Meet the Members
This is a series of articles first published in our newsletter and based on interviews by Lindsey Macauley with Sandy and Lilian Gordon.
by Lindsey Macauley
Sandy and Lilian Gordon have been active and supportive members of the association and are some of the most recognised members. Today they continue to offer their services to house association loan equipment and offer their advice to beekeepers who call in.
In 2004 Sandy was awarded the ‘Local Association Award’ by the Scottish beekeeping association. This was awarded in recognition of the quality of his contribution within the ADBKA, and for his active promotion of the art of beekeeping in the environment of the ADBKA. Sandy is one of only four ADBKA members to receive this award.
Although Sandy is now in his ninety second year and Lilian in her eighty seventh years they continue to transport their bees to harvest the spring, summer and heather nectar crops. Sandy’s name on just about every association honey show trophy is evidence of their prowess as beekeepers and producers of the finest honey. As Sandy once said to me ‘once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper’.
Part 1 – My early years
My Father moved to Danestone, Aberdeen in 1930 when I was a small boy, from there he ran the family business of running a market garden. When the time came I took my turn at the helm to continue where they had left off. My father kept bees but unfortunately the bees died out when he did. I would describe my father as someone who owned bees rather than a beekeeper.
My leisure pursuit in my early years centred on fishing and shooting which has a very strong link to conservation and protection of wild life. I developed this into the rearing of pheasants which I did at my current address at Danestone. One day I checked my pheasants to discover that a poacher had been active in my garden and had killed and stolen my pheasants, all that was left was a trail of feathers leading back into the centre of Aberdeen where I assume the poacher had come from.
I decided at this point that I would need to keep livestock that had a bit more venom and could defend themselves against poachers. I decided I’d keep bees.
Part 2 – My introduction to beekeeping
In 1960 I decided I’d become a beekeeper and arranged to buy my first hive. The colony I bought was housed in a massive Glen Hive which I bought in Glenkindie Estate in Alford. I and a friend of mine arranged to collect the hive in my car and paid the princely sum of £20 for the colony of bees and the hive. We loaded the hive into the boot of the car and headed back into Aberdeen. Unknown to us there had been a bank robbery in the area and the police had set up roadblocks and were searching all vehicles for the suspects.
As we approached the road block we were signalled to stop and were approached by a police officer. The police officer leaned down to the open car side window and asked us who we were and asked if we had seen any sign of the bank robbers. The officer asked me to open the boot of the car so that he could search the vehicle. I advised him that the boot was open and available for inspection; all that was in it was a hive of bees. The officer stood up and said ‘Drive on Sir’; we were not delayed any further as we made our way to Aberdeen.
Membership of the ADBKA committee
The ADBK Association was run for over 32 years with Robert Wood as chairman, Stewart Rae as secretary and Alex Ross as treasurer. Robert Wood was part of a local company called Woodsons that made beacons for boats and ships. The association newsletter was edited by Stuart Ray and the clerical staff at Woodsons would format the newsletter. The newsletter was distributed by Stewart or Sandy and Lilian Gordon on a monthly basis to members. Under this management the association went through a long period of stability.
The association took over the apiary at Craibstone after Bernard Mobus left. Bernard Mobus was a world authority on all matters relating to beekeeping and worked with several other staff members who were employed as part of the agricultural college of Craibstone within the beekeeping unit there. At one time Craibstone had five staff employed within the beekeeping unit and one staff member employed in animal husbandry.
Shows and Sandwiches
The association honey shows and annual general meetings were held within a building at Craibstone and the catering was largely taken care of by two ladies who were twin sisters from Aberdeen called Ms Stephanie. Catering was assisted by a lady called Miss Christie from White Cairns. This continued for many years until Miss Christie took over full responsibility for the catering with Lillian Gordon and Mrs Lamb assisting with sandwiches.
Miss Christie was a fine beekeeper in her own right and I recall if a swarm of bees emerged from one of her beehives Miss Christie would gather up a metal bucket lid and stick. The idea was that the noise from the stick hitting the bucket lid would fool the flying bees into thinking there was a thunder storm with accompanying heavy rain on its way and invariably the bees would quickly head back to earth where they could be recovered by Miss Christie and re-hived.
I myself adopted this method over a period of many years but instead of a lid and stick to replicate thunder I used my trusty double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. The gun was several years old and required both hammers to be pulled back manually to allow the trigger to release them and fire a charge. I would not direct the charge directly through the swarming bees but found that a shot placed close to the side of the bees was enough to convince them a heavy thunder storm was on its way and the swarm got such a surprise from the passing shot that they would almost plummet out of the sky where I could retrieve them and put them into a vacant hive. They never suffered any ill effects from this method of swarm collection and it stood me in good stead through many a swarming season. The Bridge of Don in Aberdeen was not so heavily populated in those days and the residents did not mind the odd shot from the gun to bring the bees under control, similarly I was never bothered from vandals or thieves.
