I learned a new word when I was in Münster, York’s German twin town, a couple of weeks ago. That word was: Imker. It means ‘beekeeper’. And beekeeping doesn’t get much more local than at my friend Margret’s house. Look carefully and you’ll see the beehives (Bienenstöcke)are on the roof of her house!
Spot the (German) bee hives!
The day I went round to visit, the Imker – her brother-in-law Gerd – and his son Lukas were harvesting the honey from the hives. It was a fascinating process to watch (not least because the last time I’d seen Lukas, he was not much more than a toddler!)
One of the hives down at ground level, opened up ready for harvesting
So here is Lukas (all grown up now) decapping a frame of honeycomb – i.e. taking off the wax cappings. They’ll make candles out of this beeswax.
Lukas decapping a honeycomb frame
Then the frames go into Imker Gerd’s centrifuge, and the honey comes dripping out of the bottom, into the yellow bucket you can see below.
Imker Gerd with his centrifuge.
They harvest the honey like this twice a year, once in May and then again in August, when we were there.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be given a jar of their May ‘echter deutscher Blütenhonig’ (genuine German blossom honey) to bring back home. ‘Spitzenqualität vom Imker’ it says on the label. And now I know what that means – both linguistically and taste-wise!
The Münster honey makes it back to twin town York
Actually, as I’ve been writing this I’ve discovered there are several English words to do with beekeeping that I didn’t know and had to look up. ‘Decapping’ being one of them. And it may well be that I’ve got some of my beekeeping phraseology wrong here too – in which case, feel free to set me straight!
I’m on much surer ground when it comes to performing my Honeybee poem (from p. 24 of my Buzzing! book). Maybe I ought to think about performing that in German in future … .
So, as we head towards the end of January 2015, it’s high time I looked back over the wildlife wonders of 2014 here in my little garden in Heslington, on the outskirts of York. As ever, there were plenty of wildlife surprises over the course of the year. Here, in chronological order, are some of the highlights.
Moving away from the buzzing of bees, do you happen to know what this sound is:
The astute amongst you may have guessed that what you were listening to was courting hedgehogs. On several nights in July we had a pair of hedgehogs wandering – warily – round and round and round each other in circles, making a noise that explains where they get the name ‘hogs’ from! This courting goes on for quite some time.
Courting hedgehogs, 11 July 2014
We’ve been lucky enough to have hedgehog couples come to our garden for their amorous ‘getting to know you’ routine before, and it was great to see them back here in 2014.
Newly hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, 24 June 2014
On the moth front, the highlight was undoubtedly the appearance of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle in late September. With the added bonus that I managed to get my camera out and the settings sorted in time to take this photo.
Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle, 24 September 2014
It’s not brilliant, but it’s my best Hummingbird Hawkmoth photo yet – and a distinct improvement on the ‘blur at a fleur’ pix of said moth that I’ve managed on the two previous occasions I’ve seen this beauty in our garden. (Yes, a grand total of 3 sightings in 18 years!)
You can find out more about the Hummingbird Hawkmoth in my Buzzing! book.
Our Memorable Amphibian Incident of 2014 happened late in the year when I found a frog in the dining room. (Tricky things to catch, leaping frogs. But I did eventually manage to escort it off the premises.)
And finally … staying indoors, I noticed a speck of dirt on our living room carpet in early November. I was making a mental note to sweep it up at some point, when it jumped. Now, I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty certain specks of dirt don’t jump.
So, out came the camera, and when I zoomed in on the photo, I saw that far from being a speck of dirt, it was in fact an insect. The same insect I had mistaken for a speck of soil outside on our patio the week before.
Yorkshire Orthoptera Recorder Dr Dave Chesmore confirmed it as a Slender groundhopper (Tetrix subulata):
“It is a species that has been really under recorded,” he said.
I’m not surprised – it’s tiny!
Slender groundhopper – just 1cm long.
This is the first indoor record Dave has of a Slender groundhopper. Moral of the tale: don’t be too assiduous in your hoovering. It may be you are in the presence of an important biological specimen that needs recording! (And then releasing into the outdoors before you continue with your housework.)
So, that’s a brief rundown of the best of 2014. What wildlife wonders will 2015 bring to Heslington? Who knows. However, the year has started well, with a visit from a Lesser Redpoll – a bird I’ve only ever seen once or twice here before. An excellent start to my BTO Garden Birdwatch year.
Lesser Redpoll on our sunflower seeds, 16 January 2015
I wish you a 2015 filled with wildlife wonders, wherever you may be. And don’t forget to let the relevant recording organisations know what you’ve seen. There’s a list of who to tell about what at my website.
The very wonderful Bumblebee Conservation Trust says that Tree bumblebees sometimes nest in birds’ nest boxes, but I’d never seen this for myself. And now I have!
Here’s what they look like in action. Tip: Blink and you’ll miss them! (Other tip: don’t get your hopes up for great works of art when it comes to my wildlife videos!)
As I was watching the Tree bumblebees go in and out of the nest box the other day, I noticed that there were some other bees buzzing around nearby. I took a closer look and saw that there was a small circular hole in the mortar to the right of the nest box. Can you see it?
