Let’s talk bees – the insects renowned for their role in pollination and honey production. Since bees are so special, they have their own day each year to be celebrated and the theme for this year is… ‘Bee engaged: Build Back Better for Bees’. This week we speak to Lisa from our accounts team, who tells us all about her Grandfather’s experience as a beekeeper to help raise awareness of the roles of these bee-autiful creatures!
Lisa’s Grandfather, John Hand, age 91, has been a beekeeper for longer than she can remember. She describes him as a passionate beekeeper, truly inspiring and a master of his skill.
How did your Grandfather first get into bee keeping?
My Grandfather read an article on the honey bee in a newspaper in 1976, which highlighted the importance of the honey bee and explained why we need them. He was drawn to this because he has always been passionate and considerate towards our planet.
Did John learn the art of bee keeping from someone, or learn as he went?
Grandad was once told by the very first beekeeper he had met, ‘if you want to be a beekeeper, get a hive and you will learn’. So that is exactly what Grandad did; he got a hive and started learning from books and on the job! He kept his first hive in the back garden and fortunately, my Grandmother was very supportive as she was quite the gardener herself. Their garden was a nectar haven for the bees and there was always a buzz of excitement!
Was John afraid of the bees when he first started?
No, he has never been afraid of bees, he taught me from a very early age to never to flap around bees because they will only sting you if they feel threatened.
What is his favourite part about bee keeping?
Always the opening of the hive, Grandad describes the smell and the sight as ‘pure joy’. It’s also wonderful when you spot the Queen bee!
Has John ever experience getting stung by a bee?
Yes, many times – almost everywhere!
Where does he keep his hive of bees?
In the garden mostly, (1 hive at a time), but every July, my grandparents would take the hives ‘on holiday’ to the New Forest, where the bees would collect the pollen from the heather. This would produce the best liquid gold, Heather honey!
How does John keep the bees happy and healthy, especially in the cold winter months?
As the days become colder, the bees stay in the hive and cluster on the combs to keep themselves warm. They eat their stores of honey to keep themselves alive. As the warm days of spring arrives the bees will venture out again.
Does he use honey from the hive?
We are fortunate to reap the rewards from these very hard working bees. My Grandfather and his bees have supplied family and friends with jars of the most golden and delicious honey. Almost every morning, I savour the taste of my sourdough toast and Grandad’s honey.
How long has he kept bees for?
46 years and counting! Within that time, my Grandfather has gained a lot of experience and knowledge, which he has passed on to many budding beekeepers.
What are John’s top bee keeping tips?
Don’t be afraid, bees are our friends!
How can we all do our bit to help save the bees?
We have the bees and other pollinators to thank for every third mouthful we eat. Not only do they pollinate our food crops, but they’re also vital for the survival of other wild plants that support so much of our wildlife. We can all do our bit to help save our bees.
At the most simple level, we can plant flowers for our key pollinators. Choose flowers with a simple structure, like old cottage varieties, as they are the easiest for insects to feed from. Add herbs to the mix as these really do attract the insects.
We can create a bee/bug hotels. Even if you don’t have a garden, anyone can contribute with just a pot of flowers on a balcony or create a beautiful ‘Nectar Café’ with a window box.
My Grandfather feels strongly about educating the next generation. Teaching our children the importance of our pollinators and giving them the tools and knowledge to be the next beekeepers.
If we all do our bit to help save the bees, in return, they will help save us and our future!
Before you go, check out these interesting bee facts!
The sound of the buzz
Have you ever wondered why bees make a buzzing sound when they fly? This sound you hear is the vibration of their wings rapidly beating, the bigger the bee, the lower the sound of the buzz. Some bees beat their wings at an impressive rate, up to 230 times a second!
Bees have four wings, the two wings each size which attach together to make one. They are held by comb-like teeth called hamuli which comes from the term “hooked.” Coupling their wings together helps them generate a greater lift due to the larger surface area.
To sting or not to sting
Did you know that male bees can’t sting you? That’s right, only female bees have a stinger, but they use it only as a defence if they feel they are under threat. Honey bees sting just once, whereas bumble bees sting multiple times.
It is very rare for a queen bee to sting you as she is usually within the hive and is not as defensive as working bees. In the unlikely event that a queen bee was to sting you, she would most likely have done so because she can sense if you have handled another queen bee - she can smell their pheromone or feel it with her mouth, feet or antennas.
The role of the Queen Bee
You can usually spot the one queen bee in a hive as she is bigger in size compared to the rest. Since she is the only bee that can lay eggs, she is well looked after by the hive and she is the mother to all or most of them. The worker bees feed and groom her, as well as spread her pheromones through the hive, which she releases to communicate with them and determine their temperament. She usually lays between 600 – 800 eggs per day, but during the Spring she can lay up to 2,000 per day!