MCFly volunteers Roisin Weintraub reflects on the ups and downs of bee-keeping.
When I was 8 months pregnant we moved to Prestwich. And I said to myself “so right, what is there to do here?”
One of the things that became just the other side of the park was the Manchester Beekeepers Association. I’d always fancied learning a bit about the passtime and now it seemed it may become easily possible.
I wasn’t until the spring of 2010, and Rueben was over a year old that I finally I took the beginner Beekeeping course. It was two days; the first day was all theoretical and I remember finding it difficult to picture any of it. On the second day we were allowed to wear bee-keeping suits and look into the hives. There are more than 20 hives in the Apiary at the Dower House at Heaton Park. The Dower house is open most Sundays, between 12 noon and 4pm in the summer season and 1pm and 3pm during winter. If you do visit here you can find Manchester-made honey and products and look into an observation hive.
We were made to build frames for the hives. These are the draws I think everyone pictures a bee keeper pulling out dripping with honey. This was rather precise; things for bees have to be a certain width. This is called “Bee Space” and measures between 1/4″ and 3/8″. It was the discovery of “Bee Space” that led to abandonment of skeps [Ed: think bee cubby houses] and the creation of modern hives that pre-do most of the work. One thing I found fascinating is that if you made a gap to large the bees would fill this space, Any space wider than 3/8″ they fill with comb, any space smaller than 3/16″ they fill with propolis. The reason this is ill-advised is that when these spaces are filled with stuff it becomes difficult to remove the frames. Which means it is harder to check for illness or extract honey.
Being allowed into the extraction room felt a bit like being let into the Wonka factory! The paper hat made me feel like an Umpa-Lumpa. It’s not a large space they have there, but is packed with shiny specialist equipment, involving heat and spinning. I remember being given the job of filling jars at the end of the extraction process, being promised that in time it would become easier to get the pound of honey into the jar. I assure you my record did not improve beyond luck!
That summer, my son and I attended the amateur evenings. Me in a honey coloured bee suit jacket brandishing a hive tool (something akin to a crow bar used for prising sticky frames apart) and him in his buggy. I was fascinated by bees and their systems and precision and bizarre habits and he was fascinated by a field full of people wandering about in helmeted suits with smokers.
Currently I’m not doing any bee-keeping. Maybe I should have tried it but I felt a two year old was a lot less likely to want to spend every Monday evening strapped into a buggy, even if biscuits were readily available. I intend to return for the next season, and will be placing my self on a waiting list (yes such a thing exists, as does an auction site just for bees and bee-keeping bid4bees.co.uk) for bees of my own, for the season after this one. I want to try my hand at keeping a Warre hive – these are meant to be more humane. But I think first I need to get used to the “being cruel to be kind” element of beekeeping, just to be sure.