Here’s what it looks like close up:
And here’s what was going in and out of that hole:
I think these are Red Mason Bees (Osmia rufa). The Red Mason Bee is so-called because, as my Collins Complete British Insects reliably informs me, ‘of its liking for the mortar of old walls. It rakes out the mortar and constructs its nest cells in the cavity before rendering it over again.’
And talking of rendering … when I went to look at the hole four days later, it had disappeared:
Red Mason Bee nest hole rendered over, 6 May 2014
You would barely have known it was there!
Spot the Mason Bee nest hole …
Apparently Red Mason Bees are very common in gardens, so look out where you are and see if you have any nest holes. Tree bumblebees nesting in bird boxes are probably a little less common – but keep an eye out for them nevertheless. They are a beautiful sight!
If you want to know more about bumblebee nests (from how to attract bumblebees to nest, to what to do if you find a bumblebee nest) the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is the place to go!
Tree bumblebee in our garden, May 2014
STOP PRESS: Find out what the Tree bumblebees did next here. (It’s amazing!)
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust‘s Buzzword newsletter arrived today, and I was delighted to read the first article, all about the Bees for Everyone launches I took part in in May. Turns out they thought the poem I wrote for them, and performed with local schoolchildren, ‘stole the show’ in London and was ‘show stopping’ in Edinburgh too! Take a read below (or as a pdf):
Well, that’s very good to hear! Especially on the day I saw a huge (and gorgeous) Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) queen on the lavender in my garden. At least I think it’s a queen . I’ll upload it to the BBCT’s BeeWatch scheme and double check! (Meanwhile, you can find out more about Tree bumblebees here.)
Oh, and if you’d like a poem writing and performing for your event, get in touch!
P.S. I’ve just heard back from the BeeWatch people, who tell me: ‘it is difficult to separate queens from large workers as there is an overlap. All I can say is that it is possible to be a queen because of the time of year. It is the end of their season.’
It’s not often I find myself edu-taining the Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries (Richard Benyon MP) and the Scottish Environment Minister (Stewart Stevenson MSP) about the importance of bumblebees, but that’s exactly what I was doing last week, at the national launches of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust‘s ‘Bees for Everyone’ project:
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) had commissioned me to write ‘a political poem about bumblebees’ for these launch events. As you can see, I performed the poem with the able assistance of deely-bob-clad schoolchildren.
Richard Benyon MP, Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, helping to launch the BBCT’s Bees for Everyone project
The London launch took place at Battersea Arts Centre, whose entrance is decorated with beautiful bee mosaics!
Bee mosaic at Battersea Arts Centre
The children assisting me were from Stoneydown Park Primary School – all prize-winners from the BBCT’s bumblebee art competition. Their prize included copies of my newly published Buzzing! book – with a Foreword by the BBCT’s CEO Dr Ben Darvill – for their school library. (The copies kindly donated by my publisher, Brambleby Books.)
Me with one of the prize-winning children and his copy of my Buzzing! book
Take a look at some of the children’s wonderful bee pictures:
Edinburgh prize-winning bumblebee pictures, by Duddingston Primary School pupils
These children were also presented with a copy of my Buzzing! book – by the Scottish Environment Minister …
With Scottish Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson MSP, presenting a copy of my Buzzing! book to a young bumblebee artist
… and Scottish tv’s Beechgrove Garden presenter, George Anderson.
Scottish Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson and tv’s George Anderson presenting my Buzzing! book to Duddingston Primary pupils
The Edinburgh launch also featured rather fabulous bee cakes and buns, created and donated by Edinburgh Cakes.
Fabulous bumblebee cake and buns
The great and the good were at both these launches, during which the Bumblebee Conservation Trust introduced their new ‘Bee Kind’ app. Go take a look – it’s a great way of making sure you have the very best selection of flowers in your garden to attract bumblebees through the year.
Professor Michael Usher OBE, FRSE, Chair of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, launching the Bees for Everyone project
And in case you were wondering why you should bother about bumblebee numbers – bear in mind that 84% of our crops are pollinated by insects, including bumblebees. (A point I tried to make in a slightly more entertaining way in my poem, as you’ll see in the video above.)
Many thanks to everyone from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for inviting me to be part of their launch events, especially to CEO Dr Ben Darvill for commissioning a poem from me and seeing its potential, to Gill Perkins who organised the London launch, and to Linda Evans who organised the Edinburgh launch. Thank you too to all the schoolchildren who joined in my poem with such gusto – and to the staff who chaperoned them.
I wish the BBCT the very best of luck with their vitally important Bees for Everyone campaign.
With Gill Perkins, who organised the London launch of Bees for Everyone
Buzzing! Discover the poetry in garden minibeasts. By Anneliese Emmans Dean
160 full colour pages, over 170 close-up photos of garden minibeasts (that it took me around 8 years to take), 67 edu-taining minibeast poems and oodles of factabulous minibeast facts. For children aged 6-12, and for all grown-ups who are young at heart!