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Bee Merry! Christmas is nearly here

Christmas is nearly here! Now only another 3 weeks until Christmas and we are busy sending orders out and getting any pre ordered hampers ready to deliver. We have also decided to expand the blog slightly so sometimes we will have a piece on plants for bees and others a recipe for you to try using our honey! This month you get both!

We were lucky that even with the lockdown we were able to attend Market Bosworth Farmers Market which was really well attended and well supported which makes a massive difference to small businesses. Looking forward we are waiting to have some guidance on what Tier 3 means for our December markets, as soon as we know we will post it on our Facebook page.

We have spent the last month working on getting ready for next season. The hives are now all ready for winter and other than lifting them every few weeks to check they have enough food we now just have to leave them to it. It seems strange after looking after and checking them weekly for much of the season that we can now step back and be confident that we did all we could to help our bees get through winter.

This past week we received a load of wood which will go to make 120 brood boxes. A big job cutting it down and assembling the boxes but one that will mean we can expand significantly next season. We are hoping to get to around 150 hives next year which we think is easily do-able without impacting our honey crop too much!

Recip-bee of the month!

Our festive honey has also proved to be very popular, enough that we have just finished jarring a second batch so there is plenty to get us through until Christmas! If you are thinking about ways you can use our festive honey why not try Emma’s Recipe for a festive honey biscuit, adapted from BBC Good Food

To Make 20 cookies you need:

  • 100g Soft Butter
  • 100g Sugar
  • 1 large tablespoon of Festive Spiced Honey
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 1 level teaspoon of Mixed Spice
  • 180g Self Raising Flour

Fancy trying this great recip-bee? Add Festive honey
to your shopping basket – Here

The Method:

  • STEP 1 – Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon until creamy.
  • STEP 2 – Next beat in the Festive Spiced honey and the egg yolk.
  • STEP 3 – Add the mixed spice and flour, mix into soft dough.
  • STEP 4 – Take a teaspoon of dough and roll it into a ball.
  • STEP 5 – Then do the same to the other cookies.
  • STEP 6 – Space out on a greased baking tray, as they will spread.
  • STEP 7 – Cook for 10 minutes at 175C.
  • STEP 8 – Best enjoyed with a cup of tea!

Gardening For Bees!

For those of you looking to receive or give a Bee friendly gift this Christmas there’s nothing better than a winter flowering garden plant.   On warm sunny winter days Bees will venture out of the hive and what better way of making that journey worth while than making pollen available to them.

Winter flowering plants not only help save bees but also brighten up our gardens not just with colourful flowers but scent too. Helebores or Christmas roses, especially the simple single ones provide great colour for the front of a border.   You could create a feast for bees by interplanting with Crocus, snowdrops and Winter Aconites. 

Although most Garden Centres will be sold out of bulbs by now, they normally get potted bulbs around Christmas time for instant colour.  If you already successfully grow Rhododendrons and Camellias why not try underplanting with Winter Heathers for a carpet of colour. Putting flowers at the height bees fly at saves them energy ensuring they get back to the hive safely. 

Try Mahonia Charity or some of its relations to produce a big display of bright yellow flowers and plant Sarcococca for a mass of little flowers whose perfume punches well above its flower size.

Lastly try clothing your walls and trellis with Winter flowering Clematis (Cirrhosa), Ivy that you can avoid cutting so it flowers and winter Honeysuckle.

Winter Honey Suckle – Photo Credit Gardina

Written by
Gerald Ingram, Planters Garden Centre

Thank you for reading our monthly blog, hopefully you’ve enjoyed our new articles and we would love to see photos of your baking or bee plants! Send them to us on facebook, Instagram or by email as we might just show them in next months post!

Matthew Ingram
Holt Hall Apiary

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September… already!

Well I seem to have been saying it a lot recently but where has the time gone! It feels like only a week ago I was writing about the season starting all the way back in March. Unlike back then rather than talking of all the flowers, honey and good weather ahead I’m thinking more about getting my bees through the bleak days of winter and ready to start off well next year!

