Aswarm of bees in May, is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June, is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July, isn’t worth a fly!
Well, it’s summertime, and what happier sound than the humming of honey bees as you cross a field of clover, or watch the worker bees busily collecting pollen and nectar from a carpet of thyme?
Man has used honey as a natural sweetner since earliest times. We know that the honey bee is not just a honey producer, but one of the most important insect pollinators of both wild flowers and crop plants. Without bees, many food crops could not be grown economically.
Honey is a very good food. It gives energy quickly and is easily absorbed by the human body.
Occasionally bees make their home in the open, hanging their combs from branches, but such an exposed colony cannot survive winter rain.
Beekeepers keep bees in hives, and a group of hives is called an apiary. My husband Michael, has kept bees for most of his life. They are amazing creatures and never cease to astound us by their means of communication within the colony. Michael knew they were about to swarm towards the end of June, but when? Then one day he discovered a swarm high on the branches of a Rhododendron – too high to access!
However, a seasonal swarm kindly utilised a nucleus box, left nearby for the purpose of re-homing a new colony.
As only the queen bee can lay eggs, any new colony must have a queen. When a colony gets very strong in numbers, there’s every chance it will swarm. When the new queens in their cells are capped over, the old queen, and about half the workers (ie females), and many of the drones (males) in the colony, fly out together. It’s an awesome sight to see about 30,000 bees in a swarm! The entire swarm usually alights on a nearby branch or hedge. After a time, it takes to the air again, flies off to its new home and settles in. Worker bees (females) draw out combs, and the queen they took with them lays eggs in them.
The flowers, where the bees find food, are present only in the warmer times of the year, so naturally it’s spring and summer when the bees are out and about.
More and more bees are raised, with the greatest number present in the hives about mid-June. This year seems to have been a bumper honey harvest for Michael’s bees. Last year was very poor indeed. Nature keeps everthing in balance, providing man doesn’t try to intervene!
Our recent visit to Betton’s Indoor Honey Bee Exhibition was amazing. The exhibition room has been transformed with imagination and ingenuity. The two-tone honey-coloured units contrast beautifully with green carpeting. A raised platform heads the exhibition, and bold lettering provides essential details re-bees, in cell-shaped form!
Microscopes provide 3-dimensional photographs, whilst a video presentation may be followed from the comfort of restful chairs.
From the traditional skep hive to a cottage hive dated 1905, a later one of 1930, you can then view more unusual sites selected by swarms. An empty post box may prove ideal for bees, but not the postman! What about the doll’s house, a barrel, or a log? Wild honey bees in forests use hollow trees.
At the far end of the exhibition room, is a display of the equipment essential to beekeepers. Can you find a hive tool for levering open parts of the box? An uncapping knife for removing wax capping from honeycombs? Why is a smokebox used? The honey extractor revolves the honeycomb rapidly to throw the honey onto the sides of the drum. The honey tank allows the honey to settle before being packed into jars.
Children may well be inspired as to imagine themselves as beekeepers! Here they can dress up and have a photo taken alongside a ‘real’ beekeeper!
No visit would be complete without sampling a variety of honey. Which is your favourite, from a choice of summer blossom; set spring blossom; borage herbal, or heather moor?
You may wish to purchase a jar from the shop before you leave.
Now why are five tables provided, set around with chairs? They are for children to crayon pictures in booklets which may be purchased downstairs. Even the tables themsleves are designed to resemble cells in a honeycomb!
Enjoy a relaxing, yet educational experience here, before perusing lovely gifts downstairs. Then there’s so much more to help complete your day. You won’t be able to resist partaking in a meal at the beautiful restaurant, with breath-taking views to the Wolds. The rest – I’ll leave for you to discover! It’s all safe, educational and fun for all the family.
Access: Along the A170 Scarborough to Pickering road near East Ayton.
Open: Daily all year round, 10am till 4pm. Free parking. Further information, telephone 01723 865198.
PS: All copies of Rural Rambles have been sold. The entire profits, plus my own donation have been donated to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre – a total of £50,000. Many thanks to all concerned.