood box along with nicely even biscuit-coloured worker brood and plenty of stores. The honeycomb in the bottom brood box was almost emptied, but it was still full of bees. How to get them out? Shake the bees?

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We chose a gentler option that had worked in previous years. With the top brood box placed on the hive floor, we created a space above the colony using an empty brood box and put the bottom brood box above this. The cavity should encourage the bees to rob out any remaining stores and move downstairs, but it will be quite crowded. This is a strong colony. Another super will be needed to give the bees more space.

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At home it was peaceful to sit in the garden and let nature take care of itself. I got out my camera for the first time since the start of the year and captured the blue tits coming and going from their nesting box.

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The mason bees are behind bars after I found strange sticks poking out of the bug hotel. It was suggested on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook Group that larger birds like magpies and crows might use sticks to poke out the bees. The cage seems to have deterred the birds, I’ve found no more strange sticks and the bees don’t mind it.

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The red leafy tree is yielding delicate tiny flowers beloved by honeybees and bumble bees. I could just about see a fat fuzzy bumble hanging off foliage in the branches above.

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All is well in the hives and garden for May – long may it last. Tomorrow rain is forecast, let’s hope it passes soon.

My next post will be in two weeks’ time, while I catch up with all of yours!

Bees at the bottom of the garden

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The bees were in high spirits when I arrived. A group of beginner beekeepers had finished looking at David Pugh’s hive, and were floating about the apiary like drones.

I took my time in lighting the smoker and opening up the hive belonging to our queen Melissa. After a few weeks spent away for illness, and with Emily at her allotment bees this weekend, it felt like my first proper inspection for a while. I was surprised to find that I needed to steady my nerves before getting on.

A heavy super lifted out of the way and I was inside the nest. The workers were busy, the drones were buzzing loudly, and the queen was spotted on the third frame that I pulled out. I was glad to see that I hadn’t lost my queen-spotting skills, but as the buzzing got louder I imagined the queen hadn’t recognised me. “Who is she?” The bees were saying, “What is she doing looking here?”

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The beginners who had bought Chili’s and Chamomile’s colonies from Emily while I was away were asking questions. I really wasn’t much help, I’m afraid, as I was trying to focus my breath and my thoughts on what I was doing. They had found two queen cells with the old queen in the small colony, and were wondering what to do. I suggested that they could do an artificial swarm with the old queen if they were worried about the bees swarming (although the colony was small for a split), or wait till next week as more than likely the workers were trying to supersede the two-year-old queen, and as there were only two queen cells (unless they had missed more). The beginners had already decided to wait and see.

As the new beekeepers left, I finished inspecting the top brood box and then looked inside the bottom brood box for the two queen cells listed as found in our hive records two weekends ago. The cells were gone as I imagined they would be.

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The two queen cells were found on my first Saturday back inspecting the hives with Emily, and when the Bailey comb change was underway. I suspect that either a small swarm was missed in late April to early May, or that the bees were starting to make preparations to swarm that were thwarted by the late Bailey comb change. Perhaps with the queen being in the top brood box and a queen excluder beneath, the bees were unable to swarm away unless they starved her smaller. I doubt the bees were trying to supersede young Melissa who is laying nicely, but it’s just guesswork as I haven’t been able to do much with the bees this spring and I’m still catching up.

I closed up the hive as best as I could, but the weight of the heavy super felt the crunch of some bees beneath.

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Pepper’s hive was split during a beginners’ session last weekend. Interestingly that colony also was in the middle of a Bailey comb change with the queen found in the bottom box and the queen cells found in the top box. The top box was removed to make a new hive leaving the colony ‘artificially swarmed’ in a less than usual way.

Pepper’s bees can be feisty and, as they had already been split, and as I’m supposed to be taking things slowly for another few weeks, I stopped at one inspection hoping that the original colony wasn’t busy casting off.

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At the apiary table Andy Pedley, John Chapple and Alan Gibbs were talking about the record number of swarms reported in London this year. What could be causing this? The rise in ‘middle-class’ beekeepers as one newspaper reported, the surge in inexperienced beginners, or ailing beekeepers like myself failing to check for cast offs? Perhaps it was due to the changeable spring weather with spurts of warm sunshine taking bees and beekeepers by surprise? Or had there been a sudden surge in nectar, because the apiary bees were bringing home a wealth of stores? It could be all of the above, although the newspapers often don’t reflect the world of possibilities in beekeeping.

I left the apiary as Tom was leading Jochen to see the hives. I had more bees waiting for me at home, as well as fish and birds.

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We have bees at the bottom of the garden, which is something that I’ve dreamed about since I first started beekeeping. Our bees aren’t honeybees, they are red mason bees, I think!