August has been another busy month, we have managed to extract all of our summer honey (bar the 2 hives that we use for beekeeping experiences, they will be harvested on the 16th September after our last experience on the 15th. The honey this year has been lovely and clear and we’ve been lucky as the damp days have helped boost flowers and promote nectar production. You can see a few videos and pictures of our extraction kit working below.

Our article in the Bee craft magazine which I mentioned last month came out and has sparked lots of interest in our services. Our most recent beekeepers to take up our extracting service were Sean and Suzanne, (who I know read this blog) and by the amount of honey I harvested for them I assume they had a good season too!

Our experiences have gone better than we could have imagined this time last year, with so much interest and enthusiasm from all participants. We will certainly be running them again next year with the new dates coming out early in the new year!

So enough about what I’ve been up to what about the bees?!

Well August is really the start of our winter preparations, as I said we have been busy taking off any surplus honey so the bees are in one single brood box (Don’t know hive parts, check out our post – Here) This is just my personal preference and many other beekeepers do it differently.

So once the honey is off I start treating my bees for Varroa Mite, many of you will have heard of Varroa Mite before. What many people don’t know is that every hive in the UK will have them at some level, this is one of the main reasons that there are no or very few wild hives left. Most beekeepers, like me decide to treat Varroa mite to kill them which gives our bees much better chances through the winter.

We use a treatment that is called Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) it’s a strong treatment based on formic acid. It kills the mite without killing the bees. Unlike most other Varroa treatments that take 4 weeks MAQS takes just 7 days and can be done with honey supers on the hive. The quick treatment time gives us much more flexibility at the end of the season.

Once our treatments are done and the honey is off the hive we start feeding the bees. In the next few weeks we will bring all our hives back to one spot, that means they are easier to look after. We want all of our full hives to weigh around 25kg at the end of September. During the winter if our bees need more food they will have fondant added to them.

So that’s about it for the bees, the next few weeks are crucial in the development of winter bees and will determine how successful the bees are during the winter. Hopefully around 80-90% of our hives will make it through the winter.

Other Exciting News!

This winter rather than staying at home and getting ready for next season I will be flying out to Australia. Being on the southern hemisphere means their beekeeping season is opposite to ours, I will be flying out at the start of October through to March next year and will be back ready to start our own season off again.

I’m very lucky that I’ve got a beekeeping friend who is going to be helping check and look after my hives through the winter and my Mum and Sister are going to be busy helping at Markets and making deliveries for me!

The bee farm I’m going to work at has around 1,600 hives and is about 5 hours from Sydney near the coast. I’ll be joining a team of 4 other beekeepers and will be working very long hours so unfortunately I’m not expecting to be able to do much travelling around besides with work while I’m there! I know quite a few beekeepers read this so if you have any specific questions about beekeeping here or in Australia I’ll find out the answers and let you know!

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering if I’ll carry on blogging while I’m away and the answer is yes! I hope to carry on writing a blog once a month and hopefully it’ll have lots of pictures too.

Thank you for reading

Matthew Ingram

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July – A busy Month!

Hi everyone, firstly I need to apologies for missing the blog post two weeks ago. It’s been a very busy month and next month looks like it will be the same, because of that I’ve decided that until October I will post once a month before going back to twice a month in November! So this post is just a quick one on what I’ve been up to this month and what we’ve got coming up.

Our beekeeping experiences have really taken off this month we’ve got between 2 and 4 booked every week from the start of July to the end of August so if you have a voucher and you’ve not yet booked in, take a look at the dates that we still have available – here. I’m glad to say we have had lots of great positive feedback about the experience and everyone has gone away with an even greater fascination about bees than they had before!

In early July we attended Whitacre and Shustoke Show, It was a really nice day and we were very lucky with the weather! We took along a glass observation hive for people to see which was a big hit, especially with children. We were so busy I even had to get my sister to come and help on the stand! One of the things that really stood out for me was how many people mistook our bees for wasps!!!

Despite the rain we had a lovely day celebrating one of our stockists, The Cheese Gin and Ale Barn, 5th birthday by attending a market at Curborough Country Side Centre filled with great produce from lots of their other local suppliers! To any looking for somewhere nice to go for a couple of hours shopping I highly recommend popping over to Curborough.

