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Thursday 20 May 2010

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”

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Wednesday 19 May 2010

A Pembrokshire Buzz; The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee

The last Bumblebee for my British Bees set, the lovely Shrill Carder bee B. sylvarum, one of the smaller members of bumblebee family and endangered.

As with the Great Yellow Bumblebee I received some help and advice from one of the conservation officers at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pippa Rayner. The shrill carder bee is her baby.. lucky Pippa! .. and in February this year the trust won 30,000EURs funding towards this great bumblebee project on the Pembrokeshire Coast!..Pippa says :

We will be creating a wildflower-rich habitat to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. By connecting key sites, this attractive route through spectacular scenery will help prevent the national extinction of the shrill carder bee.

The project will benefit lots of other wildlife too; Wales, like the rest of the UK, has lost most of its wild flower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend upon them.

It will also create a lovely place to walk, with flowers and bumblebees along the path that takes walkers, horseriders and cyclists through areas that were previously inaccessible, thanks to the new route provided by the MOD"We'll be bringing extra colour and 'buzz' to beautiful Pembrokeshire!

I wish her well and what a very good reason to visit one of the most beautiful parts of Wales. It takes quite a while for things to happen though doesn’t it! Back in 2006 at the launch of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Professor Dave Goulson told the Independent newspaper this:

"UK nature reserves are simply too small.The only way to provide sufficient areas of habitat for bumblebees is if the wider, farmed countryside, and the vast areas covered by suburban gardens, are managed in a suitable way. To do this we need to educate people, and encourage activities such as the planting of wildflowers and traditional cottage-garden flowers in gardens, the replanting of hedgerows, and the recreation of hay meadow and chalk grassland habitats..

This echoes Buglife’s wonderful vision of the “Rivers of Flowers” earlier this year.

A Greenish Bee.

image Bombus sylvarum from James Lindsey's Ecology of Commanster Site, via Wiki here. (**James’ site is wonderful)

From Sladen: “ The prevailing colour is greenish-white, often with ayellowish tinge.”

From the Natural History Museum: “Fresh pale B. sylvarum are almost unmistakable in Britain with their 'greenish' yellow hair.”

From Arkive It has a distinctive combination of markings, being predominantly grey-green, with a single black band across the thorax, and two dark bands on the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is pale orange.”

The Flower: Devils Bit Scabious Succisa pratensis

I asked Pippa about which flowers this bee favours and she told me it likes several plants in particular, including red clover Trifolium pratense, yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor, common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus , common knapweed Centaurea nigra, red bartsia Odontites verna. But,
I would suggest devil's-bit scabious would be ideal as this is an important plant at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire where it provides forage for the shrill carder later on in the summer”

shutterstock_16057351 from Shutterstock by Andrey Novikov .

So the lovely little Devils Bit Scabious it is. The curious name coming from the root form which looks cut off, or bitten off. Legend says the Devil found it in the Garden of Eden but was envious of the little flower’s many good and helpful properties so bit off part of the root, but the plant survived. There is a curious little piece in the Edinburgh Review’s 1809 review of J. E. Smith’s “Introduction to Botany “1809 . Smith is talking about root systems and quotes Gerards of herbal fame.

“ old Geralde is quoted ‘ 'The great part of the root seemeth to be bitten away; old fantastick charmers report that the divel did bite it for envie, because it is an herbe that hath so many good vertues and it is so beneficial to mankinde.’: And the Doctor facetiously adds that “the malice of the devil has unhappily been so successful that no virtues can now be found in the remainder of the root or herb.’”

However Culpepper has the plant curing plague, pestilence, external and internal problems alike, plus snake bites and wounds. Another useful plant to have around, not only for the bees!

Let’s hope it get on well in Wales without the Devil’s interference. It’s the prettiest pale lilac little thing.. quite beautiful.

The painting

A few roughs and on with the painting. The grey-green pile looks more grey than green against the white paper but a simple mix of Payne’s grey and yellow was a good colour for it. It’s a very pretty hairy little bee!

syv sketch 2


The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee, Bombus sylvarum zooming in at full throttle to the Devils Bit Scabious

shrill carder sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8 x 8”

***PS.. there is a super little Bumblebee film here by Jamie-Lee Loughlin

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Tuesday 18 May 2010

Who’s home or even whose home?

I decided to make this small addition to the Buzz Exhibition set, because, as well as seeing bees busy around flowers, you might just see a little solitary bee head peeping out at you from various holes. Holes in the ground, in wood, in the dried and hollow stems of plants or in the old crumbling mortar in walls. 

