THE BEE FARMER: A HONEYBEE COLONY EXPERIENCE
When someone says fancy an experience with some honey bees, I guess we don’t all put our hands up at once, or do we? Well, not me or so I thought anyway!!!
THE STORY SO FAR
(OR PRIOR TO THIS DAY!!)
A few years back, I had a very bad experience with a bee sting, which consequently left me extremely nervous around bees. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the benefit and importance of bees but I just couldn’t help run a mile if one was in the vicinity or literally flap around. It’s totally embarrassing in public but how do you cope with such a phobia when your quite outdoorsy! Well in steps David, The Bee Farmer….
THE BEE FARMER
A chance encounter with David at Wigston News & Deli in Leicester, persuaded me to go and face my fear of bees and see if I could ever be OK with accepting these tiny flying friends back into my life! I was keen to arrange a Hive visit with The Bee farmer.
After all, it seems David, breaths and sleeps honey bees and has over thirty years’ experience in Bee keeping and additionally has around 100 bee hives, not all in the same place obviously!
Meet David, The Bee Farmer below, genius branding, don’t you think? !!
HONEY BEES AT CATTOWS FARM
We reserved a place with The Bee farmer for the warmer month of July as David explained Bees like sunny climes. The air temperature promised a very lovely day however rain was forecast but it did manage to hold off, this is why the experience is confirmed a couple of days prior to attending.
The colony visit took place at Cattows Farm, is part of the National Forest in North West Leicestershire, where they have a huge variety of pick your own fruits such as Strawberries, Gooseberries, Raspberries, Red and Blackcurrants, which provide the bees with nectar and pollen.
The bees do their bit by pollinating the fruit, enabling the plant to make more good quality fruit. You may be familiar with Cattows farm during autumn when they have a huge glut of pumpkins, the bees enjoy the season change to pollinate the pumpkin flowers as food supply is running short around this period.
HONEY BEE COLONY VISIT EXPERIENCE
Once your experience is confirmed, The Bee Farmer will ask you to bring a pair of marigolds with you and some shoes that cover your ankles, for example wellies or hiking boots. The Bee keeper suits will be provided and you’ll be shown how to put them on, David will ensure that your all sealed and good to go!
The Hive is a couple of minutes walk from the meeting point and in all honesty, for me this was the most nerve wrecking part, walking and about to delve into the unknown.
Once you arrive at the hive, David uses a smoker (containing burnt sawdust) to disperse smoke around the hive and calm the bees down before he opens it up.
The aim of this experience is to give you a taste of bee keeping and once David opens up the hive, he talks you through a whole host of interesting facts and answers all your burning questions, with enthusiasm and passion! You’re totally transformed into the world of bee keeping and for the majority I’d actually forgotten all about my nervous persona around bees! We learnt about the different stages of the brood, the caste of bees, how to handle the bees should you wish with careful supervision from David at a calm and steady pace.
One of the things that surprised me was just how heavy the frames (where the worker bees build wax onto) are! The photos will show how hard I was concentrating not to drop the frame as David explained that each hive has between 40,000-70,000 honey bees!
I was fascinated by the worker bees. If they are born and put to work during the busy season, they might live to around six weeks or less. If they are born in a non-peak season, they might survive to seven weeks old. Winter bees have a higher blood protein and a fatter body, meant to produce heat for the queen. Winter bees can live anywhere from four – six months.
A worker bee collects honey from foraging bees and tend to the bee larvae. As the worker bee gets older she is promoted to the role of foraging bee.
LETS TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WORLD OF THE HONEYBEE
When a queen is about 6 – 16 days old, she’s ready to mate and takes herself out on a little mating flight finding herself about 20 suitors.
The male bees known as drones, will congregate in DCAs (Drone Congregational Areas) where they will mate with a queen flying close to the vicinity.
A little graphic but the drone will insert his appendage (endophallus) into the queen’s sting chamber and the process rakes around five seconds and upon disengagement, the drones endophallus is ripped off, which kills the drone.
The queen honeybee can hold about 100 million sperm in her spermiduct, some she chooses to fertilise immediately but the rest five – six million can be stored in her spermathecal, which can remain in good condition for up to four years of life! Now that is genius!
A fertilised egg becomes a worker bee and if it doesn’t then essentially it’s a drone.
When queen bee lays her egg in one of these empty cells, it remains an egg for three days and then turns into a larvae. The larvae is fed royal jelly by the worker bees to ensure the larvae stick to the frame.
Once all the queen bees sperm has gone, the colony will begin to raise a new queen and the cycle of ensuring the survival of the colony continues!
Unfortunately I didn’t see a queen during my experience (very sad face). The Bee Farmer thought she had possibly swarmed so he was going to re-introduce a new queen in the hive.
The whole experience lasts around two hours at the end The Bee Farmer ensures you’re safe to take off your suits once back at the meeting point!
INTERESTING FACTS BEE FACTS
1The Honeybees genus and species in Europe and the UK is Apis Mellifera
2Honeybees are known as Arboreal, meaning they are tree dwellers
3Bees have exo-skeletons (meaning their skeleton is on the outside and exposed if you look closely).
4Bee life cycles vary; Drone bees don’t live very long at all as their main purpose is to mate with the queen. Worker bees ultimately live to six – seven weeks depending on season they’re born, but can live up to six months if born in winter!
5 The different coloured (jam tart-like) appearance on the frames in the hives, represent the different flowers the honeybees have visited for nectar and pollinated.
6If you partially close your eyes, this will give you pretty much a good indication of how much honeybees can see! They tend to see things more towards the UV end of the spectrum too!
7 In her prime, the queen bee will lay around 2,000 eggs per day, which is actually more than her own body weight. The eggs are roughly the size of half a grain of rice!
8Royal jelly is secreted from the hypopharyngeal glands on the side of worker honey bees heads to feed the larvae in the colony.
THE BEE FARMER HONEY AND PRODUCTS
The Bee Farmer uses his honey and wax from the bees in a whole line of products including, natural honey, lip balms, pet care products, polishes and candles. If you’re based in Leicestershire. You can shop in person at Ahsby Town Hall and Wigston News & Deli. You can also shop online at
The Bee Farmer : http://www.thebeefarmer.co.uk/webshop/
I always knew Honeybees were very important for survival, but since my experience with The Bee Farmer, I’ve acquired a whole new level of respect for these tiny creatures.
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee
For further information regarding honeybee experiences, bee keeper course or any other enquires, please contact David at The Bee Farmer via his website
Disclaimer: My experience was kindly gifted by The Bee Farmer, however all views, opinions and photography are my own and therefore remain a copyright of be-lavie.
Right folks, it’s over to you, how do you feel about bees? Did you enjoy my account of the honey bee experience? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to know.