Catch the buzz

Tony Jefferson and his bees'picture by Ceri Oakes
Tony Jefferson and his bees'picture by Ceri Oakes

HIDDEN from view, hives of workers tirelessly gather ingredients to bring to our table one of nature’s sweetest delicacies.

At any time there are between 50 and 100 hives of these native black bees in the Whitby area, managed by a group of volunteers who give up their spare time to look after them and harvest the honey they produce.

On a clear spring evening, when the first crop of oil seed rape is flowering, members of the Whitby Beekeepers’ Association (WBKA) are attending to a hive in the garden of Karen Parkin, who joined the club with her sister Jacqui Orrell last year.

Karen and Jacqui admit to having become obsessed with their bees and are keen to encourage others to join the club by attending this Saturday’s (23 April) beginners’ meeting.

Karen, who lives in Dunsley, near Sandsend, said: “When we first went to the meeting we thought ‘well it would be good for the environment’.

But, like many of the growing numbers of beekeepers, the girls learned to love their bees and Karen added: “We love just watching them working, watching them going out and getting the pollen and how they work.

“It’s been really nice meeting everyone and Tony is excellent, he has been there for us all the way.”

Tony Jefferson, secretary of the WBKA, said: “We are fortunate to have a number of new beekeepers over the last few years so any new starter should not feel alone.

“We have a number of spare bee veils that will be available so we will show the bees to groups throughout the afternoon, it will be a good opportunity for anyone thinking about beekeeping to come along and meet beekeepers and bees.“

Standing beside the apiary, an artificial beehive, the noise of 30,000 bees buzzing is disconcerting.

However the amateur beekeepers have overcome their nerves, although not without the occasional painful repercussion, as these bees sting.

Tony, who has kept bees since he was a child, said: “At the beginning you suffer a lot when you get stung, until the venom builds up in your body and then it gets better.

“But you do get stung a lot.

“The first thing to do when keeping bees is to get stung to see how you react to it.”

Tony added that the important thing to do is to overcome this fear because “if you are going to keep bees, you’re going to need to interact with them closely”, literally putting your hands into the hive, although gloves are recommended.

Work within the hive is made easier by using a smoker, which has the effect of making the bees more docile.

The burning smell of rotten wood makes the bees gorge on honey under the belief they may soon have to evacuate the apiary and therefore take any food they have with them.

Each beekeeper owns their own hive, but new starters are invited to help out established keepers, as there are always jobs that need doing to keep the bees healthy and productive.

Tony said: “This time of year it’s just starting to get busy.

“The first thing we have to do is spring clean the hives.

“Then from now on right through to the middle of July we do weekly inspections to make sure they are not starting to swarm.

“If they do and we miss them then we lose half the hive’s ability to make honey.”

Beekeeping is a relatively inexpensive hobby, with the added bonus of a steady supply of your own brand of honey to harvest.

Karen said: “To get started up with keeping, a good suit is about £100, though you can keep your eyes open for a bargain online.

“It cost us £65 for a second hand hive and £75 per colony of bees.

“They last a lifetime, but they are not pets, they are our working girls.”

The Whitby Beekeepers’ Association beginners’ meeting is on Saturday 23 April from 2.30pm to 4.30pm at Dalehouse near Staithes.

Signs will be posted in the village to direct people to the apiary.

For more information visit www.britishbee.org.uk/local/whitby.