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The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy

The Acacias are out, in full bloom and great profusion. All that lovely nectar for the bees. The Bumbles will use it during the summer and the Honey bees will store it as Honey.

The Sycamores have been and gone. They are considered, by most people to be a weed, but in fact provide large quantities of nectar and vital pollen, bee protein, early in the year, to feed the bee larvae in their early development, and boost the bee numbers ready for the honey collection. And now that the young Queens are being reared, plentiful supplies of pollen are essential. A Queen starts life as just an ordinary worker egg, but is fed Royal Jelly, which is largely made from pollen, and this rich diet, throughout her larval stage, develops her ovaries and eggs. So a young Queen needs a rich diet of pollen if she is going to be up to the job of being the only egg layer in the colony, laying up to 2,000 eggs a day at the height of the summer.

The Plane trees, which along with the Sycamores are members of the Maple family, flower very early in the year. The jury is out as to whether or not bees use Plane trees for food. Perhaps if the weather is mild in February when they flower, say above 10 degrees C, when the bees will fly, they may forage on them.

In the last 12 months I have witnessed 5 large street trees destroyed in the few streets near my home in Grove Park: a mature Sycamore at Chiswick Station, a Lime on Grove Park Terrace near the level crossing, and another on Grove Park Road opposite John Thaw’s old house. A Lime and a Willow have been removed on Strand-on-the-Green, and as with the beautiful Willow poisoned and removed outside No 68 Strand-on-the-Green 2 years ago, NONE of these trees have been replaced, despite the Council’s promises.

We have not seen the wholesale carnage committed in Sheffield a few months back when an estimated 15,000 street trees were culled. The bees will disappear from Sheffield. But if our large trees are removed at the present rate in Chiswick, our bees will disappear. As a bee keeper, I am certain that if we save Chiswick’s wonderful trees, the Sycamores, Limes, Acacias, Chestnuts, Maples, Aulders and Willows, the bee keepers can do the rest, and we CAN save our Chiswick bees. We don’t realise what a rich heritage we have.

For that reason, I would like to nominate ‘the Street Trees of Chiswick, W4’ to be included in the ‘Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy’. Our street trees need protecting every bit as much as trees in other parts of the world, from misguided actions. If we do nothing, they will be steadily replaced by the non-bee-friendly Ornaments the Council plant in their place, to be free of maintenance, and Chiswick can say goodbye to its bees.

Will you support me to raise a petition to join the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy?

Email me on

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Lawns & Trees – Our Beautiful Chiswick

Spring is nearly upon us. The birds are looking for nest sites, and when the weather is around 10 degrees or sunny the bees will be out foraging. The reason we have such a healthy population of blue tits in the UK is because of all the nest boxes put up for them. It gives the chicks a safe start. Crows and Magpies routinely take a free lunch and dinner in the form of songbird nestlings, but the boxes make this more difficult for them. Unfortunately there are no predators for Crows and Magpies now, which is why Magpie levels have increased to plague proportions to the detriment of our song birds.

Here is Chiswick where there are so many gardens, the birds should be able to find food easily. Grass provides a good feeding space for certain birds, but it must be a shock for them to suddenly find the lawn they visit is now plastic. We would be shocked to roll up at our local supermarket and find it locked and closed down. We would try another, and if that was locked as well we might start to panic. Birds are territorial often, so if the lawn in their territory has gone, it means slim pickings, or having to fight for another territory and probably not nesting.

If you have space for an apple tree in your garden, and if you don’t spray it, but use grease bands to control the moth larvae, you may be lucky enough to be visited by a flock of Long tailed Tits, or others of the Titmouse family, coming on raiding parties to pick up aphids. Indeed the general hatred of our Lime Trees, because they are unjustly blamed for dripping on our cars, would be in large measure solved if we had a healthy population of song birds to eat the aphids. Far better to have fewer Magpies, which equals more song birds, who by eating the aphids reduce the dripping of honeydew on cars, than to cut down the Limes and give free reign to Magpies, as we slowly sink into a plastic and concrete jungle. That would be a very different Chiswick.