I always think the best nature guides have information about where you might find things.. and after all, “home” is where you will find most of us some of the time.  I took this a couple of weeks ago.  A little mining bee dozing at its burrow entrance just below our balcony. bee at nest

So who might you see? A tawny mining bee looking up at you from her volcanic activities in the lawn; the wasp like white face of a Hylaeus peering at you from an old nail  hole in a wooden fence. You might see the dark face of Osmia rufa, the orchard bee emerging from her new bee home which a kind hearted  person has provided for her. If you are lucky you might catch a delightful male Megachile willughbiella complete with moustache and furry front legs. emerging from some crumbling mortar in an old wall or even an opportunist home in a garden hose, or old door lock. It’s a lovely bee which I have yet to draw.

I can’t quite understand why it is so endearing when wild things use our old discarded bits and pieces for their nests. We had an old clock case in the potting shed where a robin made its nest every year and last summer my friend Gill ‘s son could not use his jacket until the wren and her little ones had decamped from the pocket. It’s a whole other set of paintings!

Who’s Home?


Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8”x 8”

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Sunday 16 May 2010

Fruit & Veg & Crops & Bees

Bees, of course, are not busy just keeping the garden and countryside stocked with lovely flowers they are  essential pollinators of food crops all over the world. 

Some crops are obvious and the connection between them well known;  the Osmia rufa’s help in the orchard which I wrote about in my post “There will be apples” and the Bumblebee’s contribution in “buzz” pollinating tomatoes in greenhouses which I wrote about back in October “A Buzz in Middle C, Bumblebees for Crops”.   But it’s much more, nuts, field crops, soft fruit, herbs and spices and it’s not just honey bees, the solitary bees are there doing their bit and sometimes a very crucial bit! At Wikipedia there is a fascinatingList of Crop Plants Pollinated by Bees”. You can see more crops from  the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center just run down the list and see what you would miss.


At the moment in this hot weather we live on gazpacho. It is without doubt one of my very favourite foods and I make it by the gallon. I looked at the ingredients yesterday and thought about bees.
Bee pollinated ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, coriander, basil, cumin, onion, garlic, cilantro, in short almost all of them.. and I always add honey.

It really brings things home .. I just can’t imagine life without these favourite ingredients! Thank you bees for my delicious gazpacho!

One Out of Every three Bites

We will be showing the “Vanishing of the Bees Film at the exhibition, here is their synopsis:

Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for producing apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables.  Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables.

So in the exhibition I will be including a few sketches with notes to remind people about the foods we eat and their relationship to bees… sometimes it truly is the only way to their hearts!

almonds copyplums cherries sm  
Almonds, spices, plums cherries

 melon smapple sm jpg

Melons, squashes, cucumbers, apples pears etc

field beansblk berries sm  

Beans of all sort, soft fruits, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries

mustard and clover sm peppers sm

fodder crops and brassicas, tomatoes peppers .. and more and more and more…. 

Friday 14 May 2010

The Long Horned Bee again.. Eucera, Ophrys and Vetch.

Eucera longicornis

The gorgeous handsome Long Horned bee Eucera longicornis with his wonderful long curving antennae had to be included in the British Bee set although they are quite rare.

In the UK you may catch a glimpse of one depending on where you are. Go to the BWARS great interactive maps to see which bees you can see where in the UK.

Here are Jeremy Earley’s notes from the excellent “Woodland and Hedgerow bees” part of his Nature Conservation Imaging Site:

“Eucera longicornis is scarce and was made a Biodiversity Action Plan priority species in 2007. They are seen from May to July in various locations including coastal grassland (the Isle of Wight is good) and heathland as well as open woodland rides. They use only the Pea family for pollen collecting.“

So you might be lucky! It would be wonderful. I did see a small bee with very long antennae here last year which could have been a squash bee.. but of course no camera at the time.

I painted this bee before back in December for Deborah’s set “Eucera the Curiously Goat-Like Longhorned Bee.

Eucera nigrescens

There is another longhorned bee Eucera nigrescens which is even rarer in the UK but can be found in Europe and has been chosen as the Swiss conservation group Pro Natura’s “Animal of the Year “ for 2010. From an excellent article on here :

“By choosing this particular bee as its animal of the year, Pro Natura has highlighted the fragile balance between the world’s flora and fauna. Part of the reason for this is the lack of suitable accommodation. Wild bees such as Eucera nigrescens build their nests in the ground, typically in meadows, gravel pits, fallow land and orchards.”