The bees have also been busy this month with us having a really good flow (flow just means that the plants are producing nectar) and we’ve seen the hives grow substantially. We’ve also been busy making new hives up and we are at the time of writing this at 76 hives. Swarming has certainly reduced as I’ve not been called to collect one for at least 3 weeks now.

One of the highlights of this month for me was welcoming Stephen from Bee Craft magazine to our honey room to write an article on our new honey extraction services. After a few snags with getting his frames to fit into the extractor we were underway. We had a great talk about beekeeping, extracted lots of honey and had plenty of pictures taken (Not sure I liked that bit as much!). (Photo credit below: Bee Craft Magazine)

August is set to be another busy month for us with honey to be harvested towards the end of the month and a few shows and events as well. On the 11th August we will be at Fillongley Show with our honey, gifts and insect houses as well as our glass observation hive so you can come and see our bees working! On the 25th August we will be attending an event at Kingsbury Water Park with our observation hive, the event is all about educating people about bugs with a focus on bees! It’s a free event but would be great especially with children with lots going on including bug hunts around the waterpark!

Thank you for reading this quick update, as ever thank you for your support
Matthew Ingram
Holt Hall Apiary

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Harvesting Our Honey

Wow, what a difference a week makes! We’ve gone from constant rain to beautiful sunshine and hot weather and the bees loving it! This week we have been able to make up another 7 hives (This is a topic for a future post) so we are that bit closer to our goal of 100 hives for the year! Anyway this post is about how the honey gets from our bees to you!

Getting Honey Off The Hive

To get the supers (Not sure what these are check out our post about parts of the bee hive – here) off the hive without many bees in them we use something called a clearing board. Essentially this is a flat board with a hole in the centre, this hole has a mesh cone covering it so that the bees can get through it to go down to the rest of the hive but they can’t get back in. Essentially a one way valve for bees!

This removes about 95% of the bees the rest of them fly to the window in the first extracting room so when we take them through into the second room where they get extracted there are no bees (although one does occasionally hitch a ride through the PVC curtain!)

Capped honey that’s been cleared of bees

Getting Honey Out Of The Comb

The honey is in the beeswax comb covered over with a thin layer of wax that the bees make so that the honey doesn’t absorb water and spoil. Our first job is to cut or scrape the capping wax off the frames. There can be a lot of honey left in this wax so at the end of the process we squeeze it through a small press, similar to a fruit press to get every last drop of honey out! Even the wax doesn’t go to waste as we make candles and other products from it!

Cappings being removed

Once the frames have been uncapped we place them in a centrifuge, ours holds 20 frames and uses an electric motor to spin them up to 200 RMP although we rarely get it going that fast because it can break the delicate beeswax structure.

The frames spinning on by!

The honey spins out against the sides and runs out through a valve at the bottom through a fine strainer, the strainer doesn’t remove any of the goodness or pollen from our honey it simply stops you getting a jar full of bits of wax and while some people like having wax in there honey lots of people don’t. If you do want completely unfiltered honey then let us know at and we can get you a jar next time we harvest!

It’s hard to get a good picture of the underside of the strainer I really didn’t want to drop the camera in!

To The Jar!

Our honey sits in a bucket for a minimum of one day to allow any air to rise to the top so you don’t get white bubbles in your jar which doesn’t look too good on a shelf. Some of the honey will remain in buckets longer as storage because between us I don’t really enjoy jarring up honey! I should just say that the length of storage has no impact on the quality of the honey!

Previously to filling we will have washed and sterilised the jars we need to fill.

To jar the honey the buckets are poured gently, trying to incorporate as little air as possible, into a jarring tank that has a clean cut valve to stop the drips once the jar is full. Each jar is placed on a set of scales under the valve and each jar is filled by hand, with all the practice I’ve had I can now fill them to about +/- 1g which is as good as a machine… just a little slower!

The jars are sealed and the anti tamper label is added. We then add the best before sticker to the bottom of the jar and the main label. New for this year we have numbered labels, this means that we can track each jar from the hive to when it was extracted, stored and jarred, its hard to beat that level of traceability, if you’ve got one of our jars and you want to know that information fill in the form HERE and we will get back to you ASAP!