What life is there in your outdoor space? Can you enhance it with one apple tree, which gives low dappled shade in the summer and full light in the winter? Or what about a Mahonia for the bees; beautiful with its yellow blooms in the dark months? (Forsythia on the other hand is sterile.)

Annette Duckworth

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First Honey Extraction of 2016

honey extraction

Just last week I extracted my first crop of honey for 2016. I usually have to do 2 extractions in the year, as the bees fill up the boxes by the end of May and run out of space. So this crop will be from the early trees, the Sycamores, Maples, Acacias, Horse Chestnuts, Sweet Chestnuts, the fruit trees, Alders and London Planes.

We had good weather in March when the colonies start to build up their numbers, but April and May were really cold, and then with so much rain in June the honey harvest will probably be smaller this year.
The trees begin to flower in March and then later varieties flower through April and May, and we know they are well finished flowering by now, as it is easy to see conkers already growing on the Horse Chestnuts and the apples are there on our trees.
After May we have what Beekeepers call the ‘June gap’ because the early trees have finished, and the only remaining one, the Limes do not start until mid to late June. They will flower into July.
When you start out as a beekeeper you are taught that the end of the bee year, and the beginning of the countdown to winter is the 1st August. I don’t remember being told why that is, but now I understand.
In the countryside the crops grown may alter bee behaviour, but even there, the trees are a vital source of food, and the lack of them is causing problems. But in urban areas, it is the trees which give the bees the bulk of their food. All the bee friendly plants we grow in our gardens will give them a little, but it is very little compared with the trees whose canopies provide volume. And now for the scary bit.
After the end of May, the only major food source for bees are the Lime trees. There is no other major food source until there may be some Ivy flowers in late Autumn. That is why the bee year ends at the end of July, and it is why 70 or so years ago the people who planted our trees and understood about bees planted so many Limes.
I was at the Kew Fair last week selling honey and lots of people told me excitedly about the ‘Hive’ just opened at Kew Gardens and the wild flower meadow they have planted there. All good, but not many of us can plant a wild flower meadow. But we can all try to save the street trees on the pavement outside our flat or house, and this, as most trees are insect pollinated might just save the bees.

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How Chiswick’s Bees are Faring This Year

Spring Honey Bee

We are now well into May, and it looks as if I will have 3 good colonies to make honey again this year. I lost one main colony in the course of the winter, due to the Varroa parasites, I think. I treated the bees against Varroa in September and at the turn of the year, but with such a mild winter, the queen was still laying.

Normally the cold weather stops the queen laying, and as the Varroa reproduce only in the larval cells, their numbers fall over the winter. But for some reason that colony lost the fight. Bees attacked by Varroa often show deformed wings and will never fly.

Here in Chiswick we are a bit warmer than out in the countryside, so the bees can get active again sooner. March was cold this year but they had already started building up their brood nests when I inspected them quickly in the middle of March. Now they have good brood laid down, and the foraging bees are coming in carrying lots of lovely pollen. This is a vital thing at this time of the year. To get a good honey harvest you must first have a good sized work force. That is why pollen is so important for healthy bees. Pollen is their protein and essential to turn eggs into bees. Seeing one in five of the foragers returning to the hive carrying sacs of pollen on their legs is a sight to gladden the heart of any bee keeper. It means there is a queen, and she is laying, and young bees are being well fed.

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With Easter comes new life and chocolate!!

Spring flowers

As Easter approaches we know that Spring has arrived. Bulbs are flowering, shoots are sprouting and the grass is starting to grow, nature also brings us the birth of many new animals – lambs can be seen in the countryside fields once again.
At Duckworths of Chiswick we notice our bees start to become more active foraging as the trees start to flower. But what excites us most this Easter is not our bee hives buzzing once again but the “birth” of a new soap – chocolate soap – so deliciously scented that you will want to eat it, in fact children have been spotted trying! This dark chocolate coloured soap looks so good that we’ve even had some stolen from our car while on deliveries…
We encourage you to celebrate Easter in a clean way this year – wiping chocolate smears away with our chocolate soap and indulging your body with our extremely moisturising beeswax balms. There is the added bonus that celebrating Easter by giving chocolate soap instead of eggs will also save our waistlines from expanding!

