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:

Hi Rebecca,

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.


  1. Interesting about stealing the bees honey. I suppose they must be annoyed about that. One thing I've often wondered: do vegans eat honey? I guess they probably don't, at least if they're being consistent. But do they eat fruit from trees pollinated by bees kept for honey? I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere.

    Lovely blog!

  2. I once experienced a bee swarm which was astonishing. As a teenager on a summer day, I was in the back garden when I saw a dark shape in the sky which seemed to be getting bigger and closer. As it did so I realised that it was making a humming noise and when it got even closer I realised what it was. I ran into the house and shouted to my Mum and sister to close the windows as the bees approached and the sky got darker. Sure enough, they soon came right into the garden and began bouncing off the windows as we watched from inside. I have no idea how many there were but they must have been in the thousands. Almost as quickly as they arrived they flew over and around the house and were gone. A truly amazing experience that I will never forget.

  3. Betsy G in Maine2 March 2010 at 13:44

    Rebecca, This is Betsy G. a friend of Muffy O's from the states. I am a beek myself and would offer a slightly different perspective on the whole beekeeping experience. First of all allow me to recommend that you read "The Shamanic Way of the Bee" an excellent book about the spirituality of keeping bees written by an Englishman.

    I keep bees for pollenation. I do not "steal" their honey but leave it for them to over winter in the hive. My winters here in Maine are much more severe than those you folks have in Great Britain so I do still have hive losses. Also because I keep my bees organically I try VERY HARD not to feed them sugar syrup. I don't medicate chemically for mite control and have several other practices that add (I hope) to the bees over all health and well being.

    Don't mean to sound preachy. I feel we are at the point in organic beekeeping that the rest of organic farming was about 20 years ago. I have seen the "chemical" guys and the "organic" guys almost come to blows at beekeeping meetings. It is all very interesting and exciting.

    I love my "ladys" and was so happy the other day when I went out and knocked on their door and they buzzed back at me so they have survived the worst of the winter. I have 2 hives that have made it thru 3 Maine winters so I feel pretty successful at this point.

  4. Interesting that Helen didn't have any "best" parts of beekeeping. My best friend keeps bees in Maine (USA) and has done so for years. She is an advocate of organic farming and I've never heard anything negative about beekeeping from her lips. It may be hard work and discouraging when you loose a hive but beekeeping is essential for the future of our future food.