Bee-keeping: an introduction

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The Queen Bee's behaviour may seem the ultimate in promiscuous, as she can mate with large numbers of drones.  Many of the drones in a hive don't even get the chance to mate but those that do have their genitalia torn off in the process and then die.  Having taken the drone's sperm off him the queen bee stores it in a special pouch and uses it later for when she lays eggs.  Life expectancies are different too - the queen lives for about 4 years, whereas drones live for a few months at best, and worker bees in the summer only last for about 6 weeks.  I learnt all this in the introduction to bee-keeping at Bell House Dulwich where Philip Nicholson was leading the course.

At the course I met a mix of people - an allotment holder hoping to get bees installed on their allotment,  a bee-keeper from India who is planning to set up an apiary in Forest Hill, and one young woman wanting to join the bee-keepers at Bell House as "apprentice bee-keeper number 3".  

Philip used exhibits and slides to explain the life of the bee, the bee-keeping year, diseases of the hive and how to deal with swarming.  Occasional swarms, by the way, are quite normal and are an inevitable aspect of bee-keeping as the bees try to set up new colonies.  In looking at pests and diseases, Philip told us how to counter the Varroa mite, wax moth, chalk brood, wasps and bigger animals such as mice and woodpeckers.

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Apart from being a terrific hobby, bee-keeping is a contribution to the environmental through pollination of flowers and trees.  For most bee-keepers a major objective is to make honey: we were told how to take off "supers" laden with honey, remove the wax capping, centrifuge out the honey and put it into jars.  Proving how productive bee-keeping is, Philip gave attendees a jar of honey which he (and his bees) have made in Kent, but next year I hope he may be able to supply honey made at Bell House in Dulwich.

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