all about bees

MEET A NEW BEEKEEPER

Kelly_hive_inspection

Photo by Kelly Castelete

Meet Kelly Castelete – a great advocate for real food cooking and brand new beekeeper. Kelly is a marketing and digital media manager for an award winning farm in Northamptonshire and despite her increasingly busy schedule, she still carves out enough time to create healthy, delicious dishes for her family as well as making a practical commitment to help boost the survival of the honey bee. Kelly is learning loads about the importance of natural beekeeping, and we asked her to give a little insight into her new adventure as a beginner beekeeper….

Why did you choose to keep honey bees?

If you said to me a year ago that my husband & I would become beekeepers I would have been a bit surprised! After all, what do I know about bees? Well, in the last six weeks I’ve come to learn a lot amount about them, and what’s more, how important it is to love, grow and protect these incredible creatures.

Our introduction to honey bees was by Jeff Hunter, an experienced beekeeper I met through work.  I visited some of Jeff’s hives and it really was a magical experience.  Tens of thousands of bees were flying around and being in the midst of the hives I was really captivated by the energy created.  The inner workings of a beehive seen up close are a true wonder.  Beautiful colours and patterns, the perfect hexagonal designs of the beeswax, the cells populated with pollen, larvae, nectar and honey, all created by the bees in perfect order and something that illustrates the intelligence of these amazing communicative creators.

After visiting Jeff’s hives, he offered us an opportunity to start as beekeepers under his watchful eye.  One of the first things we asked Jeff is could we fit beekeeping into our life.  Both Mike and I have full-time jobs and family commitments.  A work-life balance, it seems, is something that you can achieve with beekeeping.  In peak season during the summer, we can attend the bees as little as once a week to keep a check.

Himalayan_Balsam

Photo by Kelly Castelete

Where do you keep your honey bees?

Our hive is also located on a farm about 15 minutes from our home.  Behind it are brambles and in front a conservation strip planted with wildflowers by the farmer.  Within a short distance an abundance of Himalayan Balsam grows alongside the waterways, a flower that honey bees love and come out covered in white pollen looking like “ghost bees”.

New_hive

Photo by Kelly Castelete

What are some of the ins and outs of looking after a hive?

Some suits and hive equipment was first on our list.

On recommendation, we’ve chosen a National Hive. The most popular type of hive and built using cedar wood to stand the test of time. The hive consists of a Brood Box, which houses 10 vertical frames where the queen will lay her eggs, plus a Super, which sits above the Brood Box where the honey is made once the hive gets productive.

We check the hive at least once a week for no more than 15 mins each time. If the hive is open for too long the bees become restless. Our routine takes us through the following steps:

  • Lightly smoke the hive to settle the bees and let them know of our presence
  • Using the hive tool we carefully lift each frame to check the brood, locate the queen, check the health of the hive and any progress of honey making
  • Gently place each frame back in position and close the hive

We need to learn more on how to check the health of the hive.  We may not get much honey from our young hive this year, our priority is to successfully grow the colony and get through the seasons.

Can you explain why it is important for people to keep honey bees?

Honey bees are a vital part of the ecosystem.  I have been aware of the problems with the decline in bees but until recently I hadn’t paid enough attention.  The Bee Keepers Association estimate that in the UK alone honey bee colonies declined by 20% last winter.  It’s a global crisis known as Colony Collapse Disorder and while I don’t know enough about the issues causing it, it’s something that we hope to learn more about. The Varroa Mite is a particular threat to honey bee colonies and something the amateur and professional beekeeper need to keep an eye on.  The Bee Farmers Association state “Wild pollinator populations (e.g bumble bees, solitary bees, hoverflies) are at an all-time low and most feral honey bee colonies have been lost to varroa”.  So beekeepers play an important role in honey bee survival.

From a food perspective, I love honey.  I have cut out refined sugar in my diet for health reasons and I use honey virtually daily in cake, granola, jam recipes.  Apart from its great taste and nutritional properties, I love the varieties of honey you can get from borage to the aromatic heather honey.

For Mike and I, it’s looking after the bees that comes first.  Honey is a bonus.  One thing that really surprised me was learning about the amount of food we eat that relies on bees and other pollinators.  I looked at the posts over the last week on my Instagram and listed all the individual ingredients.  Out of 46 foods, (including strawberries, grapes, wine, cocoa, cashews, onions, apples, lemons, limes, the list goes on) 24 would not exist if we lost the honey bees, plus more I suspect that I’m not aware of.  Then I looked at the items in my kitchen that I’m yet to eat, courgette, cantaloupe melon, apricots, adzuki beans, sesame seeds – all of these also rely on honey bees to pollinate.  So, the importance of keeping bees is clear, no honey bees means goodbye to them, goodbye to honey and so much more foods we say goodbye to.

FOLLOW KELLY’S BEEKEEPING ADVENTURES

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