Eucera nigrescens and another of Nico Vereecken’s wonderful photos from another short article at Read more here.

“Eucera nigrescens , is described by Pro Natura as a “furry pollen taxi”. It plays a vital role in pollinating the Ophrys holosericea orchid.”The orchid fools the insect by imitating the shape and smell of the female. The male bee comes along to mate, and receives a load of pollen instead, which it passes on to the next plant it visits.”


The Ophrys orchids, often just referred to as the “Bee orchids” are the bizarrely beautiful orchids whose flowers have developed to resemble the furry bodies of bees and other insects (reproductive mimicry). Some emit pheromones which are attractive to male Eucera Andrena, Anthophora, and Colletes, bees, who are tricked into trying to mate with them. We do have the Bee orchid O. apifera in the UK and you might think it would be a good place to spot a long horned Eucera bee but apparently they have become self pollinating .. how curious? Is this because of a lack of suitable bees? I had hoped to be drawing a bee orchid for this exhibition.. another time.

This is from Dr. Alan J. Silverside’s excellent page on the British Bee Orchid on the University of Paisley’s Boidiversity Reference site here

“The genus Ophrys is a large and predominantly mediterranean genus, with just a few species reaching Britain. O. apifera is much the most widespread and frequent of these.

It has to be admitted, however, that O. apifera is not a good example of reproductive mimicry, as it is predominantly self-fertilising. It is visited and pollinated by bees of the genera Andrena and Eucera (Lang, 2004), but only rarely, and these are mining bees, similar in general appearance to honey bees (Apis), and so at least visually quite unlike the flower of O. apifera.”

Bee / orchid …orchid / bee?

You can maybe judge if you think the plants do a reasonable job, compare the female bee below with the orchids.


These again from Gordon Ramel’s great solitary bee site 470px-Ophrys_scolopax_ssp_scolopax_bimage

Ophrys scolopax Portugal by Carsten Niehaus at Wiki and the UK Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera by W Fricke also from the University of Paisley’s Boidiversity Reference site here.


The Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora …no ribald comments about the name please : ) with its enthusiastic pollinator Eucera longicornis photographed in the North of France by Eric Walravens from the super Belgian Orchid site

The Painting

It seemed a gift that the bee with these wonderfully curving and exuberant antennae should like the pea family Fabaceae with its curling tendrils. I did wonder if there was any connection? Probably just a coincidence.

So here is the gorgeous little furry male Eucera longicornis poised on the curving branch of the Common Vetch, Vicia sativa which can be used for livestock fodder or green manure or just a pretty wildflower. Horses like it too!

A few roughs to sort out the curves

sketch 1

sketch 2 smsketch 3sm


The Longhorned Bee Eucera longicornis

eucera  sm

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Thursday 13 May 2010

Bee Prints!

I did say I would try and get some prints done didn’t I. They may well end up being as rare as hen’s teeth as I can only get a few done before the show.  However dear blog readers I am putting them on my Waving Bee Blog as I get them done over the next few days.

waving beeleafcutter print sml[3]

The little Leafcutter Bee is the first…I have 4 for sale on the blog and a couple more on the Etsy shop with a  favourite “Bee and Gingko” etching print. (I am just seeing which works best for me.. maybe both.)

If you do nothing else, go and see my amazing animation of the Waving Bee! I just know Dreamworks will be on the phone this afternoon.. :)

“Waving Bee” will hopefully have quite a few bee things when I get back to my original bee ideas and projects later this year, which were never really bee portraits.  Hopefully we can help some bees along the way too.. 

I am only selling these first few to the USA as I will be in the UK in just over a weeks time and will have some at the show and will post some online too for Uk delivery.. If you have any favourites which you would like prints of,  do let me know and I will do my very best to oblige!

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Wednesday 12 May 2010

Teasels for Bees & Birds, Use & Ornament and some more bee flowers.

Teasels Dipsacus fullonum and Dipsacus sylvestris, are one of my very favourite wild flowers. Those of my generation will remember the advent of gold and silver spray paints which we used enthusiastically to suffocate poor teasels for Christmas decorations.You can still see teasels growing in the verges and on the banks of the dykes around Linconshire but not so many as I remember. It’s an overlooked plant now but with such a fascinating past.

