Sunday, 28 February 2010
Before I proposed the Bee Project I contacted a friend in Lancaster that I knew had kept bees in the past. I emailed her and asked her to describe the best and worst parts of beekeeping. Here is her reply:
Answer to your honey question:
1st. This is an (unfair to bees) exchange. Beekeeper steals the bees' stores of honey and gives back sugar and water mixture so bees will (hopefully) survive the winter on it.
The worst parts were :
1. Getting stung. This is inevitable and worse at the beginning of one's learning curve.
2. Heaving the heavy crates of full combs around in the heat of summer when carefully togged up in a white boiler suit, gloves, boots and headgear - all necessary because of 1. Rather like space woman's gear.
3. Complaints from near neighbours if bees' flight- path happens to be directly across their garden, washing line or whatever and wherever you set up hives.
4. Not knowing what the bees are doing. It is a bit like playing chess with a keen opponent whilst oneself is blindfold, because you do not know the stage that the bees are up to inside the hive, until you are a few years into the job and have developed some nouse..
5. Loosing a swarm (or two if you are not on the ball) because of 4 and the bees have developed some extra queen cells inside the nursery. Then the original queen takes off with most of the bees and most of the honey as, when preparing to swarm, the bees take their stores with them in their stomachs.
6. Having the kitchen in an awful sticky mess while it is warm weather and one cannot open any windows because if you do any local bees will enter to reclaim honey. One has an extractor rather like a spin dryer. The frames of wax combs go into this after beekeeper slicing off the surface lids from the honey combs with extra -sharp special knife and the honey is then spun out of the combs. This honey trickles down to a tap and is bottled into honey jars. You hope.
Equipment: I suggest you join a local beekeepers' association and ask if you can go along with one of the beekeepers to help him/ her or observe, so you watch and understand how the whole process goes on. I wish I had - it’s a bit like an apprenticeship. I took my bees on because some one was giving up. I would suggest that you do this for one season - which starts late spring. Firstly you will get to know if you are allergic to bee stings - a very dangerous condition specially if stung on the neck/ throat (and just to worry you - this can come on later in bee keeping even if at first you are not allergic. Also neck stings are dangerous even if not allergic). By being a member of a beekeeping assoc. you will be able to buy hives 2nd hand if available and get all sorts of useful tips, go to classes and beekeeping weekends, make new friends etc. We used to visit each other's gardens to see how the bees were doing.
Think before you dive in, most work is done in summer / autumn.
ps the government are into environmental issues at pres. and pushing bee keeping. Maybe Mr B does not know about 1 to 6.
Best of luck
It is a long term venture,
Hmm - she seems to have forgotten to mention the best bits of beekeeping...
The image here is from Adventures into Nature by Kate Harvey M.Sc., and E.J.S. Lay, published in 1944.