The Newnham Naturalists – bees, wild flowers and moths

Head gardener tending to Newnham's bees

After their first full summer in the garden, the Newnham bees have produced more than 29kg – 64lbs – of honey. This is all from just one hive, the bees bought last summer with a generous donation from the Guild of Friends, to whom a jar is on its way as thanks.

The bees are Buckfast Bees, a hybrid of Apis  mellifera subspecies developed by Karl Kehrle OBE, known as Brother Adam, who was a Benedictine monk, beekeeper, and an authority on bee breeding. They were developed at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. Brother Adam was a beekeeper there for 78 years and travelled more than 100,000 miles in search of bees suitable for his breeding programme following the loss of most of the Abbey’s beehives to disease caused by a tracheal mite.

His aim was to produce disease-resistant, gentle, productive bees by crossing the English Black Bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, with the Italian Apis mellifera ligustica, as well as other subspecies such as Apis m. anatoliaca  (Turkish) and Apis  m. cecropia (Greek).  The resulting bees are good producers that over-winter well and can survive cold, wet springs. They are gentle, with a low sting instinct, have good resistance to the tracheal mites, and fecund, prolific queens, making them very popular with beekeepers. In an 1986 BBC documentary, Brother Adam said that ‘the average annual honey yield over the last 30 years has been 30kg (66lbs) per colony’, so although one colony was recorded as producing a staggering 181kg/400lbs, I think the 29kg from our bees in their first year can be considered very respectable.

A second nucleus of five frames was purchased this spring with a donation from Friends of the Earth. These have increased well and filled the brood box of their hive over the summer. One super (the wooden box, shown in the picture, containing the shallow frames of comb that hold the honey rather than the brood) will be left on the hive to feed them through the winter, and, if both colonies survive the winter, we hope very much that we can look forward to another good year in 2018.

Lottie Collis
Head Gardener

Plantlife in Newnham’s ‘wild’ habitats

The Cambridgehire plant recorder, Prof Jonathan Shanklin, visited the Newnham garden in late August and has provided us with a list of the species of plants he found in our ‘wild’ areas – such as those around the Old Labs. Many of the flowers listed will no doubt have contributed to the pollen and nectar collected by our bees. Full list

Moth of the Month –  The Great Brocade, Eurois occulta

This one was found on a window frame on Old Hall. Though a scarce resident in Northern Scotland, any individuals found further south are classed as immigrants. This one would have flown in from Holland, Northern Germany or Scandinavia. Many species of moth migrate to the UK during the summer, but this one is a bit special, because of its scarcity. Probably only four or five will be found in Cambridgeshire this year, with fewer than than 100 being reported nationally.

I have done a little research on this moth and found that Cambridgeshire records seem to be virtually non-existent. However, since 2000, 30 have been recorded in Norfolk, 19 in Suffolk, 13 in Northants, and 21 in Essex (since 1990). Many of these were recorded in 2006/7, exceptional years with nationwide records of 420 and 162 respectively.

Chris Thurgood

  • Gardener Chris Thurgood is our ‘moth man’. His keen interest in Lepidoptera (which means “scaly winged”) aka…moth watching, extends to operating a moth trap in Newnham gardens.  This is basically a wooden box with an ultra-violet light on top that attracts and holds the moths until morning, when they are identified, counted and then released.