Keep­ing hon­ey­bees

Gardeners' World - - Monty On Bees -

For the past three years I have kept a cou­ple of hives of bees. I have two types of hive: a ‘top bar’ and a ‘na­tional’. The top bar hive is amaz­ingly sim­ple and con­sists of a wooden trough with a re­mov­able lid and a se­ries of bars – lit­tle more than short lengths of bat­ten – from which the bees build their hon­ey­combs. The hives are lo­cated at the end of the or­chard, fac­ing south to get as much sun as pos­si­ble and shel­tered by a tall hedge from northerly and west­erly winds. Days go by when I barely ac­knowl­edge their ex­is­tence and they don’t trou­ble me in any way. How­ever, the knowl­edge that the bees are there, beaver­ing away, is en­rich­ing and use­ful, be­cause as well as help­ing the UK’s de­clin­ing bee pop­u­la­tion, we are also able to har­vest some of their honey. We do this in late spring and mid­sum­mer, leav­ing plenty for them to eat over win­ter, although on mild days they are busily out and about. Once a year they swarm and the hive di­vides up fol­low­ing the old queen. A ball of as many as 20,000 bees wraps around her – and for the past cou­ple of years has lodged in one of our ap­ple trees. One year we cap­tured it and took it to a new home, but this year it took it­self away. A new queen is left with the re­main­ing work­ers and the hive quickly builds back up to a sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion of about 50,000 bees. I am guided in my bee­keep­ing by the be­nign pres­ence of Gareth, my ex­pert from Mon­mouth, and his watch­word is to be calm at all times and to do as lit­tle as is nec­es­sary. By and large they can be left well alone, the bee­keep­ing gar­dener en­joy­ing the mu­tual ben­e­fits rather than act­ing as busy cus­to­dian. Find out more about keep­ing bees from your lo­cal bee­keep­ing as­so­ci­a­tion at

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