My last Bee, the Dark Honey Bee “…as sweet as tupelo honey, Just like honey from the bee” …

Did you think I had forgotten the Honey bee.

How could I. 🙂

That’s where this whole bee thing started,  on a trip home just a year ago, when I found our old beehives, which made me look up my local beekeeper Joe, who gave me some bees.
I made this painting, Number Two Bee  I put it on the blog, Deborah saw it. I painted 16 bees for her, and then the exhibition came along..  and here I am, a year on about to leave for the UK again this time with my 24 bees.

The Hardy English Dark honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera

For my honey bee I decided to paint the old English Dark  Honey Bee the original British bee that colonised northern Europe after the Ice Age. Compared with other honey bees they are thought to be more aggressive  but have thicker coats and are more robust, making it easier for them to withstand  bad weather and cold winters and there are moves afoot to make this beautiful little bee more popular again.


Dark honey bees from  SICAMM an international union of beekeepers, regional and national associations,etc who support the  conservation of this threatened subspecies. see more here In 1917,  Roots famous “ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture” had this to say:

(They) are much more nervous: and when a hive of them is opened they run like a flock of sheep from one corner of the hive to another, boiling over in confusion, hanging in clusters from one corner of the frame as it is held up and finally falling off in bunches to the ground , where they continue a wild scramble in every direction probably crawling up one’s trouser leg, if the opportunity offers”

But on May 18th just last year The Independent said this:

For decades, Britain’s native black bee has been an outcast. The Victorians threw Apis mellifera mellifera out of hives in favour of more industrious foreign species. Modern beekeepers brand it lazy and aggressive.Scientists believe the insect that made honey for the tables of medieval kings could reverse the collapse of bee numbers that has imperilled the annual pollination of crops worth £165m.The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association (Bibba) believes the black honeybee, which has a thicker coat, could be hardy enough to survive the 21st century. see here

So perhaps beekeeping in the UK is about to have a little more frisson of risk and trouser legs should be firmly tied at all times. Bibba (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association) certainly think it is a worthwhile bee. They are champions of the “Dark bee.” This is from their article “Why The Native Bee Is The Best Bee For The British Climate”

“It is the experience of people who keep the Dark bee in this country that the bee will produce surplus honey every year, even when the summer is so cold and wet that bees of foreign origin have to be fed sugar to keep them alive. ….These characters, together with a population of long living worker bees, provide an optimum number of foragers ready to take full advantage of any short nectar flows during periods of unsettled weather.” read  more  here.

There is also another excellent article all about the origins of bees in general on their site.. “An introduction to understanding honeybees, their origins, evolution and diversity” , it’s a good read and reveals more of the  Dark Bee’s stalwart British character .. “will fly in dull and drizzly weather which would keep Italian bees indoors”..

I had to laugh!   Bibba is looking for help with their Project Discovery “Dark Bee” survey and research. See this page here if you think you can help.

Honey and Bees..a question or two?
Do we ask too much of bees sometimes ..We expect them to pollinate vast areas of produce, and we take their honey which they need for their own survival and well being.
Are we, as always, too greedy? Do we take too much honey? What do we give them  in fair return?
I am not sure and I have asked myself this many times. However my last breakfast in the USA will be fresh fruit with yoghourt and pale pale beautiful real Tupelo honey bought from my local beekeeper, Joe whose little honey bee was my first model.. I have come full circle Joe!


My little black bee Apis mellifera mellifera
perched on the lid of one of my honey jars.. I have many!…

Mellifera mellifera

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8” x8”

Brigit’s Bee Talk, Meet the Bees and Me!

I am delighted to say that Brigit Strawbridge of “The Big Green Idea”will be giving a talk at my “Buzz” exhibition on the 9th of June at at the Gallery.








Bees of all species are in serious decline – and we need to take action URGENTLY to help them!
In this inspiring, informative and passionate talk, Brigit Strawbridge explains the importance of (and the difference between) Honeybees, Bumblebees and Solitary Bees, addresses the myriad problems they face – and offers you loads of tips so you can go home and help them. “

You may recognise Brigit from BBC’s “Its Not Easy Being Green” but I somehow doubt she has much time to relax these days as “The Big Green Idea” is a very busy charity “dedicated to showing people how sustainable living can be easy, healthy, inexpensive and fun.”  They have a fantastic “Big Green Bus” which can be booked for events,







The entire bus is a showcase for sustainable living. We have carefully chosen the flooring, paints, textiles and lighting, all from recycled or sustainable sources, to demonstrate the choices you can make in your own home. The bus is packed with energy-saving devices, water-saving gadgets, natural products for skincare and cleaning, examples of eco-friendly insulation, eco-paints and clothing made from sustainable crops, wormeries, composting systems and recycled garden containers, and much more besides. Outside, we have more interactive displays and a ‘pedal powered smoothie maker’! “

Do go and watch the nice little animation a with cute bee and worm here. I also know that Brigit will be bringing a solitary bee home too. I will be at the gallery off and on for the first two weeks but definitely on that evening and will be happy to chat to people about the bees and the paintings. I will post some more definite times on the blog soon.

WHY BEES MATTER …. If my exhibition and Brigit’s talk go just the tiniest way to making people more “Bee Aware”, it can’t come too soon. I am not a prophet of doom particularly but if you do need convincing that things are not good in the bee world you only have to read this weekends reports abut the terrible USA decline in the bee population.
This is from the Guardian here, read more of this sobering article and do something!

“Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe
Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

Flowering plants require insects for pollination. The most effective is the honeybee, which pollinates 90 commercial crops worldwide. As well as most fruits and vegetables – including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots – they pollinate nuts, sunflowers and oil-seed rape. Coffee, soya beans, clovers – like alfafa, which is used for cattle feed – and even cotton are all dependent on honeybee pollination to increase yields. In the UK alone, honeybee pollination is valued at £200m. Mankind has been managing and transporting bees for centuries to pollinate food and produce honey, nature’s natural sweetener and antiseptic. Their extinction would mean not only a colourless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals.”

I know my blog readers are already bee aware.. (or maybe a bit bee bored ?) but you need to get out there and tell everyone else! Plant some bee flowers, get a hive, make a solitary bee nest, stop using pesticides! Lobby your local  politician etc etc ..  and do come along to the talk if you can!

But to end on a more optimistic note, here is one happy honey bee foraging on the Blue Pickerel Weed which grows on the lake shores here.  I took this photo yesterday on a very hot afternoon.

There were also carpenter bees and mining bees busy around these beautiful flowers.

sm cp

Why Bees?.. Old Hives and Kindhearted People.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to meet new people, in that social party way that I am not used to. “What do you do?” they ask. “Well” I say, “I am an artist and designer”. “Oooohh” they say  “what are you painting?”

I can see their mental bubble.. a nice landscape, a bunch of flowers, a wide eyed child, a favourite pet or even an interesting but accessible abstract. “Bees” I say.
I then have to repeat it… “ Bees,  you know,  buzz buzz…!” It is a bit of a conversation stopper, but they did ask. “Oh” they say and smile.
Most  wander off to find someone easier to talk to.
Some persevere.. “Why?”  I do have a good answer, I can cite my kind commissioner Deborah and her 16 bees, but, even before then I had a good answer. It’s because they are important and because my parents used to keep bees.

The old hives

When I go home to the UK, gardening is my job of choice. It’s too much now for my 92 year old father and while the centre of the garden is just about under control, the peripheral ivy clad walls and weedy borders are gradually creeping inwards.

I have pictured them making slow but relentless progress, eventually insinuating themselves into the house where my poor hapless father will be found some days later, immobilized by leafy intruders.
So back in May last year I had work to do. “Can you just tidy up around the Garage?”.. “Of course”..I say.  The area is a lost wilderness, overgrown with tangles of ivy, where knots of virulent nettles with their horrid trip wire roots and savage stings quietly anticipate your unprotected flesh.

There is a rampant Virginia Creeper which, if not checked, will rip stones from the centre of the beautiful old stone wall, aided by gripping ivy roots that sucker their way along everything, for yards and yards and yards.

There are tearing brambles and the most deadly Pyracantha in the world, planted long ago to deter intruders but now gone rogue. But clearing out is a satisfying job and there is always some anticipation of discovery, isn’t there?

Like Sleeping Beauty’s good prince, I cut down, chopped back and grubbed out.  I found nothing more exciting than some nice old pots, a million angry spiders and the friendly garden rat, until, tucked away between the garage and the wall, listing slightly and quietly rotting back into the earth, I came across the old beehives.

The rush of memory was almost unbearable. I had almost forgotten about the bees,  my mothers much loved bees.  The rows of honey jars, the paraphernalia of the bee keeper, supers, smokers, spinners, wax, combs, frames, veils, hats, gloves.
The smell of honey, the stickiness of honey, the joy of runny honey in the summer and hard crystallised honey in the winter that you lay in slices on hot buttered toast and the complete and utter joy of sticking your finger in a warm honeycomb.

The mysterious gatherings of the beekeepers, ancient tweed clad countrymen and women who came to the house for tea and cakes. Who were called over to deal with the terrifying swarms, who brought clinking trays of new jars or old bee books or just bee wisdom.
My mother going out to talk to the bees, to tell them all the family news, sharing some of her life with her little golden workers, and me, timid and afraid of being stung but fascinated by humming busy boxes at the bottom of the garden.

That was many years ago, but seeing the old hives and of course reading so much about the problems of declining bee populations made me think more about bees and our relationship with them.
There is something about bees in general that enchants us. Learning about the many different species of solitary bees has in particular been a revelation to me. I have been reading Karl van Frisch’s “Animal Architecture”. Here he makes an interesting point.

“The great majority ( of bees)  live alone – they are “solitary” bees, and many are not recognizable as bees at all except by experts. They vary greatly in size and appearance.
Some are tiny insects, no more than 2 millimeters long while others measuring nearly four centimeters appear giants in comparison. Some are nearly hairless others furry.
Many delight the observer by their varied patterns and attractive coloration.  

Bees differ from predacious wasps in one important particular: they are strictly vegetarian, feeding themselves and their brood on pollen and nectar. This habit endears them to kindhearted people, for they do not destroy in order to live…”

A couple of sketches I did back in May of the old beehives.
They are not terribly interesting, nothing really but a pile of supers and a base. In front, leaning against the wall is an old piece of the chicken coop. The chickens and the geese were a whole other story.

old beehives sketch sm  old beehives sm