Thank you for reading this quick post, I’d really love to hear from you with ideas for blog posts, new product ideas or any feedback you’ve got! If you would like to help then please fill out the form below

Matthew Ingram

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Her Royal Majesty The Queen!

As I promised last time, and as you will have guessed from the title, this post is about queen bees. While the queen can’t live without workers, without a queen a hive will fail faster. At this time of year and as a small bee farm looking to grow quickly, queens are key. We can split an existing hive many times and introduce a new queen to each split which then itself becomes a mini hive that will build up over the spring and summer.

Where Do The Queens Come From?

Well there are two options for getting extra queens, one is rearing our own queens and I’ll talk about that more in the next paragraph. The other way of getting queens is… by post! The queens we have had this year have come from the Mediterranean, the warmer climate means they are able to rear new queens far earlier in the season than we are able to here in the UK. Although these queens came as part of a larger shipment amazingly you can send queens around the UK by the aptly named Royal Mail, however the postman does give you a funny look as you sign for a package of bees that have been buzzing in his van all morning!

In mid April we had our first batch of queens arrive, they come in well ventilated cages with food for their travels, the queen is accompanied by 5 or 6 workers who will look after her until she is introduced to a hive of her own. Generally I believe it is better to breed your own queens however the extra month these imported queens give us vastly improves the quality of the hives they live in as they have far longer to establish.

Queen Rearing.. A Very Brief Intro!

Queen rearing is in my opinion one of the most fascinating parts of beekeeping, the queens genetics and quality directly affects every aspect of a hives performance and temperament. This will be only a very short introduction into how we do it as it can be complex and for none beekeepers probably quite boring. It is also fair to say that the average ‘hobby’ beekeeper probably doesn’t bother with queen rearing, at least not intentionally!

The method we use is called grafting, that means we take a normal worker larvae that has been hatched within the last 24 hours and transfer it into a plastic (sometimes wax) cell that mimics a queen cell. Under the right circumstances (the hive is very busy but has no queen) the bees produce queen cells from the grafts that can then be harvested and the new queens emerge in their new hives.

To help this process run smoothly, as we only have a limited amount of queen rearing kit that goes in the hive, we bring the capped (8 day old) queen cells inside and place them in a chicken incubator, with a constant ‘hive’ temperature and a high humidity the queens hatch out and can be introduced to their new hives.

Using this method we produce about 5 queens a week which is certainly small scale but is sufficient for our needs. Our first queens hatched out on the 1st May which is quite early due to the unseasonably warm April, I would expect her to be laying eggs within two weeks.

I hope that although this was quite a basic post you’ve all learned something new about the amazing world of beekeeping, I’m always certainly learning new things about it. Thank you for reading – If you are interested in the roles of other bees in the hive check out one of our other posts here

Matthew Ingram

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SWARMS! Not as scary as you might think!

This week has been a busy one for us here at Holt Hall Apiary, the warm weather over the past few weeks as well as the oil seed rape being in flower has really helped push our bees on. This boost has led to very early swarms of bees which I’ll talk about a few that we have collected since our last post.

Why Bees Swarm

So firstly you should understand why bees swarm, when a hive becomes too crowded and there is limited space for the queen to lay the bees choose to swarm. To swarm they start to rear a new queen (which is a topic in itself!) the queen is put on a diet by the workers so that she is light enough to fly and around half of the bees leave with the queen to make a new hive elsewhere. Leaving behind the cells that will hatch out to become a new queen to carry on the old hive.

As a beekeeper I want to try and stop this happening as not only do I lose half of the workforce of a hive I lose a lot of the honey they have produced as they fill up before leaving the hive as building wax takes lots of energy! There are countless ways to intervene with swarming but I choose the most straight forward, when I see the bees are trying to create a new queen I take the old queen and some of the workers and put them in a new hive of their own. Basically they have swarmed but without me losing anything, later on I can always combine them back together should I need to.

When You See Swarms

When the bees leave the hive they stop a short distance away and cluster around the queen to protect her,If you’ve seen pictures of swarms this is what you’ve seen and what is happening in the picture below. Even though seeing that many bees in one cluster can look intimidating bees in a swarm are actually at their most docile, this is because they no longer have a hive and young to protect.

