We dropped in to have a chat with Marina @brackleshambees, a local beekeeper, to find out a little about what she gets up to and how we can all help keep our fuzzy friends fed over the spring/summer months. Marina has a wealth of knowledge about her much-loved bees down in Bracklesham. It is a real passion for her to ensure the bees get everything they need to really thrive.
She discussed her months of learning before taking the step to start her own hive. It is the Queen bee that determines the temperament and quality of her workers, and luckily for me, Marina’s Queen bee is a placid one. Unbelievably, she and her workers churn out a whopping 60 jars of honey per harvest. It is interesting to hear that bees forage within an approximate 2-mile radius.
You can have a pollen analysis on your honey to help determine where and what your bees are foraging. For Marina, living down by the sea, her honey has a 65% content of bramble pollen, and many say her honey has tones of a salted caramel flavour. Marina believes this could be due to the salt air and water that settles locally. Bees need to drink a lot of water – they are busy, hard-working insects that need to replenish their bodies. So be sure to keep water out for the birds and the bees!
What are all these swarms?
There have been many sightings of swarms over the spring months, even in Chichester town centre. A honey bee colony swarming is a natural process. It’s the colony reproducing by the old queen leaving with some of the bees. They leave their hive and find somewhere to hang in a cluster until the scout bees decide on their new home. You can detect that a hive is ready to migrate through the sighting of Queen cells within the hive, but they can be tricky to spot.
Why does honey crystallise?
Crystallisation occurs because of the natural reactions that happen inside. The natural sugars in honey (glucose and fructose) will bind together and begin to form little crystals, which can start making your honey harder. The pollen in honey also contributes to this binding process. Marina’s top tip is just to warm the jar in some hot water. Don’t heat it too much though, as it will lose its natural qualities.
What is the real reason for the huge price differences between honey? Manuka honey, for example… Manuka honey is known for being earthier, richer, and more viscous than other kinds of honey. In its purest form, it’s more than 100 times the price of normal honey. The manuka plant is very rare and only native to New Zealand. However, honey is one of the most adulterated products out there. 77% of the top brand samples of honey were found adulterated with sugar syrup. Basically, it is watered down, or the bees are fed with a high quantity of ‘fake pollen’. All the more reason to shop local with beekeepers that do the hobby for pleasure, not profit.
How can we help at home?
Marina gave some great advice on what we can all do to help. No Mow May – Plantlife’s #NoMowMay campaign encourages people to let their lawn grow naturally so that wildflowers and plants can bloom. In one week of the initiative, a sampling of participating lawns indicated there was a fivefold increase in bee abundance and a threefold increase in bee diversity, compared to nearby parkland that was mowed regularly.
Flowers – Bee bombs are great for pollinating, but if you want to help honey bees then they prefer large quantities of the same flower. Honeybees do not have the long tongue of a bumblebee, so their preferred flower is something flat that they can perch on whilst gathering. Wallflowers, cornflowers and daisies are all good options.
Avoid pesticides – We all know pesticides are bad for a variety of reasons, but they also affect our bees. Use organic where you can, and leave a ‘wild area’ in your garden to encourage all those bugs.
Learn more – Marina insisted anyone interested in starting their own hive to LEARN first. It is no easy task. She recommended the Haynes beekeeping manual for reading. Also, you can contact British BBKA to find your local association. Taster days are also a great way to get started!