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Honey bees

Inspired by Bill Smith’s excellent article on Mason Bees I decided to write about honey bees and perhaps encourage members of BOG to take up Beekeeping.

In Scotland we are at the northern fringes of The European honey bee’s natural range but this does not stop commercial bee farmers such as Willie Robson of Chainbrige Honey Farm, Berwick, one of the largest independent UK producers of honey with close on 2,000 hives, operating in the our area. The season is quite short, lasting from May until early September if you take the bees to the heather.

A strong colony of bees will have around 50.000 bees with only one Queen. Contrary to popular opinion she is manipulated by the colony. She gives off a pheromone called Queen substance which is transferred by contact with the other bees and as she ages or the strength of the colony increases the strength of this pheromone falls resulting in swarm preparations with queen cells being built and the larvae fed with Royal Jelly

The art of beekeeping is to built strong colonies, so as to have excess honey, while controlling swarming which is the natural instinct of bees

As the queen’s laying reduces as the season progresses, strong colonies are vital for use on heather because you require as large a foraging force as possible to maximise the yields. You also pray the weather is good or you will end up with less honey than you started with and have to feed the bees! However the rewards are worth the effort.

We were very fortunate in The Borders that we had very few pests and diseases. We do have the parasitical mite Varroa, normally a parasite of The Asian Honey bee (Apis Cerrana). Unfortunately our European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) has not evolved with this parasite and, left untreated, it will cause the colony to collapse.

Another danger looms as it is only a matter of time before The Small hive Beetle arrives in Europe. This is a native of Africa and has caused devastation since it arrived in the USA and Australia a few years ago. And if you think our climate will favour us it has caused serious problems in Canada where they are not renowned for their mild winters.

These pests arrive as a consequence of the throw away society we live in. Queens are bought from overseas as they are supposedly better; another case of man interfering in Nature. Yet Willie Robson swears by local bees, evolved and adapted to our climate.

There is nothing better on a summer’s day watching the bees fly in and out and the evening smell as the bees turn the nectar into honey, even though, in reality, this started as soon as the bee collected the nectar. Beekeeping is a lot of hard work in the season, with weekly visits and extracting to be done, and the bees often have their own plans but on the whole it is a relaxing and worthwhile hobby.

Two final points – “Bee Friendly” insecticides [ endorsed by the British Beekeepers Association (England and Wales) for payment] are banned in France as a direct result of lobbying from their bee keepers because they caused such heavy losses of bees. When you buy a jar of honey try to buy local and remember not all British Honeys are from British bees as they can be a blend from other countries such as China. Honey from China was banned a few years back due to chemical residues so check the jar and if in doubt ask questions.

Paul A Gibson

Summer 2006

There are 3 local associations in The Borders

  • Caddonfoot (Central Borders) Paul Gibson 7 Shielswood Court, Galashiels, TD1 3RH 01896 750110
  • Border Beekeepers Association (Berwickshire) Fred Mitchell, 30 Parkside, Coldsteam, 01890 882683
  • Peeblesshire Nigel Thake Craigerne Lane, Peebles 01721 720432

Our web site scottishbeekeepers.org.uk

Or why not visit Chainbridge Honey Farm, Horncliffe, Berwick and see for yourself the History of beekeeping and The River Tweed.