Last Friday, I attended the National Honey Show at Sandown Park Racecourse. The last time I’d been there was to watch Desert Orchid romp home in the 1987 Gainsborough Limited Handicap Chase. Dessie was one of the all-time greats, and he loved Sandown. I was obsessed with horse racing back then when I should have been directing my attention to professional exams. Nowadays, it’s bees, not horses, that occupy my thoughts – and I still hate exams.
Victory for Cheshire
I’m happy to report that the newsletter of the Cheshire Beekeepers’ Association gained 1st prize at the show. I’m the current editor, but I’ve just followed on from my able predecessor and benefited from members’ excellent submissions. It seems that the beekeepers of Cheshire are as good with the keyboard as the hive tool.
Bee Craft Lectures
I was lucky enough to be staying in the same hotel as several of the speakers at the honey show. Alexandra, Beth and Elena were there to deliver the Bee-Craft research lectures. I mostly spoke to Beth and Elena, but all three were impressive young people with bright futures ahead of them. I managed to see two of the four lectures; top drawer speakers and fascinating content. Andrew Gibb of Bee-Craft has a knack for spotting up and coming researchers, as ably demonstrated with this lecture series.
Strangely the only thing I bought at the event was honey – something I have in plentiful supply. However, I could not miss out on some delicious heather honey that I spotted for sale. It’s a wonderous thing, especially drizzled over vanilla ice cream. This was my first visit to the National Honey Show, and I was very impressed with the incredible array of honey ranging from very light to almost black and every shade between. The sections of comb honey always look great. It’s meant to be a good test of one’s beekeeping prowess to produce comb sections – which probably explains why I’ve never tried it! Maybe one day.
This week I have been working away at clearing my recently deceased mother’s house, ably assisted by my brother, who also keeps bees. His bees are down near Banbury, and he tells me that they are pretty nasty. Mine are generally well behaved, but you always get a few wayward ruffians – colonies which take umbrage at anyone who dares to use a strimmer in the vicinity. All we can do is raise the best of queens and accept that culling those with undesirable traits is part of the job. Many beekeepers like raising a few queens, but they are often reluctant to squish a queen, even if she’s not doing the business. Both are required to improve one’s bees (raising and squishing).
Desert Orchid was a bold, front-running chaser who was easy to spot because (a) he was usually in the lead and (b) he was a grey. The beauty of national hunt racing is that horses stay in the game for longer than their flat racing brethren. It means that you can follow a horse’s career over several years, charting their progression from promising novice to all-conquering champion. Just writing about this makes me think that I should go racing at least a couple of times a year – it’s a great day out.
What else is there for beekeepers to do in winter when the bees cluster together, quietly biding their time until spring? I have just decided to resurrect an old hobby – fishing! I bought some gear, paid for my rod licence and angling club membership, and cannot wait to try some lure fishing for pike. Nobody bats an eyelid when a walrus catches a fish – it just comes naturally to us. Well, it used to, back in my youth. I suspect that my technique may have got a little rusty, but just being out there, walrus vs fish, is a great feeling.
Fishing is more fun than tidying up the bee sheds, cleaning equipment, and ensuring I have everything ready for the season to come. However, there is no point in putting off these tiresome winter tasks for too long. Once the new season gets going, it’s so much easier when everything needed is present and correct. One winter bee job I do enjoy is planning the forthcoming season. How many brood boxes and rooves do I need to buy? Which queens should I use as breeders? Should I expand by setting up a new apiary? Which nucs will I sell, and when will I start grafting? I will consider these things and make my plans. Then the Gods will laugh at me, events will conspire to derail something, but I’ll have honey and bees by the end of it all.