Jim's Pots of Gold!

A catchy title like that has bound to catch your imagination. No I'm not a leprechaun although I am not much taller. My pots of gold are produced all summer long by a busy workforce of ladies, approximately 240,000 of them hour after hour day after day. The hotter the weather the more they work. On a warm sunny day walking in any flower garden, field or hedgerow you can hear them sing happily about their work. Before I lose your interest, I will tell you my workforce are bees and my Pots of Gold are those 500g glass jars of honey.

Those who have tried my own recipe Honey Marmalade have been taken back by the flavours and I'm never short of requests for more!

So what of these little crawly insects that has a sting in their tail. Well the Latin name for the 'original' humble honey bee in the UK is  Melifera-Melifera; this is the name of the British Black Bee, however this is thought to have become extinct at the turn of the century with what was called Isle of Wight disease.

What the British bee is now is a mix of races. I wont name them all but there are different bees from different countries and these have been imported then interbred etc. If you have heard of the Africanised bee that is sweeping the America's causing death and destruction in their path, this is similar to what has happened to British beekeeping. It is believed that there are no wild bees left in the UK and any wild colony has escaped from a beekeeper during swarming season.

The honey bee in the UK usually flies and works in temperatures over 55F and they live in a constant temperature of 90F all year round within their hives. They achieve this by forming into a big ball the size of a football in the colder weather and insulate the heat produced by their offspring in the wax combs. In the summer they crawl onto the front of the hive and fan with their wings to send in a cool airflow. The hives are made up of 1 queen, workers and drones the workers are sterile female bees the drones are males.
The worker bees do all the work done in the hive, the queen lays the eggs, the drone poor fellow, or luck dependent on ones point of view, has only one role and that is to mate with a queen.
On completion he dies as all of his 'male organs' are left in the queen. The worker bees feed the drones in the summer and then throw them out in the autumn to die.

It is sad to watch them being dragged out onto the ground and left, they are incapable of feeding themselves and die. The queen mates with up to 5 drones. She lives for about 3 years. The poor worker is tricked by the queens pheromones and works herself to death with in 6 weeks in the summer and because they don't work so hard over the winter period they tend to only last from September to the Spring when new bees are born in large quantities.

From an egg to a bee takes 21 days and 16 for a queen. This is because the queen is fed on royal jelly as you or I would know. It is a beebread made up of honey and pollen.

That's a little about bees, so what about the Humble Beekeeper then.........

Well I have been keeping bees or have been an Apiarist for 14 years now I think I know a great deal about the noble art.

The beekeeping year for me starts now in the autumn. I have to ensure all of my hives are prepared for winter, so this means enough food stores to take the bees into Spring and the early pollens such as the hazel nut catkins and the pussy willow buds which provide the bees with much of their first summer stores If you can plant a pussy willow tree, do so.

I also have to protect the bees against predators such as rats and mice or worst still the Woodpecker. This lovely tree bird can decimate a bee hive in hours in the winter months particularly February. So I have to be aware of this. I lost one hive this spring to Woodpeckers and when I opened it to see what I could salvage I found 2 overlarge slow worms had taken up residence!

This year though has been particularly good for me with my bees.  I have a good number of colonies and they have produced some fine flavoured Honey
I have only been to 2 sites to gather the honey harvest and I have 3 remaining. 

I am often in my wife Ann's ' deep dog house' as the mess of honey extraction, beeswax and bits of propolis fly all over the kitchen along with 200 odd wasps and bees trying to rob the honey back before I get it into containers to store it.
I love the harvest time, its exciting to find exactly what amount and type of honeys my bees have produced. My neighbours practically find my harvest a two edged sword as they see a big increase in flying insects but enjoy the gift of honey I provide for the inconvenience!

What is the most exciting part of this year? 
My Hives are sited just above the Channel Tunnel. There is a problem sweeping Europe in the nature of the 'small hive beetle scourge', the Beekeepers next horror to decimate their bee's existence.
Well as I have hives on the gateway to Europe the Government have chosen my Hives to be the Monitor of its invasion to the UK.
Terrible that the inevitable will be picked up in my hives but the experience and knowledge I have gained from the Ministry of Agricultures Inspector has proved great.
You will be pleased to hear it will not now arrive this year.

For my sales pitch bees are one of the most rewarding of livestock to keep. They have an intelligence that will amaze.  They have sentient intelligence and can work out precise distances.
Collecting a swarm is a great fascination every time and I have hundreds of swarm tales to tell.

At the end of a day when they are ceremoniously dumped in front of a hive they all mill about for a moment then all turn face the hive and walk in. Honey is good for you especially if you are working outside, it delivers energy straight to the blood stream as it has already been broken down by the bees.
Local honey can be purchased for about £2.50 to £4.00 a jar depending where you are buying it. Bees wax is a very useful product making makeup, face creams soap, polish, and candles that actually smell lovely and when put out, none of that paraffin smell.

Anyone interested in taking up the hobby for our region you would need to contact Kent Beekeepers Association and they would put you in contact with your local branch.

By Jim Wells, Folkestone, Kent

(Jim is a Train Conductor working for South Eastern Trains in Ramsgate, Kent.)

The Kent Beekeepers Association Site

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The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee; A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
Emily Dickinson
"The pedigree of honey" in 1890