Day in the life of A Beekeeper
Mary Pollock, 60, gave up practising pharmacy to become a beekeeper
I’ve always been fascinated by bees because I grew up with them. As a child though, I was never really allowed to go near them. A few years ago the curiosity took the better of me, and I gave up practising pharmacy for climbing trees and opening beehives.
When you start beekeeping, you shadow a senior level beekeeper for around a year.
You do this alongside an educational course to learn both about health and safety regulations and the art of beekeeping. Before you begin the course however, you visit the Apiary first because, even though you might think you’d like the idea of having bees, the thought of them actually flying around you can freak people out.
Beekeeping is very seasonal work, so my duties will change depending on the weather.
During the spring, the queen bee will start laying eggs to create a brood. When it’s colder, you won’t see the bees as much because although they don’t hibernate, they create a cluster in the centre of the hive to keep warm. The bees’ main duty is to keep the queen bee safe and alive, and to make honey.
It sounds disgusting, but as a rule of thumb, you either don’t shower before you open the hives or don’t use any soap or perfume.
Bees are very susceptible to scent, especially anything citrus based, so this can set them off as they think an intruder is coming into their hive. Also, we don’t eat any bananas as the smell is similar to the scent that bees release when they’re stinging something.
I’ll get up in the morning about 7am to get prepared for the day ahead.
Bees don’t like to be disturbed before 10am as it is too cold for them. I’m always checking my phone to see what the forecast and temperature will be for that day. An ideal day would be warm, sunny and dry as this means you can get a thorough check of the hive.
I keep hives both in the Apiary and my garden so once I’ve checked the weather, I get my uniform sorted.
I wear an all in one boiler suit that has a zip up the front, a hood and hat with a veil to cover my face. My style of uniform is breathable and less likely for bees to sneak in and try to inject their venom into my veins. The last thing you want is a gap between bet your clothing for any bees to get through.
It’s important that we check the bees every day, but we’ll we only open up each hive every 7 to 10 days.
This makes sure we’re monitoring their progress prog and the brood is growing and making the correct cor patterns. It can be difficult to make sure every bee is doing well if you have over ov 40,000 of them so it’s important to know your bees well. we Sometimes I’ll mark the thorax of the queen bee so we can easily see who and where she is.
I remember on my second visit to the Apiary, I obviously hadn’t closed my suit up properly and a bee got in.
First of all, one stung me on my nose and then I discovered I had one in beside me as it had stung my neck. My nose was running, my eyes were watering and I was in pain. When bees sting, they release a pheromone so they can alert other bees that something is disrupting their hive and for them to start swarming. It’s a protection thing, bees don’t sting for no reason but the more you get stung, the more you get used to it!
Once I’ve checked for the queen bee, I’ll then get my bee-keeping box out to check the hive itself.
This will include equipment such as a smoker that is filled with fuel that you can light and it produces smoke. When I get there, I’ll smoke the front of the hive first to encourage the bees to go onto drawing up honey because if bees think there is a fire they’ll go and take honey from the hive. The aim is to keep them busy so they’re not coming towards you. The smoker can also be used to disguise any smells that may be on you.
The biggest worry for me is going out to discover that the bees have swarmed or the queen is dead.
This can happen because bees are very
protective of their honey, and can sense when we’re coming in to take it all so that’s probably the most likely of times that we’ll get stung.
My family are very supportive of me.
My daughter’s boyfriend has actually taken up beekeeping as well! When you buy honey from the shop, people assume that natural honey automatically looks like that. But when you get proper honey, it looks incredibly different and no batch is the same. My family have been enjoying the fruits of my labour.
Now that I’m more experienced, I help mentor new beekeepers by helping them gain experience.
The Scottish Beekeeper Association allows all beekeepers to meet up, so it’s not only a community for those in this line of work but is also a social thing.
The Scottish Beekeepers Association supports Scottish Bees and Beekeepers. It was founded in 1912 as a national body to educate, assist, inform and bring together over 1,500 beekeepers in Scotland. Read more here: scottishbeekeepers.org.uk