We started keeping bees about ten years ago, when I saw an advert for a 6 week beginner's course run by the Dunblane and Stirling Beekeeper's Association. From the first evening we were hooked! Beekeeping is fascinating, the totally disciplined way that hive life is organised and carried out absorbed us from that first evening. Before that we knew very little about bees, maybe a couple of facts - that if a bee stung you, it died. Also, we had watched a film about colony collapse which we found very interesting.
We were very lucky, after the 6 week course we were given a nucleus of a colony to start us off. A nucleus is a queen with perhaps two frames of bees. She could be young or more likely, like ours, she would be an old queen, who had swarmed when her colony had decided she was too old and had created a new queen to supersede her.
Following our instructions, we inspected our new hive every few weeks to check on progress and our little colony grew to a reasonable size that summer. We took no honey from the hive that year, in fact we fed the bees sugar syrup late into the autumn to help them build stores to survive the winter. The first queen lived for a further year and laid thousands of eggs, she swarmed twice, enabling us to start a second hive and to give a nucleus away to another keen beginner.
In the early spring of year two, we realised our bees had survived when the warm weather started and we saw flying bees. In May that year we had our first swarm, fortunately we were at home and the swarm only flew about 20ft before collecting on a shrub. There they wait while scouts go and search for a good place for a new hive, a beekeeper has about 8 hours to secure the swarm before they leave for good.
Over the years we have dealt with at least one swarm each year, this year they rested in the cherry tree, making very pretty photo opportunities! One year we lost our queen in the winter and were left with just a few thousand workers. We ordered a new queen over the internet, she arrived by post, with 5 worker bees to feed her. She was housed in a mesh with a wax plug and our bees had to eat the plug to get to her. This took 3 days by which time they had become accustomed to her scent and accepted her. Without the plug and the time delay, our bees would have killed her as an
Since then we have had some very successful years, when we've been able to take many pounds of honey from our bees. In Scotland, bees hibernate during the winter months, like penguins, they form a close group with the outside ones rotating with those nearer the centre to maintain heat. We lose many bees every year over the winter.
We now have three hives, one is more successful than the other two, but all three are looking good for this winter. We'll get more honey from them this year. Unlike many beekeepers, our bee hives stay in the garden all the time. By transporting the hives to moorland it is possible to collect pure heather honey. Farmers who plant rape, want the brilliant yellow flowers pollinated so that they can collect the seeds for oil, so will arrange with a bee keeper to have some hives on the edge of the field. Honey from a rape field sets very quickly. Our honey is gathered at the end of the summer and is a mix of all the different flowers the bees have visited over the summer. Sometimes it's dark, sometimes it's pale, but it is always delicious.