WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO
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.