Meet the ADBKA Committee Members
[Edited article – first published in ADBKA August Newsletter.]
My Grandfathers kept bees as did my Great Grandfathers on both sides of my family. When I was about eight years old in the 1970’s my father decided he would like to keep bees. He had the romantic idea that he could be sitting at the breakfast table where he’d announce to me to ‘fetch a fresh section of honey from the bee hive’ at which point I would rise from the table and walk to the hive and simply lift the lid and take one out before returning to the breakfast table to enjoy the honey.
I was sold on the idea and could not wait for the bees to arrive.
My father located a colony for sale in Cromdale which is a few miles from where we stayed in Strathspey on the Ballindalloch estate. The bees were previously owned by a beekeeper who had died some years earlier and were now left with his widow.
The bees were in a state of neglect and over the years the beehives had slowly rotted into the ground. My father decided to buy one of the colonies and we loaded a severely rotten beehive into the back of a van he’d borrowed and paid £20 for our prize. On the way back to our house we noticed two hitch hikers thumbing a lift – so, of course my father stopped and offered the young couple a lift in the back of the van with the hive. Back in the 1970s there were numerous hitch hikers on the road and my father would always stop to offer a lift and hear their news.
With the hitch hikers duly loaded we continued on our journey and my father asked them where they were from and where they were going. The hitch hikers had recently arrived in Scotland having travelled from Norway. As my father was speaking to them he was turning his head to face them and he took his eyes off the road ahead. Whilst in mid conversation the van hit a massive hole in the road and a shock wave was sent through the vehicle and the bottom of the rotten bee hive fell out; sixty thousand angry bees filled the interior of the van and attacked us with all their might. The rear door of the van did not have an interior handle so the hitch hikers were trapped inside until we could stop the van and run out the back to open the door. Once we opened the rear door our hikers bolted out and shot away like scalded cats, we never saw them again. My father’s cry of ‘Welcome to Scotland’ was never answered.
The bees were all over the inside of the van but we had no option but to put on our veils and continue our journey, we did not have one piece bee suits at the time and we counted over sixty stings each before we got home. The hive was completely rotten and fell apart and the frames were stuck together in a solid gooey mess. My father made a new hive and we eventually transferred them into their new home and we returned to buy another two hives without incident.
At the time I thought our bees were perfectly normal but now I know they were extremely bad tempered and the queen should have been replaced with a more manageable strain. Any person or living being that strayed within two hundred yards of the hives would be attacked and stung. Our dog received the same treatment and it soon learned to give them a wide berth. We were always troubled by sheep coming into the garden but the bees soon sorted that problem.
During the summer, at the age of eight, it was normal for me to go into school with half closed eyes and swollen hands from the effects of bee stings, the teacher simply asked me how the bees were doing.
We joined the Moray Beekeepers association and attended a visit to Pluscarden Abbey and to a local beekeepers apiary in Elgin city. When we visited the apiary in Elgin I was astonished to see five large hives sitting in the small back garden and could not understand how the population of Elgin could live so close to the bees. Before the demonstration started my father and I got dressed in preparation to approach the bees, ankles and wrists were secured with duct tape so that not a piece of skin was exposed, if we had a suit of armour or a diver’s helmet available we would have worn it.
World renowned beekeeper, Bernard Mobus, conducted the demonstration and as he approached the hives without protective clothing of any kind I thought we’d have to phone for an ambulance. He was not wearing a veil or gloves and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. I urged my father to tell Bernard that the bees would attack everything in sight as soon as he approached the hive and the least he should do was to put on as much protective clothing as possible and warn the neighbours. I though Bernard must be very inexperienced working with bees and far less bee-battle hardened compared to Dad and me. After being told to ‘be quiet min’ by my father I stood back and waited for the carnage to begin.
Bernard smoked the hive entrance and then opened the hive and I was utterly shocked to see that he was not attacked by thousands of stinging bees. Bernard was conducting a demonstration on rearing queens and he gave me a batch of queen cells that he advised I keep in my pocket and use to re-queen our hives.
On the way home we stopped for a coffee in a busy coffee shop in the centre of Elgin. In my pockets the queen bees started hatching and soon the population of the coffee shop was in disarray as they attempted to catch the hatching queens and put them into empty match boxes so that I could contain twelve queen bees for me to transport home.
Re-queening our colonies was unsuccessful and when the bees died out many years later my mother gave a huge sigh of relief and prohibited my father from sourcing replacements.
About six years ago whilst now living in Aberdeen I had the urge to try a section of heather honey again and for weeks I looked everywhere but could not find any for sale. When I was growing up it appeared that just about every second farm in Strathspey and Deeside offered honey for sale, now it has largely disappeared.
I decided I’d like to keep bees again to satisfy my need for the taste of honey. A quick call to the ADBKA chairperson John Cooper and Olya and I were enrolled in the Aberdeen and District Beekeeping Association and our apiary within Hazlehead park of Aberdeen was founded. Once enrolled in the Association we spent an intensive summer visiting the association apiary on Sunday mornings under the guidance of Graham Torrie and Hugh Donohoe before setting of for Turriff in the afternoon to join the mentoring group of Steven Palmer. It was an intensive few months but we both learned a huge amount of information in the shortest possible time.
We bought some heather honey from Sandy Gordon and Jock McGregor a few years ago and ever since we’ve tried to find the perfect heather honey gathering location so that we can get close to producing a honey as good as theirs. Steven Palmer had some of the largest honey colonies I’ve ever seen and now we try to reproduce what he nurtured and created.
We’ve a long way to go but every year we get a little bit closer to understanding and reproducing our mentors’ beekeeping practices.