While the bees are clustering they are actually looking for a new home and scout bees are checking out any potential locations before a consensus between the bees is made and the swarm leaves. This can take up to 4 days and sometimes a swarm cannot find a suitable location and so builds the hive where they have stopped in the open, these swarms rarely survive as they are hard to defend and keep warm.

Collecting Swarms

When the bees are still in cluster it is possible for a beekeeper to come and collect and re-home the bees. This week I have collected 3 swarms and the way you do it differs depending on where the swarm has stopped. I was lucky as two of them stopped in a place where I could put a hive directly underneath and and shake the bees in.

Once the queen is in the hive, especially if it is one that has been used before and therefore smells of a beehive the bees do something amazing, on mass they suddenly start walking into the new hive! As one of the swarms was on an area with lots of long tufts of grass I put down a white sheet which makes it easier for the bees to walk in.

Hopefully you will find seeing a few pictures of swarms interesting and to me I think swarming and the collective decisions they make during that time are some of the most fascinating examples of bees intelligence!

In the next blog post I will talk about queen bees, how we rear more queens and how we even get some sent by post!

Thank you for reading our blog and supporting our business. – If you do see a swarm in your garden or elsewhere please do get in touch and we will collect them as quickly as possible, please email us with a contact phone number and a location and we will get back to you right away –

Matthew Ingram

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A Quick Update About The Bees!

Hi all, this is just going to be a quick update about how our bees are getting on and what we’ve been up to. I’ll cover quite a few topics and then hopefully in the coming few weeks I’ll write about each one in a little more depth.

How Are The Bees Doing?

Besides the cold spell in the last week the bees have been doing very well and very far ahead of where they were last year! The Oil Seed Rape (OSR) is almost in full flower and once the temperature gets high enough for them to make use of it they will get very busy indeed! Last week on a sunny day I went to check on the bees and parked between the bees and the field of OSR it was like sitting in the middle of a motorway with a constant stream of bees hurriedly flying between the flowers and the hives, possibly the busiest I’ve ever seen them!

As the hives are ahead of schedule and there is now males (Drones) in the hives (as you will know from our post: Back To Basics:The Bees drones don’t live through the winter). This means we have been able to start queen rearing, that is the selective breeding of queen bees to make up new colonies. This can be quite a complicated job so possibly in the next post I will show you all lots of pictures and explain the process.

So, Have I Been As Busy As The Bees!?

The last few weeks have been busy for us, we are busy renovating an old barn into a brand new extracting facility. There’s lots of new bits of equipment and tools which I will do a post on and showing the transformation between what it looked like before we started to how it will be when it is finished sometime over the next two weeks!

Farmers Markets are also becoming a big focus and we now do 3 different ones a month. On the first Thursday of the month we do Lichfield Farmers Market, unfortunately this month (our first month there) was a bit of a wash out but we’re feeling positive and will be back next month! Today (second Sunday of the month) we are at Buzzards Valley Artisan Market so make sure you pop down and get some Easter presents we take all our products with us, you can see the range – here. Our newest market and we haven’t been to this one yet is Market Bosworth Farmers Market on the 4th Sunday of every month!

Thank You For Reading!

Thank you for reading this very quick update on what we are up to, we will be writing a couple more in depth beekeeping posts over the next few weeks so keep an eye out for this and as usual if you do want to get an email when we post then please sign up below.

Thank you

Matthew Ingram

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Hives on the move! The start of the season

I’m writing this post on Saturday evening ready for it to be posted tomorrow morning… nothing like the last minute! It’s been a very busy week here with getting our new honey extraction room up and running (I will write a post about that in the coming weeks) and moving some of the bees to a new site. This post will be about how and why we move our bees and the benefits of it!

Getting the new site sorted!

So on Tuesday morning last week I went and met up with the farmer who’s land I’m having the hives on. We found a suitable spot that gets lots of sun but is quite sheltered from a wood just behind them, most importantly though the site is surrounded by Oil Seed Rape (OSR), a lot of it! The OSR is the reason for moving the bees, it’s great to get smaller colonies well established and the bigger ones produce a lot of honey from it! I’m expecting to extract about 300kg of honey just off the Oil Seed Rape over the next two months!