During another active swarming season a swarm emerged from my beehives at the Bridge of Don and began to circulate above the apiary. I rushed inside to fetch my gun and a couple of cartridges and hurriedly loaded the weapon before rushing outside just as the swarm of bees was about to leave. I rushed to aim the trusty gun and fired before it was correctly mounted on my shoulder. The hammer that had intended to fire the cartridge at the bees caught my thumb and there was blood everywhere. Lilian was in complete shock and suggested I be rushed to Aberdeen accident and emergency to stem the flow of blood and to tend the wound. Once I myself recovered from the shock I had second thoughts about going to the hospital, I thought if I explained to them that I had received my injury from attempting to shoot bees out of the sky they would take me straight from A.R.I. to Cornhill hospital for the mentally unstable and my trusty gun would be confiscated. In the end the wound was treated at home and I made a full recovery.
It makes an effective method of catching a flying swarm that is largely forgotten about these days.
WWII, sugar, and Danestone supplies
During the second World War beekeepers were given sugar to feed bees which was in addition to any ration that was allocated to each household. During this time the membership of the association swelled to over two thousand. The sugar that was allocated was known as ‘Green Sugar’ because it was dyed green by the government to differentiate it from normal household sugar.
After the war the association started stocking honey jars and Ragus candy for the bees and then when Varroa destructor reached the north east we started stocking Apistan as an effective medicine against Varroa. Later I introduced Ambrosia syrup for feeding bees. The stock was held at my premises at the bridge of Don and it was a roaring trade. In the height of the season cars would be queued for seventy five yards along my drive and the supplies would be sold until 11 p.m. in the evening.
Stewart Rae would count jar lids into bags in the shed at Danestone by hand over many nights, should he be interrupted during counting then the bag would have to be counted all over again. Only latterly did we invest in a weighing machine to count the jar lids which has eased the process massively.
Around 2002 Stewart Rae died and the long standing partnership of Rae and Wood was at an end. Robert Wood visited me at Danestone and wondered how the association would continue without his friend. At this point my daughter, Janice Kennedy, suggested she would take on the role of secretary, wife Lillian took on the role of treasurer and I took care of the association supplies from our premises at Danestone.
Robert Wood had a personal supply of beekeeping equipment which was sold and the £2000 proceeds were given to the association and interest from the money was to be made available to the membership. This £2000 fund was never to be spent and should the association fail and disband this money should be given to the R.N.L.I.
Supplying the association beekeepers with supplies was a massive task and members regularly helped us with offloading supplies from articulated lorries. The jars were bought in Glasgow and transported to Aberdeen and distrusted by Walkers transport. The lorry would be scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and a willing squad of members would gather just as the lorry arrived.
John Cooper, John Steele, Eddy Lamb, Jock MacGregor and my neighbour Sandy Ross would arrive just as the lorry arrived and form an orderly line from the truck to the bantam shed where the supplies would be off-loaded and passed down the line by hand. Typically the lorry could be unloaded of a year’s supply of jars in just over an hour. This unloading method we did for jars, candy and syrup.
As I’ve said previously the association apiary was located on the grounds of Craibstone agricultural college and had been there for decades. About seven years ago it was announced that Craibstone was to close and a housing estate was to build on the land and therefore force the association to find a new location for the apiary. John Cooper was chairperson at the time and John and I met with Stuart Wale who was the Dean at Craibstone and who was very keen to find us a new location. He suggested nearby Ashtown or Tulloch farm would make a fine location. Unfortunately Stuart retired six months later and his replacement showed little enthusiasm for the association apiary and therefore we were left potentially homeless.
Members will now know that John, supported by the members, located the association apiary to Crathes Castle where it remains until now.
Part 4 – My observations on how beekeeping has changed in recent years and the future
In about 1990 through to 2000 we would typically supply 400 gross of jars over the season. This equates to 800 boxes of 72 jars in a box which equates a total of 57,600 jars of honey produced by the local Aberdeenshire beekeeping community. Prior to the introduction of oil seed rape the local honey crop was mainly from clover and heather. Honey production was approximately 26 tonnes of honey from association membership.
The association membership was about three hundred which is similar to what it is now but it was common for members to keep a large quantity of bee colonies. The modern beekeeper keeps far fewer colonies than we used to and therefore far less honey is produced. Several years ago it was common to see ‘Honey for sale’ signs at the end of almost every farm entrance and the production of section honey was common.
Latterly the number of jars I would sell on behalf of the association was only 50 gross which equates to 7,200 jars or 3.2 tonnes of honey produced by the membership.
Honey produced in Aberdeenshire has dropped significantly over the last twenty years and as a result there is far less honey for sale at markets and farms. It is now rare to see beekeepers represented at local shows and without honey production it is difficult to continue a presence at Turriff agricultural show.
The modern beekeeper is far more of a hobby beekeeper than we used to be. Typically the modern beekeeper has two or three hives and nowadays I know of only about five large stock keepers where previously there was dozens.