Thu, 14 May 2020
A BRIGHTWALTON beekeeper says that it is a 'happy time if you are a honeybee'.
Dr Keith Richards says May and June are prime times for swarming and, writing on his village Facebook page, he pointed out that there was a swarm hanging from a tree on Ash Close/ ‘The Street’ recently.
He is hopeful that this will be a good year for honeybees as, he says, a third of their number died two years ago in the south of England and they need to recover. He adds: "Hopefully also, they will produce an excess of honey that can be eaten by we humans this year."
Dr Richards, a keen environmentalist who was awarded an OBE for his work on environmental issues, says he got into beekeeping five years ago.
"I was working on the World Bee Project and was assigned to advising people on keeping bees. I didn't really know much about it myself so I thought I ought to learn about beekeeping before I advised others.
"I am immensely grateful to the members of the Newbury Beekeepers Association who taught me all about it."
Dr Richards now has five hives of his own - four conventional hives and a Warré hive. "A Warré hive is named after a Frenchman who developed a more sustainable hive - you don't take the honey, you just let the colony do their own thing."
Dr Richards said: "Swarming is the method that honeybees employ to multiply – the old Queen bee is taken by about half of the bees - mostly female ‘worker’ bees - in a colony and flies off to set up a new home. The remaining bees in the original colony will have one or more Queen cells prepared and these will hatch out over the next few days.
"Generally, there can ‘only be one’ Queen in a colony and so the first emerging Queen ‘pipes’ or calls to the other Queens and there may be a contest to decide who is the strongest. If all goes well, one colony has now become two."
He explains that a swarm of bees is valuable, reciting the old saying: “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay A swarm June, a silver spoon But a swarm in July … isn’t worth a fly!” This is because the strongest swarms emerge at this time of year and have plenty of time to prepare for the oncoming winter.
Writing on the Brightwalton village Facebook page he says: 'Honeybees are one of some 250 different types of bee in the UK. Like most of them, honeybees are in serious decline due to loss of habitat, use of chemicals, disease and climate change. A potent mix!... Many parallels have been drawn between bee cooperation/ society and human society. Many scientists believe that bees operate a kind of ‘bee democracy’ when coming to important decisions such as when to swarm and where to live. Contrary to popular belief, the Queen isn’t in charge! However, a Queen is essential for a colony to survive, only she can produce fertilised eggs (making more worker bees). Unfertilised eggs form male bees or drones.
'Bees are essential pollinators and are critical to maintaining yields of many food crops. They are very precious and should be treated with respect. They rarely sting and will only do this as a last resort as the very act of stinging a person will result in the bee’s own death. At swarming time they are particularly docile as they fill themselves with honey ready to start a new home.'
Dr Richards said all five of his hives survived the winter, which is very unusual - the average bee colony numbers between 25,000 and 30,000 - and their survival bodes well for a bumper crop of honey.
When not tending to his bees, Dr Richards is working on developing ways of harnessing and using solar power and a better infrastructure for electric vehicles, in conjunction with Reading Borough Council and Reading University.