A Broadside for A Beekeeper, “A Swarm of Bees in May”

I know it is a while since I posted but trying to relocate to god-knows-where in just 8 weeks is a bit daunting.
In between packing our few small boxes for the move, selling everything else and coping with incredibly stupid buyers on Ebay, I have not had a great deal of time for very much else.
But of course  that’s just a feeble excuse for not getting on with things. I am in the middle of putting my British Bee Book together… (well, Volume 1 of probably 3) and a couple of nice commissions which I won’t be putting on the blog right now.

But also I am  beginning a series of black and white bee related prints, my “Beekeepers Broadsides”. Long before Deborah’s Bees my plan was to produce some prints which would eventually form a small book or a set of some kind.. all based on a beekeeping theme. Yes honeybees..!!

I know, I am the wild bee champion but I’m also very interested in the honey bees and particularly all the lore and legend  which surrounds them. My mother would go and tell our bees all about the family ups and downs as bee lore demands, and there are many sayings, old wives tales and superstitions surrounding them.
But for Broadside No 1,  I decided on the very well known rhyme…(well known in the UK anyway)

“A Swarm of Bees in May is worth a load of Hay A Swarm of Bees in June is worth a Silver Spoon But a Swarm in July isn’t worth a Fly”

The premise is that May and June swarms are good because the new colony has time to establish itself with many, good, honey making flowers to be had.(it’s all about the value of the honey you understand!) It’s an old saying whose origins are as lost and as clouded as a swarm of bees itself One interesting reference is in Richard Jefferies “Wild Life in Southern County” 1879.

They tell you that’ a swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly’—for it is then too late for the young colony to store up a treasure of golden honey before the flowers begin to fade at the approach of autumn.

His lovely books which describe the natural history of his Wiltshire home were written in the late 1800’s, and the previous lines of this passage tell of how a farmer would  leave his work in the fields to come and deal with a swarm of bees.

“he hurries home himself; for although in these days bee-keeping is no longer what it used to be, yet the old fashioned folk take a deep interest in the bees still.”

How interesting that in back in 1879 Jefferies was perceiving a waning interest in bees.

So my Beekeeper’s Broadside No 1 is the rhyme, with scraperboard illustration printed on 8.5 x 11 and, yes, they are available for sale!$14 plus P&P..

They will be on Waving Bee Press and Etsy,  but do drop me a line if you are interested. I thought they would make rather nice gifts for beekeepers?

A Swarm of Bees in May…..

a swarm in may

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The prints are on nice quality watercolour paper and I am printing a limited edition for the USA of just 100.

They will all be numbered, signed and dated. The limitations are all to do with the imminent move to the UK where the paper and sizes are different so will doing another run there.. yes,  life is a bit complicated!

A “Broadside” in old printing terms is an announcement, poem, some music, or a statement that is printed on one side of a sheet of paper. From the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries they were the cheapest way to disseminate printed information, gossip, scandal and political ideologies.
You will perhaps be familiar with the old “Broadside Ballads” sold by musically inclined travelling salesmen who would sing you the song then sell you the printed lyrics. The nice thing about this project is that all the broadsides in the series can be different… and probably will be… but they will still make a lovely set.

My little Adana press is waiting for me in the UK, as is my beautiful book press, so there will inevitably be some hand pulled prints of one kind or another, I cant wait! It’s also a lovely project to have running alongside my ongoing bee species paintings which are…well…ongoing….

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”

Honey, Syrup, Bees and Lions .. It’s a Riddle.

It was Shrove Tuesday this week and I was thinking about pancakes, lovely pancakes with shimmering golden syrup and tart lemon juice.

In the local supermarket here there is a small section, just a shelf or two, marked “Ethnic Foods”.
Here are the Brit “favourites”, Marmite of course, some soon-not-to-be-Cadbury’s chocolate bars, cheese sauce mix in a packet (why ????) Birds Custard Powder, some curry sauces I have never heard of and of course glorious Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup.

I find myself rather liking to be considered an “Ethnic” here in the bland uniformity of suburban Orlando. It gives me a frisson of being slightly exotic as I reach up to take my ethnic food from the ethnic shelf. I

brought my lovely tin of Golden Syrup home and pondered the label.. and its motto. “From the strong came forth sweetness”. How well this has been imprinted on my mind over the years. I could almost draw that roundel from memory, with its (as I used to think when I was little) “sleeping” lion.

There was always a tin in the pantry alongside the equally gorgeous Black Treacle, tins that I remember were always sticky.  This old classic label seems to have been spared updating and I read on  Lyle’s site that “This distinctive packaging has hardly changed since 1885”

From the Lyles site: https://www.lylesgoldensyrup.com/our-story

Samson and the Lion But the whole analogy with Samson and the Lion is an odd one. Syrup is not honey, bees would never make a nest in a carcass, and poor Sampson seems to have been very badly misguided in his choice of women. I

t is, as usual, a bloodthirsty affair. Samson had a hankering for a Philistine girl and against his parents wishes sets off to find one. On the way he kills an angry lion. On the way back from finding his love he sees the lion’s body and notices that bees have made a nest there. He eats some of the honey and takes some home to his parents.
At the wedding feast Samson poses a riddle. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” If the Philistine guests, all 30 of them, can solve the riddle in a week he will give them 30 new sets of clothes .. if they can’t he will ask for 30 sets of new clothes for himself. It’s an impossible riddle and the Philistines can’t possibly know the answer so they persuade the wife to turn on the tears for a whole week and wheedle the answer out of him.
Then it’s all a bit grim, because Sampson has lost the bet and has to pay. He goes to a Philistine city and murders 30 people and takes their clothes to give to the guests. This is not a good move, as when he later decides to try again with the wife ( I can’t possibly think why), her father tells him,

‘I gave her to one of the wedding guests’, he said. ‘But don’t worry. She has a younger sister who is prettier. You can have her.’

( from a “simplified” version of the Bible story about Samson entitled “She Done Him Wrong” here) or, more eloquently, read, King James Old Testament, Book of Judges 14:14. Poor Lion, Poor Samson, Poor Bees, Poor Foxes!!…. whose tails he sets fire to to ruin the Philistine’s crops.. and it’s all murder and mayhem from then on.

So why this odd link to the syrup… Abram Lyle was a firmly religious man, but it is not exactly clear what point he wished to make by adopting this motto..  from the Lyle website again :

Was he referring to the tin holding the syrup – or the company producing it?”


It’s a riddle just like Samson’s.

Mr Lyle’s syrup and one of my bees…