The bug house that I planted beside the plot of earth, which will be next year’s vegetable patch, has taken up residents. The mason bees moved in a few weeks ago and have been so busy occupying each tube that they are now looking for more holes in the two sheds for homes. I’ll have to buy another bug house!

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It’s good to see Myrtle’s Palace so well used and I’m learning lots about my new bees, the solitaries, along the way. My early morning walks around the garden have revealed that red mason bees like to have a lie-in…

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And apparently the bees lose their red colour as they get older, becoming more yellow…

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I also learned one evening, after finding a few ants casually walking in and out, that bug hotels need some keeping too. A night spent reading how to care for a solitary bee home, including how to protect it from predators like ants, spiders and birds, had me awake early the next day to rebuild the stand higher up with a water tray ‘moat’ and Vaseline-smeared bricks. This seems to have done the job of deterring the ants for now.

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The fish at the top of the garden are doing well. They had a visit from two local garden and pond fish experts, Sylvia and Paul, who said the pond was doing just fine. Sylvia kindly brought some cuttings of a yellow flower from her pond to put into ours, because “it grows beautifully and the fish love it”.

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I was relieved to hear that I’d been feeding the fish and topping up the water levels correctly. The garden has buckets to collect rainwater to help top up the pond and I use Fresh Start when topping up with tap water, though Sylvia also reassured me that leaving a bucket of tap water to stand outside for a few days would make “the chlorine fly away”.

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The collected rainwater is also useful for feeding the Venus flytraps in our kitchen, one of which is now flowering.

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I discovered that we have a hidden well, which Sylvia and Paul thought had once been a frog pond. “Look out for frogs in the fish pond” they said when I told them about the frog spawn, “the frogs can strangle the fish if they start competing for space or want something to mate with!”

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A stroll around the middle of the garden and past the blue tits’ nesting box (I’ve not been fast enough to get a picture of the birds coming in and out) allowed Sylvia and Paul to helpfully point out weeds…

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…and give me some useful gardening advice, in particular how to control our rampaging bamboo and how to repair the Yorkshire stone paving. “Don’t throw it away or give it to me!” said Sylvia.

There is a world of discovery waiting for us in the garden, I wish that I had more time to spend there. I’m so grateful for Sylvia’s and Paul’s visit and for their generous advice. I’ve given them details of visiting our apiary in return.

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My next post will be in two weeks’ time bringing more stories from the hive and unlocking more secrets from the garden. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week ahead.

Spending time in nature 

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It’s a friendly garden. The birds, bees and fish are happy here. It’s a good place to rest and spend time in nature.

I’ve taken a break these past two weeks after being in hospital with breathing difficulties. Perhaps moving home, work and bronchitis all caught up till my body said ‘stop’. So that’s what I did.

The doctors and nurses have been wonderful and I’ve had the best of care. I’ve got a lot of thank you letters to write from the kind Boots pharmacists where I first fell ill, to the fantastic A&Es at University Hospital London and Hillingdon Hospital where I was treated, to the lovely doctors at Sameday clinic for their reassuring support.

I don’t like to do nothing and I’m impatient to get back to everything. John has been incredible, and both our families have been making sure that I’ve taken life more slowly.

My lovely hive partner Emily has been taking care of our bees and sent me these beautiful flowers! I also had a lovely get well card from my work and John’s work has been amazingly supportive in giving him time to look after me.

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Spending time in nature with the insects that I love, listening to the birds singing, and spying the frog in the pond has been the best medicine.

I hope you don’t mind me taking a break from blogging and from reading all the blogs I follow too. It won’t be long till I’m back with more stories from the bees, some new creatures, and the garden.

Myrtle’s Palace



This morning as the sun shone I fed the fish in the pond, gave the robins in the hedge their breakfast, and finally found a home for the bug hotel I bought last summer. It’s christened ‘Myrtle’s Palace’ after my favourite queen bee, and hopefully will attract friendly pollinators like solitary bees and lacewings to the garden. 

A happy move to a new home can often bring positive new energy. I was given food for thought yesterday about other areas of my life that need a clear out. Now we’ve settled into our new home I can look forward to making changes for the better. Well, as I said in my new year post, this will be a year of exciting happenings! 



A short visit to the apiary Saturday afternoon allowed Emily and I to check the feed under the roof, but it was too cold to open up the hives. An encouraging sign was seeing Chamomile’s workers take to the feeder with vigour having drained last week’s syrup. This hive is one of two weak colonies coming out of winter, but I hope feeding and warmth will allow the queens to lay again. 



This week’s post is brief as we have no broadband and intermittent Internet access. So as the robins build their nest, for now just wishing everyone a wonderful sunny Sunday.