To Tease Out
The teasel is where we get the phrase “ to tease out” from. It was the most important carding tool for the wool industry in the UK certainly since medieval times. To achieve a fine finish on woolen cloth, the surface of the cloth was “raised” using teasels, then close sheared. It was so important to the trade that it was imported to America and grown as a crop. There is a really interesting article here from Old Sturbridge Village site which tells about the teasels importance and introduction to the USA. Here are a couple of snippets

“Samuel Deane's New England Farmer of 1822 wholeheartedly endorses its introduction ( from England) : "This is a plant which ought to be cultivated in this country, in order to facilitate and improve the manufacture of woollen. And from some trials that have been made it appears that it may be done without difficulty."”

How are teasels used? Volume 14 of The New England Farmer (1836) asserts that "no satisfactory artificial substitute for the teasel has ever been invented, though many have been tried. It is used … for raising a regular nap upon cloth; its long barbs being drawn over the cloth repeatedly till they have combed out all the knots, and made it perfectly smooth." The Country Dyer's Assistant (1798) praises the plant for its plethora of hooked tips that are "strong enough to pick up the fibers, but not strong enough to tear the fabric. Although many attempts have been made to substitute metal wire for teasels, there are still certain woolens which require napping by the teasel."

Originally the teasels were set in a frame and worked across the cloth by hand. ( The images below are from an article about cloth raising from Trowbridge Museum in the UK )

image image

A Handle of teasels for cloth dressing.

The job then became more mechanised with the invention of the labour saving“teasel gig” which according to the Witney Blanket Co site was known in some form since the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553).

image image

The Teasel Gig which was set up with specially adapted Handles of Teasels


You can see a working Teasel Gig at the The Dunkirk Mill Centre in Nailsworth Glos. see Stroudwater Textile Trust .

I read that they do still use teasels today for some fine cloth but I can’t find any specific reference to that. It seems a shame that after such a splendid and valued part in the textile industry the lovely teasel is now relegated to dreary dried flower arrangements or perhaps the not so dreary craft possibilities.

Teasels art and craft

The teasel is another beautiful and inspirational plant for artists and contemporary designers with its strong silhouette and prickly robust seed head.


Monica Pooles beautiful wood engraving from the GAC UK’s Government Art Collection.


Karl Blossfeld’s Dipsacus fullonum, Fuller’s teasel, capitulum, 6x see more here.


And I am a big fan of Jane Sassman’s gorgeous textiles here is “ Teasel and Lace” from her super inspirational blog Idea Book.

Teasel mice and hedgehog crafts are still alive and well, and a bit more sophisticated than my childhood efforts. I couldn’t resist this bee from


Teasels and Wildlife

Wildlife likes teasels.. lots of different things, here are a few:
In both the USA and the UK bumblebees love teasels


The Redtailed Bumble Bee (it needs a fairly long tongued bee to access the nectar) by Martin Dyer from the photographers Martin Dyer and David Courtenay’s blog Wildlife across the Water. A very nice cross Atlantic Blog


Six spot burnet moth by Brian Maudsley from Shutterstock

The lovely Gatekeeper butterfly on Teasel by Andy Horton from his really excellent website Glaucus .org which is full of wildlife notes, photos and observations from his home ground in West Sussex.


Siskins and Goldfinchesboth by Martin Pateman at Shutterstock


Thorburn’s beautiful painting of Bluetits on teasel.


A UK Red Admiral Butterfly by Bill McKelvie from Shutterstock

For those in the USA, Nina, over at her lyrical Ohio blog “Nature Remains” has some beautiful teasels, here with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Silver Spotted Skipper.

image image

Monarch butterflies love them too and many other insects.. It's another plant for my bee garden.. despite its status in some places as noxious weed!

Wild Flowers for bees

Just a few more bee flower sketches..ones that fall more into the weeds/ wildflowers category. It's those same families, the umbellifers, the asters, thistles, composite flower heads that offer lots of small nectar stops on one flower head.. you can see the logic and of course the pea family, more of which tomorrow. My last post mentioned the Knapweed which is here again , as is Reseda luteola and both of these flowers also have interesting connections with the cloth trade as both are old dye plants.

vetch reseda

Vetches and Dyers weld

cow parselydandleion sm

Cow parsleys and Dandelions

plantain teasel copy

Plantains and Teasels

daisy copy hawkbit copy

Daisies, dog or moon or ox eye.. and the Knapweeds.

There are lots more of course and I may get a few more done before next Friday… well maybe ..

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