Tales of bees and honey

On Saturday 21st August, I was amongst the plot holders and visitors to Court Lane Allotments who were treated to a fascinating talk on bees by Julian Routh of Sutton Coldfield and North Birmingham Beekeepers’ Association.

Julian is a Master Beekeeper and has kept bees for over 30 years. He also gives lectures on beekeeping as well as judging Honey Shows and was recently co-opted to the Education and Husbandry Committee of the British Beekeepers’ Association.

He gave a brief desription of other pollinating insects such as bumble bees, solitary bees and wasps, before going on the describe the lifecycle of the honey bee, the yearly cycle of what goes on inside a honey bee colony and then how beekeepers interact with them to manage a colony of bees throughout the year. He then invited everyone to have a closer look at the observation hive and described to us what was going on. As a newly qualified beekeeper, it was useful to have an update in a nutshell and I hope it was of interest to those who wanted to know more about these fascinating insects.

Not many people know that when honey bees swarm they are actually at their most docile. Beekeepers have been known to put their bare hand into a swarm of bees without harm (though it not advised for an untrained person to attempt to do the same). Julian told us of his daughter who, as a small child, would fearlessly help him with beekeeping tasks, wearing only a summer dress and a beekeeping veil.

He also went on to describe the wonderfully named “waggle dance” whereby a bee returning from foraging will inform other bees of a nectar source by dancing in a figure of eight pattern. Research has been done to establish that the angle of the waggle run on the face of the honey comb has been shown to equate to the angle of the food source in relation to the sun. The speed and length of the waggle run determines how far away the food source is. This is something I’ve been reading up about recently, having seen bees doing it in my own garden hive.

He explained how honey bees concentrate nectar into honey by evaporating water out of it. The evaporation also helps to regulate hive temperature and humidity. The bees achieve this by fanning their wings to extract moisture from the air in a way not dissimilar to an air conditioner. I have just completed my first honey harvest from my hive at home and any honey the bees now collect, up until the end of the season, will be for them to use as their winter stores.

Before the talk, Julian had a tour of our Court Lane Allotments apiary enclosure and was very complimentary. He said it had obviously been developed with the utmost concern for the safety of both bees and plot holders and we have “an ideal set up”, which is a credit to Court Lane Allotments and our qualified beekeepers. For those of you who haven’t yet taken the opportunity to have a closer look, each hive faces a slightly different direction so that the bees won’t get confused as to which hive is theirs and there is plenty of space to work around each hive. The tree belt behind the apiary provides shelter from easterly winds. I asked Julian about the number of colonies we have at present, as I had recently been informed that a plot holder was concerned about the welfare of the bees. He commented that we have space in our apiary for up to 8 hives if we want, but Ming and I told him we were quite happy with the 4 colonies we have at the moment, which should produce some lovely honey for Court Lane Allotments next year.

Julian is very happy to discuss any further questions that anyone  may have about our Court Lane Allotment bees and beekeeping in general. Anybody wishing to ask questions can contact Ming (plot 14) or myself (plot 45) or comment on this site, and we will be very happy to discuss bees. In fact, we have already been approached by one of the Court Lane plot holders who is interested in learning more about beekeeping.

Many thanks to Julian for volunteering to share with us, free of charge, his time and expertise.  Those attending the talk were well provided for with free refreshments and lovely cakes baked and donated by volunteers. Any donations received went to the charity Bees Abroad which the Beekeeping Association supports.

Below is an edited video of Julian’s talk and here is the direct link to the YouTube video. Apologies for the poor sound quality.