Friday 20 May is World Bee Day, a worldwide celebration of bees and beekeepers. It aims to raise awareness of how bees contribute to food security, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, the mitigation of climate change and the conservation of the environment.
Boštjan Noč, initiator of World Bee Day and president of the Slovenian Beekeepers' Association, said, 'I believe that with the proclamation of World Bee Day, the world will begin to think more broadly about bees, in particular in the context of ensuring the conditions for their survival, and thus for the survival of the human race.'
As it turns out, we have a couple of beekeepers in our orchestra and staff. We spoke to Steve Doman, LSO Viola, about his beekeeping hobby:
Steve Doman (back) with his friend and her family in their beekeeping outfit
How and why did you get started?
I started beekeeping back in 2017 when a neighbour of mine, Jane, who is a very experienced beekeeper, asked me if I wanted to go and do a routine check of her hives in her garden. It was a slightly terrifying experience at first. Being so close to a hive with thousands of bees, every one of which you know could give you a nasty sting, isn't everyone's cup of tea but I got used to it and was fascinated by the complexities of how a colony functions. I decided to take on a colony myself so bought all the necessary equipment and then Jane transferred a new colony to my hive soon after.
How many bees do you have?
This isn't a straightforward question. As beekeepers we usually talk about colonies rather than number of bees. I usually have two colonies on the go, and each has its own hive. Each colony will have about 10,000 bees during the winter and up to about 50,000 bees during the summer! This is due to the larger workforce needed to collect and store all the nectar and pollen during the summer months, which is then reduced during the winter months so there aren't too many mouths to feed!
One of Steve's hives
Are they a particular species of bee, and why did you choose these to keep?
The species of bee is the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). Our native subspecies of this is the British Black Bee. Unfortunately this has interbred with other subspecies imported from abroad by beekeepers so most bees are hybrids, mine being the same. It is important to have bees suited to your local area and climate so my bees were just a colony from a local hive.
What are the essentials piece of equipment you need for keeping bees?
These are the essentials but there is all manner of different equipment for various specific tasks... too many to list here!
- First and foremost, you need to be calm and not in a rush when inspecting bees.
- A full body beekeeping suit is a must! This stops you getting stung on the occasion that the bees turn a bit nasty!
- A hive! These come in different designs but the one i use is the National.
- A hive tool which is a short, flat piece of metal with a kink at the end specially designed for beekeepers to open up hives.
- A smoker which is used to calm the bees.
Do they produce honey, and what do you do with this?
They do! Yum!!! I eat a lot myself of course and also give some away to friends and colleagues in the LSO.
Why is it important to keep bees and look after our bee population?
Honey bees unfortunately now are affected by various diseases, the worst of which is the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) as you can tell by the Latin name! It was imported accidentally back in the 1990s and has been hugely damaging, particularly to wild bee colonies. This has meant it is almost impossible for a colony of bees to survive in the wild, say in a hole in a tree, as almost all colonies require treatment for varroa. Therefore beekeepers are essential for sustaining a healthy population of honey bees. Having said that, there are 24 species of bumblebee and over 240 species of solitary bee in the UK so we do have plenty of other pollinators, but these are being affected by farming practises and the climate catastrophe. We need pollinators as an essential part of the ecosystem we live in so it is vital we protect them.
What is a daily routine for the hives? Do they need to be looked after while you're away on tour?
There is no daily routine. It is more a weekly routine during the swarming season of May and June, to check for signs that they are about to swarm. This is indicated by the production of a new queen. After this has passed, it is usually ok to check them every fortnight for the rest of the summer, and then after preparing them for winter I basically don't touch them for about 6 months over the winter so as to not disturb them. They need to keep warm during this time of year and only have a limited food supply, so opening up the hive is to be avoided.
Steve's bees swarming
How would someone else get started in beekeeping if interested?
Contact your local beekeeping association who will run an introductory course on keeping bees, or find a local beekeeper who is happy to mentor you. I did the latter.
Any other details you think are interesting?
Everything about bees is interesting!! Look up the 'waggle dance' – that's a good start!
The LSO plays Flight of the Bumblebee: