Author: Jane Nimmo

The dark side of the hive

2020 has been an unusual year for beekeepers, and bees in so many ways.  One surprise was dark honey flowing into hives across Birmingham in the late summer. But what was the source?  Local beekeeper John Gale has been investigating and has come up with three possibilities.

Checking his pollen identification charts, John thinks his source is likely to be the majestic white and red horse chestnuts in his area.

A second option is that the dark nectar is in fact honeydew from the local lime/fir trees.  Honeydew usually contains a higher antioxidant, antibacterial activity level, and mineral content than regular nectar honeys and is much prized in many parts of the world.  However, for those of you who are squeamish look away now. The source of honeydew is essentially aphid poo.  Yes you read that correctly as aphids feeding the sap of lime/fir trees extrude a sweet substance on which honey bees feed. Nice!

There is a third possibility.  That the dark crop could result from the bees collecting acorn sap. This is similar to honeydew as it results from a weevil eating through the skin of the acorn and secreting a sweet substance which the bees then collect and process.

To help solve the conundrum John has sent samples of his honey off to the National Honey Monitoring Scheme. The aim of the scheme is to understand national scale patterns in the way honeybees exploit the natural environment.  They undertake DNA analysis and provide both sugar/water concentrations as well as data on the habitats surrounding hives. If the dark honey is from chestnut trees the pollen will show up in John’s samples.  If either the aphids or acorn weevil are responsible there won’t be any pollen.

Whatever the source, across the city we are savouring this very special honey which is silky smooth with a deep and delicious caramel taste.



Castle Bromwich Historic Gardens – Bee Heaven

Usually our members are out and about at events talking about how amazing bees are and their importance as pollinators. However, this year has been like no other!

Finally though we got the opportunity to visit the amazingly beautiful baroque gardens at Castle Bromwich. Re-discovered in and brought back to life in the 1980s the gardens are well worth a visit.

Over two weekends Sam, Diana, Jan, Jane and an observation hive of around 3,000 bees visited the 350 year-old garden.  In the late summer sunshine we talked to lots of visitors who were eager to find out more about bees. We enjoyed the ‘afternoon tea in a box’, the amazing apple orchards, enormous pumpkins and marvelled at the bee friendly borders.

A perfect day and we hope to be invited back next year.