I got to know James when I first joined Harwell, almost a year ago. His extensive knowledge of bees is an inspiration. I have learnt so much from him and I wanted to share this wider, so I bring you the bee diaries.
Last week I met James at the new hives to talk about what inspired him to keep bees.
“How did you get into beekeeping?”
“I have always been interested in the natural environment and the role of the bee within it. I wanted to understand it better, researched it and found a course with a local Beekeeping Association. I went every Thursday evening for six weeks and the following spring I felt ready to go it alone. I went and caught my first swarm of bees! That was back 2018 and I now manage four hives on campus and 6 hives at home.
“What is your advice to anyone wanting to get into beekeeping?”
“Go on a course with the Beekeeping Association, which includes the physical training. They will take you out to an apiary and you can get the hands-on experience, which is really important. Also, read, read, read, I have got so many books and I am always learning something new every time I go into a hive. I would suggest getting a mentor, I didn’t have one, but it would have been really useful.”
At this point I start flapping as something is buzzing in my ear, James laughs and says "it's just a fly", but he points out there is always a risk of getting stung…
“When the colony is not calm, I have been stung through my suit before and through my gloves. They want to get me away from their hive. The colonies can have different personalities at different times, and an angry colony may be a sign of a problem. It may be that they are Queen-less, which means there is nobody controlling the pheromones within the hive, which is where I would need to keep an eye on things. We do smoke them, and this helps to calm them down a bit. It is a cool smoke, as I don’t want to burn them. It’s made from carboard and leaves, but you can use grass and pinecones, all sorts of things really.”
What is it that keeps you motivated to carry on beekeeping?
“There’s just something about seeing nature first-hand, you see the Queen reproducing and rearing the brood, the bees bringing pollen in and turning nectar into honey, there’s something really calming about it.”
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, “Three out of every four leading food crops for human consumption—and more than a third of agricultural land worldwide—depend in part on pollinators.”
“They are responsible for so many of our crops, I find it so rewarding. I am so excited to be working with the campus and to see the change that is happening, like the wild meadow patches and the local flora.”
What do you see for the future of bees and apiarists?
“I think it is only going to go from strength to strength. So many people now are getting involved, and not just in beekeeping, but looking at their garden in a different way and leaving that patch of lawn unmown. You can’t pick up a magazine or watch the TV without seeing something about the environment, and what we are doing here on campus is really helping to boost environmental change.”
What about the plight of bees specifically, is that a worry or a concern?
“I wouldn’t say honeybees are endangered, although a lot of people would. There are so many beekeepers and colonies around. However, it is a worry for wild honeybees in the UK, because of the Varroa mite, it’s very rare that they will be able to survive longevity in the wild. Saying this, even in cities people are putting hives on roof tops or balconies, even planting wildflowers on the top of bus stops. It’s really exciting what everybody is coming together and doing, it makes me feel positive about the future.”
Author: Libby Makin