Q&A with our beekeeper for National Honey Month
To celebrate National Honey Month this September, we asked Keith Simmonds from Harrogate Beekeepers Association, who looks after our onsite apiary, some questions.
1) How many years have you been a beekeeper and what do you like most about it?
I started in 2006 on a beekeeping course run by Harrogate and Ripon Beekeepers Association, so 13 seasons. Bees often surprise you by not behaving as you expect, so you are always learning.
2) How much training did it take to become a beekeeper?
The course was some 20 weeks long, consisting of 12 weeks’ theory and 8 weeks’ practical. It was a very comprehensive course, but shorter courses are available. You never stop learning, and belonging to a beekeeping association gives you plenty of contact with more experienced beekeepers to help you learn.
3) What is the main responsibility for a beekeeper?
The main job is to ensure that the bees are happy with sufficient space when they need it during the summer months, and most importantly, that they are healthy. Bees are under pressure from all sorts of environmental and habitat problems, keeping them healthy gives them the best chance of survival.
4) Our apiary isn’t the only one you look after, how many bees do you estimate you look after in one year?
I have three apiary sites with 22 colonies or hives. On average, at full summer strength, each will have 50,000 bees, so more than a million bees.
5) How much honey do the bees you look after produce a year?
This, like any other food product, depends on lots of outside influences, such as weather, crops and other forage available to the bees. I would think somewhere between 500 and 700 lbs of honey per annum. A lot of this is left with the bees as winter feed.
6) Most people do not react well to the sight of swarming bees, were you afraid of the bees when you first started out as a beekeeper?
No not really, I was fascinated by the bees. Most people on beekeeping courses are keen to get into their hive for the first time. A swarm of bees is more intent on finding a new home than spending time attacking you. Swarming bees are often very calm.
7) How many times do you think you’ve been strung over the years?
This must now be in the hundreds, I have reached the stage where I no longer react to stings, however let me make one thing clear, each sting still hurts.
8) Is there a way of calming the bees?
One of the best ways to keep bees calm is to be calm yourself, no sudden movement, noise or knocks. Beekeepers use a smoker to help manage the bees, these burn wood, paper or cardboard, well, anything organic in the smoker. The smoke will cause the bees to fill themselves with honey as they believe a fire could be nearby and they may need to leave. Well-fed bees are usually calmer.
9) We all use the phrase "as busy as the bee", but do bees sleep or rest at all?
Bees don’t sleep or hibernate, in the summer they are busy collecting nectar and pollen to feed themselves and the new brood in the hive. The Queen will lay 2,000 eggs a day during summer, and sometimes more. So you see, the hive is busy all the time in the late spring and summer. In winter the bees are mostly confined to the hive due to bad weather where they form into a compact ball of bees to keep warm.
Posted 15th Sep 8:44am