Thursday, 29 June 2017

Visiting a Beekeeper



A couple of months ago on one of our weekly walks with the ramblers club we passed an apiarist's establishment. It looked really well set up and I determined to go back there. I am planning to offer local foodie visits to cheesemakers and suchlike, so an apiarist seemed like an excellent addition to the itinerary. 

 A centrifugal spinner for cold extracting the honey from the comb.

Quite by chance Joy and Jheanne, who are living up the street from us for a few months, mentioned that they kept bees back at home on their farm in South Africa. I immediately suggested that I set up a visit with the apiarist here and we could treat it as a trial for taking clients.

 Bernard starting up his smoker. The slab of wood is to stop his leg hairs burning.

I dropped in to see the apiarist, Bernard, on my way to the supermarket and explained what I wanted to do. He was enthusiastic and said he loved meeting people from different places, so we set a date.

A drinking bowl for the bees, who visit it often in hot weather and take in a lot of water.
The pebbles are to prevent them drowning.

Once we got there Bernard kitted us out in beekeeping suits, with gloves and boots. Joy and I had both come in completely unsuitable shoes and had to stick our bare feet into size 9 rubber boots. The crutch of my suit came down to my knees and was presumably designed for someone short and fat. We looked a sight, but who cares?!

Bernard, Joy and me looking into a small hive.
The hives in the picture above sit on scales and their weight is transmitted back to Bernard's computer by the aerial in the middle. When they reach a certain weight he knows they are full of honey and he can harvest. It saves opening the hive and disturbing the bees, or guessing how much honey there is and harvesting too early.

Looking into a ruchette (small hive).
He opened up a small hive known as a ruchette for us to see inside. The occupants were a swarm which had split off from another hive earlier this year, and they will soon be transferred to a full sized hive. Both Joy and Jheanne remarked on how calm the bees were. At no point did any of us feel at risk from these little creatures. 

A busy hive, with males, workers and a queen, making honey and baby bees.

Bernard told us that he hadn't always been a beekeeper. It started when he retired and his children presented him with three hives. Now he has a hundred.

The end product. This is spring flower honey.

The visit was a great success and Bernard was extremely generous with his time. Joy and Jheanne really enjoyed talking apiculture with him and Joy managed not to hug Bernard at the end of the visit (she has become notorious for having hugged Gérard, our deputy mayor, in public, and totally freaking him out).

All photos courtesy of Jheanne Hugo, as I was wearing heavy gauntlets and in any case had forgotten to bring my camera!

7 comments:

  1. Better enjoy this while there are still honey bees around. Hope M. Hulot will have the last word over le ministre de l'Agriculture about banning neonicotinoids for good.

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    1. Honey bees are in no danger of going extinct. In fact, their numbers globally are increasing. They are a managed/domestic species, and by no means a rare breed one. It is true there are problems in the US, but they are due to bad husbandry. Neonics are not good for insects in general, and are being found everywhere, but they are not the primary cause of the honey bee problems, although they don't help. There is a widely held expectation that neonics will be banned in Europe within the next few years, but that may have its own unintended consequences ie everyone is sure Monsanto and Syngenta have new generation pesticides close to being released.

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    2. Thank you Susan for the information.

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  2. What a great post! And what kind offspring.... he'll not get bored in a hurry!
    And I love the use of technology to monitor the hives... so sensible!!

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    1. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying retirement.

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  3. Fascinating stuff. I still can't get over there being a minister called M. Hulot - has anyone asked him what he does on his holiday......?!

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    1. LOL. That hadn't occurred to me -- I guess because Nicolas Hulot was already so well known in his own right.

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