Earlier this year I took a short course on beekeeping given by our local ‘Isle of Man Beekeepers Federation’. Meeting every other week for three months, it was an excellent way to meet local beekeepers, learn about bees, hives and honey and of course to prepare for starting up beekeeping for yourself. It’s been great but yesterday was even better…it was my very first practical lesson.
Meeting at a federation member’s home, our group comprised of both experienced and beginner beekeepers. We beginners were shown the ropes by ‘Richard’, a very experienced and very brave man who opens hives with his bare hands! It was amazing to see but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t stung at least once – one even got me through my gloves and I wasn’t even poking around their honey stores.
There were several hives on-site with different set-ups, frames and even species of bees. Though importation of bees to the island is forbidden, due to our special status as a varroa-free zone, yellow Italian bees have been brought onto the island in decades past. Nearly every hive had a different mix of these more yellowy bees with the native British black bee. Some were quite plump and nearly all black with just faint amber stripes. Then some had more subtle yellow striping and yet others had obvious yellow stripes near the top of their abdomen. It also seemed that the more yellow the bee, the more aggressive!
My favourite bit of watching the demonstration though was the SMELL. The scent of warmed honey and comb wafted out of each hive as it was opened and bits of new broken comb were tempting me to open my suit and nick a sample to try. However, with the cloud of bees swarming around I was able to hold back.