Af­ter an un­cer­tain start, broad­caster Martha Kear­ney has fallen in love with bee­keep­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

What started off as a quirky wed­ding present has ended up with me in pos­ses­sion of 360,000 bees. I can hon­estly say that I never ex­pected to end up with such an ab­sorb­ing pas­sion. It all be­gan with a group of friends who bought us a hive, bee veil, leather gauntlets and smoker as a wed­ding gift. At first I treated it all as an elab­o­rate joke and painted the hive as a fea­ture for the gar­den. Af­ter a year or so, in which a bee mag­a­zine ar­rived on a monthly ba­sis which of­ten fea­tured rather cute pic­tures of chil­dren all dressed in mini bee suits, I met a lo­cal bee­keeper who took me un­der her wing. At first, lots of things went wrong. I didn’t feed my colony prop­erly for the win­ter so one hive starved. Two more fell prey to wasps which pose a real threat to bees. My worst mo­ment came when I heard buzzing that was much louder than nor­mal be­cause I had ac­ci­den­tally left the zip of my veil open. The hood was full of bees. I man­aged to re­lease a few and squish a few oth­ers, but got stung twice with the re­sult that my face swelled up in an alarm­ing way. Just as well I was pre­sent­ing on ra­dio not tele­vi­sion that week. The plea­sures do out­weigh the oc­ca­sional pain how­ever, which is some­thing I am try­ing to get across in a tele­vi­sion se­ries, The Joy of Honey, which will be broad­cast next spring. There are es­ti­mated to be around 40,000 bee­keep­ers in Bri­tain who main­tain more than 200,000 colonies of honey bees. Most of us are in it for the honey and I have to say that spread­ing your own honey on home-made bread is one of life’s great plea­sures. The whole process is rather a messy one, as what­ever pre­cau­tions you take, ev­ery sur­face ends up ex­tremely sticky. This year, by tak­ing some short­cuts, we found sev­eral bees had man­aged to get in­side the room where we were ex­tract­ing. Not to be rec­om­mended. It was our most suc­cess­ful year yet, though, as we man­aged to get more than 150lb of honey. Many of those jars we sold at a wild­flower meadow open day in aid of the lo­cal wildlife trust and church, but there is plenty to hand out to friends and BBC bosses by way of sweet­en­ers. I was rather sur­prised to do so well as this has been a very bad year across the coun­try for bees. Win­ter was harsh. I was scrap­ing snow off the roof of my hives in late March. The risk is that the clus­ter of bees will run out of food stores, so I fed them reg­u­larly with fon­dant, a kind of su­gar candy and that seemed to do the trick. More broadly there has been a lot of pub­lic­ity about all the prob­lems fac­ing bees which could have a big im­pact on the pol­li­na­tion of many of our crops. Sev­enty-five per cent of crops around the world de­pend to some ex­tent on in­sect pol­li­na­tion – not all of those in­sects are bees, of course, but a great many are. Ev­ery year in this coun­try, around 20 per cent of bee colonies die out. This is mainly due to the var­roa mite which at­tacks lar­vae and spreads disease, but also be­cause of loss of habi­tat, wild-flower mead­ows in par­tic­u­lar. More con­tro­ver­sially many cam­paign­ers blame the use of pes­ti­cides, known as neon­i­coti­noids, which have been banned by the Euro­pean Union for two years while more re­search is car­ried out. A world with­out bees is un­think­able. The wag­gle dance is one of the most so­phis­ti­cated means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion by non­hu­mans. Bees which go out for­ag­ing for nec­tar and pollen are able to com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers at the hive about where the best flow­ers can be found by us­ing the an­gle of the sun. This in­cludes the di­rec­tion and the dis­tance. Then there are the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts they make to pro­duce our honey. Bees must gather nec­tar from two mil­lion flow­ers to make one pound of honey. One bee would there­fore have to fly around 90,000 miles – three times around the globe – to make that pound. So let’s agree with Dar­win that the honey bee is the most won­der­ful of all in­sects.

Stung into ac­tion: Martha Kear­ney, above right, was given the tools of the trade as a wed­ding present and mar­vels at how bees col­lect nec­tar from two mil­lion flow­ers to make one pound of honey

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