I started keeping bees in 2010. Rather like golf after a career of tennis, I thought this would be so easy. Didn’t bees just do all the work? Well, yes, they do but obviously man has to get involved too. A lot. During the months of April, May and June it is not a good idea to leave your bees to go on holiday for longer than five days – swarming is on their mind, and if this happens kiss goodbye to your bees and honey harvest.
Thank heavens for a wonderful countryman John Eustace, and his wife Louise who brought me back from the brink of swarming, varroa, drone laying queens, and all the other problems that no one tells you about when you enter the hallowed world of beekeeping.
At Oxleaze I have three colonies (hives) and the bees produce upwards of 350 lb jars of honey in a good summer.
Our bees take the greatest advantage of our organic farm. We are blessed to be surrounded on three sides by fellow organic farmers so it would be good to be able to sell our honey as ‘organic’ but apparently, we cannot. A bee will fly two miles from its hive, and we cannot guarantee the bees will not venture into the bad lands. Luckily, the farm is not only organic but we are also heavily committed to improving the biodiversity across the farm by planting acres of pollen and nectar plots and species rich meadows which the bees adore.
I so enjoy gardening with my bees and greet them as they land on a flower next to me. We grow the flowers they love – single flowers are best for pollinators. Variety, and constancy is also important so there is not a gap in their diet. The wider world supplements the garden or is it the other way round – the fabulous scented lime blossom, blackberry flowers, ivy, even mundane crops such as wheat, barley and the dreaded oil seed rape. I hope to tempt my bees to the gourmet Michelin starred nectar in the garden and on our organic farm rather than letting them take their chance in the unknown world of insecticides.