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Let’s celebrate our Queen Bee this Mother’s Day

Queen BeeThe Queen bee is the most important bee in the colony, and she really does rule with ‘the fragrance of her presence’. Her heady pheromones persuade her daughters to feed and groom her, so you would think she had it made. But she does not get to make the decisions. The decisions are made by her ‘children’ and ‘teenagers’, so perhaps there are a few correlations between bees and humans after all! It is her older daughters who get to decide when they want the family to move house. They even decide when the Queen is past her best and when the season of summer has gone and it is time to get rid of the men about the house too. But as with humans, a good natured mother often produces good natured offspring, and a grumpy Queen bee results in a hive of grumpy bees, which result in more stings for me – Oh dear! Thankfully my Queen Bees have been very good natured for many years.

As with humans, a good natured mother often produces good natured offspring

As it is with human mothers, it is so much work and no play. A queen spends her life laying egg after egg ­ 2,000 a day in the height of summer! And she keeps working away for three years with only a bit of time off in the winter when it is too cold to risk making baby bees. In the summer, her daughters have to make hay ­ or honey ­ while the sun shines as their days are numbered after 6 weeks, but I often think that the life of a foraging worker bee, nestling into the heart one flower after another, and tasting all those different nectars is rather a privileged one.

The poor old Queen stays in the hive in the dark all the time, and never sees the sun!

So give your Queen Bee a big thank you today for all she does, as it is Mother’s Day.

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Bees & Trees

We are often told about plants which are good for pollinators, and in the towns and cities, we assume that it is our gardens that hold the key. But it is not our garden flowers that help the bees the most. Garden flowers can be good, but in terms of volume of food, they are limited in what they can produce. And many gardeners have to spray their plants. A large street tree on the other hand, with its spreading canopy with thousands of flowers, provides a huge amount of food – pollens and nectars, and these make for healthy bees. In our part of London we have perhaps a hundred Lime trees, some Acacias and False Acacias; avenues of Horse Chestnuts and Plane trees. A few Sweet Chestnuts and all the Sycamores that have seeded themselves and not been removed. There are also the flowering cherries, except those artificially made sterile, and all the trees that are not wind pollinated should provide insects with food. In short, it is the street trees that make London good for bees. They provide a variety of pollens – we all need a varied diet to be healthy, and they also provide quantity so the bees do not go hungry.

It is often only after the event that we realise we have lost something precious. While we have it, we do not really value it.

I am grateful that our local Council has put the needs of pollinators on their radar now. They have planted wild flower areas around the margins of the parks, under the trees. But the bees must have a little laugh about it. ‘Look up’, they would say “These brilliant trees are our real source of food”.

It is often only after the event that we realise we have lost something precious. While we have it, we do not really value it. So I want to raise awareness of the fantastic heritage of trees we have here in Chiswick and probably the whole of urban Britain before they are lost, not just to us but to local bees who depend on them. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. So many beautiful healthy trees are being taken down by tree surgeons who have a 25 year contract with our local council. When the tree surgeons are paid per tree, there is no incentive to put the needs of the environment first. But with the enormous cost of replanting trees – at the last count on the Council website it was £419 to replant a sapling – this policy must change.

So can I ask you to keep an eye out for your local trees and protect them? Some Councils still need to realise how important our trees are for the environment. Pruning should be done AFTER they have finished flowering, and BEFORE the next year’s buds have developed. Why not reduce the lower branches of our beautiful tall trees but let their canopies spread? This will let in light to the buildings but give gentle shade from overhead on those hot summer days.

Thanks to the wide variety of nectars available to my bees here in Chiswick my honey is beautifully fragrant with such a fresh taste that you are instantly transported back to summer. Unfortunately it is only available locally so get in touch if you’d like a list of our stockists.