WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - DEREK UCHMAN ELAINE HUNTER

IFIND it very re­lax­ing be­ing around bees. There’s some­thing about them. In win­ter, they are self-suf­fi­cient, keep­ing the nest safe and warm; form­ing a clus­ter and eat­ing honey. You don’t visit the hives in the cold months be­cause you can chill them and put them at risk.

Come spring and sum­mer it gets very busy. I al­ways look for the queen – she’s much big­ger than the rest and she’s the one lay­ing eggs. I also keep an eye on signs of swarm­ing, colony growth and dis­ease.

The worker bees – fe­males – are in charge and can oust the queen by clus­ter­ing around her, over­heat­ing her to death if she’s not pro­duc­ing well. She’s essen­tially an egg-lay­ing ma­chine and can live for years, while the work­ers live for six weeks. They’re the ones you see out and about look­ing for pollen and nec­tar.

When I was start­ing out I ac­ci­den­tally starved my bees by not leav­ing enough honey for them to sur­vive on. It had been ter­ri­ble weather and they hadn’t been able to for­age. I still feel sad about that.

I’ve been keep­ing bees and hives for six years – and I’m learn­ing all the time. You could keep bees for 20 or 30 years and still not know all there is to know about these crea­tures. I make blos­som honey, which comes from oilseed rape crops. One of my favourite hon­eys is heather honey. We take the hives to the heather and leave them to it. Bees have been here since the di­nosaurs, so they are highly evolved. It’s no sur­prise that Sher­lock Homes takes up bee­keep­ing when he stops be­ing a de­tec­tive. Each colony is a mys­tery, a syn­ergy of bal­ance and com­plex­i­ties; it needs to be an­a­lysed and so­lu­tions to prob­lems need worked out.

If you don’t get the har­mony right for the hive, the bees will be an­gry and tend to sting.

A change in the queen dra­mat­i­cally af­fects a hive. The queen emits pheromones only the bees can de­tect, which re­lax them and help the har­mony of the hive.

I’m pres­i­dent of the East of Scot­land Bee­keep­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. We give our mem­bers in­for­ma­tion as well as en­cour­ag­ing new peo­ple to take the hobby up. We have men­tors, and I still re­fer to mine if I feel some­thing isn’t work­ing.

Things do go wrong. I lost thou­sands of bees last win­ter with no ex­pla­na­tion. But you keep go­ing. I re­cently caught a swarm – when a queen moves hive – and now have a healthy lit­tle hive.

My in­ter­est in bees came out of try­ing to find a cure for al­ler­gies. My four chil­dren and I all suf­fer from hay fever. I read that if you con­sumed honey made by lo­cal bees you have a bet­ter chance of beat­ing hay fever.

Has it worked? No. But I’m a beekeeper now and will be for the rest of my life.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: SHUTTERSTOCK

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