Unfortunately when I set the site up I forgot to take any pictures but you can all imagine a line of wooden pallets next to a field! To get the site sorted I lay down 6 pallets although one is currently not being used, I leveled them up as bees will build comb straight to the ground so if the hive isn’t flat it can cause a few problems when I go to check on them!

Loading up the bees!

I was up early last Friday getting the hives ready to move, the hives are all strapped down ( I certainly don’t want a hive opening up when I go over any bumps!) The entrances are stuffed with foam which stops the bees from being able to come out of the hive so I don’t lose any on the commute! The reason for doing the move early in the morning is that the bees aren’t really active yet, also it means that if you were moving them during the summer it would be nice and cool for the bees.

In total we loaded up 20 hives and a few extra pallets, they were all very well strapped down and secured for the short trip. The bees have to move over 3 miles, if you move it under 3 miles or over 3 feet the bees will fly back to where their hive used to be, anything out side of that range is fine as the bees know they’ve moved because they are in unfamiliar territory and go about reorienting to the new hive location!

Me with a pickup and trailer full of bees!

Time for the unloading!

I got to the new site with no problems at all, I unloaded them all on to their pallets (4 per pallet) with the entrances facing slightly different ways so the bees don’t get confused as to which one is their home! By now it was about 9am and the sun was on the hives so I removed the foam in the entrance and the bees were soon out and busy! The OSR on a field just behind where I was stood taking this picture is now coming out well and I’ve added two supers to each hive to keep up when the flow really gets going! (If you don’t know what super are check out our blog post on hive parts – here)

The row of hives ready to start work!

Thank you for reading this blog post about moving our bees. The Oil Seed Rape coming out really does represent the season starting and having checked the hives this week I know some of them have half filled a super already, a good sign for the season to come especially if the weather stays like this! My next post will be just more of a general update on how the hives are doing and I will hopefully be able to share some good pictures from inside the hive!

Thank you again for reading

Matthew Ingram

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Has The Warm Weather Affected Our Bees?

So this weeks post will only be short but I think it’s an important question to answer as it’s one that I’ve been asked quite a few times recently. It’s not just none beekeepers asking this question as well many beekeepers are asking themselves this same question, I know I certainly was!

So firstly to dispel a little beekeeping myth, I often get asked ‘has the warm weather woken your bees up?’. Well technically no, because honey bees don’t sleep! Unlike other species of bees, honey bees don’t hibernate at all. The reason honey bees produce honey to store food that won’t go off for them to eat throughout the winter.

Although bees don’t sleep or hibernate they are much less active during the winter, the cold weather means they can’t fly and to preserve food and allow the hive to be kept cooler the queen ceases or reduces egg laying so there are no young bees in the hive. The warm weather we had during February allowed the bees to go out foraging for pollen on the snowdrops and crocus much earlier than usual which is a good thing as pollen is needed to feed young bees. The sudden warm temperature also prompted the queen to start laying at a much faster rate.

So why could this be a problem? Well active bees and brood rearing uses up lots of energy and in turn food. The main concern is that the bees could run out of food before the spring flowers come out. To get around this we’ve added extra feed to some of the most active hives, the food, which is basically a bakers fondant (Pure sugar). The fondant is put inside a plastic bag to stop it from drying out and going hard. We cut a small hole in the underside of the bag and the bees crawl up through a whole in the roof of the hive to get to the fondant.

Bakers fondant in the insulation on top of the hive.

So when can we stop worrying? Well when the Oil Seed Rape comes out and the temperature is warm enough for the bees to fly they will produce lots of honey, up to 10kg a week in the right conditions! This week I’m going to set up the apiary site next to the oil seed rape and hopefully get all the hives moved next weekend so they are ready for the crop to start flowering.

Thank you for reading this short post, hopefully you’ll have more of an idea about the impact this mild winter has had on our bees and what we are trying to do to keep them as healthy as possible.

Don’t forget Mothering Sunday is on the 31st March, we have loads of great gifts from things for the home and garden as well as our hugely popular beekeeping experiences. Remember if you live within 5 miles of us and spend more than £10 you get free delivery and even if you don’t we have really competitive postage prices! Take a look at all our products here – Shop

Matthew Ingram

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