Having spent Wednesday evening in a salty smelling sea cadet hall sussing out exactly which of us motley bunch of aspiring beekeepers were going to be the drones, and who the workers, I am yet still to pinpoint the queen. As expected, I was on the younger end of the spectrum of the attendees, and there was enough characterisation fodder for a pretty good comedy sitcom in the making, and this was only the first session. I imagine I was up there with the others as a potential curio though. I try to engineer a little air of mystique for the occasion in order to not stand out.
This introductory evening was part biology/part physiognomy lesson (glands for wax! glands for scent! waggle dancing! non-retractable stings!) so a little bit like being back in a science GCSE for us beginners. The basic history of skeps and hives were discussed, and the role of migratory bees, particularly those Italian honey bees Apis mellifera ligustica, who were cross bred both deliberately and via accidental escapees and now are known as large honey producers but often aggressive with it. Oh woe, woe says the British bee fraternity when thinking of only the little pockets of native black bees that survived, with their apparently more peaceful natures that could be cajoled to give up their honey wearing nothing more protective than a pair of short, long socks and t-bar sandals (Think Prince George for clarity).
Our beekeeping leader was bursting with pride regaling us with tales of derring-do and political machinations that meant our self governed isle has banned bee imports for years and it is now illegal with a whopping fine to bring any bees or even second-hand bee equipment onshore. At this point it all started to sound a bit Donald Trump-esque for my liking, but with such genetic pool restrictions and parasite alien invaders kept at bay, our bees have seemingly escaped some of the decimation that has gone on elsewhere round the world. The stories of millions of Chinese bees lost through insecticide use, and the concept of sending the modern day equivalent of the terracotta army out into the fields and the farms to pollinate the crops by hand with a calligraphy brush seems impossible. Read here for more on this, but I can’t help but hum the little tune to an old Grace while reading it, with a shaking-the-head-sadly emphasis on the last line:
“Bees of paradise
Do the work of Jesus Christ
Do the work that no man can”
I also like the concept of bee space. 7mm is the magic number. Based on observation in wild colonies, manufactured bee hives create a 7mm gap between the frames. This allows two bees to pass back to back while on different frames. A larger gap, and the bees see it as wasted space and fill it with more wax, reducing your honey output. A smaller gap, and they regard the two frames as one, and will join them together in a brace, again reducing the output. I think perhaps in life we all need an expert to clarify our own ‘bee space’ for us, or at least take the time to figure it out for ourselves. What size home, what number of possessions, what number of working hours, what time with our families? For all of these concepts, if we go away from the perfect bee space too much in either direction, it could all end in tears. We need to get the right dimensions ‘to be’. I think the minimalist and life laundry teams have missed a trick here. I might market this. Possible working titles:
“Bee space for Dummies”
“How to win friends and influence your bee space”
“The bee space less travelled”
“The 7mm of highly effective people”
Any takers in the world of publicising?
Any other readers out there with experience of bees?