December News from the Abbey Beekeeper

All is quiet in the apiary – although the bees were flying quite hard in the last week of November. The ivy was still producing traces of pollen and nectar – at least enough to get the bees interested and moving.

A new film called, ‘More Than Honey’, is suggesting that we may have over domesticated our bees. To reverse the declining bee population it is proposing that the solution may to cross them with African killer bees.

The logic behind this proposal is that the African killer honey bee has a stronger  immune system and is immune to the parasitic mites which are devastating domesticated bee colonies……The difficulty is having such killer bees among us!


The best place for your apiary is probably not the farthest corner of the garden amongst the nettles and beside the compost heap! Nor is it a good idea to choose the hottest corner of the garden where the mid-day sun could over heat the hive.

A stand in the open is fine as long as you provide a wind break – this may also provide shade. An orchard provides protection against the wind which can throw bees off course on their way home.

The hives may face any point on the compass. The traditional south eastern aspect is normal.  If there is a path around the apiary, it is a good idea to have a bush or fence between the hives and the path to force the bees to fly up high and over it.

Avoid places where sheep, cattle and horses graze as they can knock over a hive. Bees don’t like dogs or horses but are fairly tolerant of other farm animals.

Accessibility is important – you don’t want to have to carry equipment too far.

It is natural to want to set your hives in a straight line, like a neat row of houses. When hives are in a line with the same colour bees tend to drift.

Younger bees on their orientation flights and older bees returning from foraging can make a mistake and go to the wrong hive where they are permitted entry. The guards at the hive entrance detect the difference between innocent visitors bringing presents and robber bees.

Where hives are close together and in a straight line, the drifting of young bees is considerable. Strong winds blowing along the line of hives will carry flying bees past their own entrance and on to another that looks just the same. And with goes any disease that they may be carrying. Or they pick up a disease which they carry back home. As far as possible, space out the hives irregularly over the available ground and a few yards apart.

It is best to give each hive an individualistic site by placing it beside a tree or shrub facing a different direction from its neighbours.

An advantage of spreading hives is that manipulation is easier when one hive can be handled without bumping two others and inviting trouble. Also for some operations you need a space where you can place a second hive and this requires room.

Providing distinctive landmarks or individuality for a hive will also help to young queens on their mating flights. Queens are as prone to error as are workers and if they enter the wrong hive they will be killed unless the colony is in the throes of supersedure or swarming. In any case there is likely to be one colony left without a queen!

If space is limited, you can paint hives different colours and with a distinctive design to prevent drifting and also face them in different directions.


It is said that Cleopatra would soak in milk and honey baths. Whether it is true or not, it is not surprising that the story has persisted for so long — honey has a tremendous effect on the skin. And that’s not all — honey is a powerful antiseptic and a natural sugar substitute.


1. Relieve Hangovers. A few tablespoons of honey which is packed with fructose, will help speed up your body’s metabolism of alcohol.

2. Heal Wounds, Cuts, Scrapes & Burns. Apply the affected area. Honey works as a natural antiseptic.

3. Soothe Sore Throats and Coughs. Combine honey with the juice of one lemon and drink. It works like a wonder!

4. Remove Parasites. Combine equal parts honey, vinegar and water and drink. The combination of these three ingredients is the perfect parasite killer.

5. Moisturize Dry Skin. Honey is a good moisturizer, especially on dry patches, like your elbows or hands — even your lips! Rub onto your dry, patchy skin and let it sit for about 30 minutes before washing off. Honey also makes a great lip balm!

6. Condition Damaged Hair. Honey is a natural conditioner. You can simply add a teaspoon of honey to your regular shampoo. You can also combine it with olive oil for a deeper conditioning. Let it soak for 20 minutes with your hair wrapped in a towel before shampooing as usual.

7. Have an Amazing Bath. Relax your body and soak your skin in a soothing bath. Add 2 tablespoons of honey to 1 cup of hot water and let it dissolve for about 10 minutes. Add 2 or 3 drops of lavender essential oil and add it to your bath.

8. Remove Acne. Stubborn acne can benefit from a small daily dab of honey. Place a band-aid over the pimple, and take it off 30 minutes later.

9. Give Yourself a Facial. Combine 2 teaspoons of milk with 2 tablespoons of honey. Cover your face with the mixture and let it sit for 10 minutes before washing off.

10. Boost Your Energy. Replace your cup of coffee with a cup of tea. Mix in a tablespoon or so of honey.

11. Substitute Honey for Sugar in Baking. For every cup of sugar in a recipe, replace it with 3/4 cup of honey. For best results, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda reduce another liquid in your recipe by 1/4 cup. Also, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

12. Make Infused Honeys.  You can infuse honey with ginger or whatever takes you fancy!