Some say reports about the declining number of bees in UK have incentivised amateur bee keepers to have a go, but it could be that the improvement in the EU chemical regulations have made the difference for bee populations. Beekeeping is a national craze that is so fascinating and rewarding the numbers of urban and rural beekeepers are still growing.
Nicola Reed, supermum of six, artist, photographer and bee enthusiast divides her time between London and the country, where she keeps seven hives in the family orchard, between 30,000 and 40,000 bees inhabit a hive. Reed’s first nucleus of bees were a 50th birthday present to her husband, following a local weekend course in beekeeping, Reed has turned her hobby into a family activity. A mix of European and British bees live contentedly in the traditional pretty hives designed by William Broughton Carter. Reed says if you want to make honey you have to be involved, it only takes about an hour a week but you can lose bees through ignorance. In her vestibule hang eight protective bee suits in various sizes for her husband, their three boys and three girls; the family watch out for overcrowding of hives to avoid swarming, they treat the colony for the fatal Verroa parasite and they check the Queen is healthy by looking for larvae. In a hive a Queen will have up to four replacement foetus cells which are much larger than the other cells, should the Queen die the worker bees will feed up the replacements and in nature the first hatched will destroy the other large cells and become Queen of the Colony.
Reed harvests 2/3 times a year and her hives yield circa 300 pots of honey; her new enterprise is honey whisky, which she says is the “bees knees”, delicious as a winter warmer or hot toddy. The whole supa (the box containing the honeycomb frames) including the propolis, wax, honey and wood is immersed in five gallons of Scotch blended whisky and left to infuse for a month, then passed through a special filter before being sold on her website The Beeble.
This passion for bees has taken Reed to Kenya to understand how the Maasai tribe in the Maasai Mara manage their hives of hollowed out trunks, the Honeyguide bird family lead the harvester to the honeyed hives, in return the harvester donates some of the honey to the obliging bird. Reed relates Maasai folklore believes being stung acts as a prophylactic for malaria, they also believe that harvesting naked makes it easier to brush bees off; in her few years of beekeeping Reed has only been stung out of carelessness and to date has never tried the naked harvest.