Some interesting background information on the nature of bee farming in the UK that may give rise to a rise in demand for bee hives. Thank you to the Telegraph for their article on the beekeeping industry.
‘All the honey is gathered in about 10 weeks a year, when fine weather coincides with abundant flowers. For the remaining 40 weeks or so, the bees eat the honey themselves – roughly 265lb per hive a year. On a good day a hive of bees make 20lb or more of honey – so if you get 60lb a year from just one hive, all that could have been made in three days. You need a week of good weather in July – that’s when you get good honey.’ – suggest the ever increasing focus on being able to produce hives ready for the March – July sales window and consider the impact of inventory building on working capital or the sales mix between slatted or box hives.
‘Beekeeping has been neglected by successive governments over the last 20 to 30 years. There’s a lot of advice out there for farmers and a lot of that advice could be applied to bees. There are 350 members of the Bee Farmers’ Association, but only 150 earn a proper living from bees. It’s 10 times as big in France.’ – suggests that there could well be rapid expansion following changes in government policy towards beekeeping.
This is particularly true at present, when bees are under threat from a variety of sources, from the varroa mite to pesticides, incursions into the green belt and the industrialisation of the rural landscape. Bees, as we all know, are vital to agriculture, and thus to the population as a whole, so it is fascinating to travel with Wainwright up on to Salisbury Plain to enter their world. – consider exploring the application of Porter’s Diamond to consider overseas expansion for basic or advanced factors to stimulate growth for Mavis Venderby.
The beekeeper keeping Britain’s honey industry abuzz
Manuka honey may be all the rage – but what about honey that tastes of the English countryside? Carolyn Hart travels to Salisbury Plain to find out
In much the same way that Sizewell beach in Suffolk owes its rich diversity of maritime plants and seabirds in part to restricted access around the nearby nuclear power station, Salisbury Plain is home to almost 100 species of rare plants and insects by virtue of a large part being owned by the Ministry of Defence and therefore out of bounds to the public.
This incongruous pairing of purpose and place is part of what makes Salisbury Plain such an extraordinary landscape – it is the largest area of chalk grassland in north-west Europe, 300 square miles of undulating green folds that have barely changed since the Romans tramped across them on their way to Old Sarum. Today, if you venture upwards on to the bits of the plain that are still accessible, you will find yourself – almost uniquely in this country – enveloped in a vast silence broken only by birdsong and the hum of a thousand bees.
In so far as it is possible to tell a bee where to go, many of them are here because of David Wainwright. Wainwright is the chairman of the UK’s Bee Farmers’ Association and keeps bees all over the country, including in 10 lots of hives on Salisbury Plain, from which he supplies wild-flower honey to Marks & Spencer.
He grew up in Tring, a suburban boy fascinated by wildlife – ‘Insects and things that lived in ponds,’ he says. He studied biology at the University of Sussex, where he kept bees at his digs, along with a wasps’ nest that he had captured by anaesthetising the inhabitants. He stored the wasps in his bedroom, feeding them raw meat, and must have been enormously popular with his fellow lodgers.
Inside one of Wainwright’s hives (Ben Murphy)
After university he met a bee farmer, Alan Berkeley, and decided he wanted to follow in his footsteps. ‘He was a mentor; he inspired me,’ Wainwright says. ‘I wanted to be a beekeeper with 100 hives.’ Having acquired his hives and learnt how to manage them, he saw an ad in a newspaper looking for a beekeeper to train people in Zambia, and set off with his wife and child to Kabompo, ‘in north-west Zambia, where everyone was already a beekeeper. I was supposed to be training them in British beekeeping, but they were very skilled, using their own traditional methods, and didn’t need to know about British bees. What they needed was a market in which to sell their honey.’
Wainwright created that market, selling the honey in Germany. In 1990, when his by now two children reached school age, he came back to Britain to set up Tropical Forest Products. The company imports African honey, including products of Ethiopia and Cameroon, which arrive in vast drums and are packaged in Wales.
This is still one of his main activities, carried out in tandem with travelling around the country checking on his bees. ‘The population of bees is down to human husbandry,’ he says. ‘We need amateur beekeepers – and there are more of them now – but we also need more bee farmers.
‘Beekeeping has been neglected by successive governments over the last 20 to 30 years. There’s a lot of advice out there for farmers and a lot of that advice could be applied to bees. There are 350 members of the Bee Farmers’ Association, but only 150 earn a proper living from bees. It’s 10 times as big in France.’
This is particularly true at present, when bees are under threat from a variety of sources, from the varroa mite to pesticides, incursions into the green belt and the industrialisation of the rural landscape. Bees, as we all know, are vital to agriculture, and thus to the population as a whole, so it is fascinating to travel with Wainwright up on to Salisbury Plain to enter their world.
David Wainwright on Salisbury Plain (Ben Murphy)
Life slows down as we drive through a Ravilious landscape, bumping along between banks of cow parsley and buttercups, poppies, elderflower and wild rose in an elderly car whose pockets rustle with dead bees, to visit one of Wainwright’s bee colonies.
Eventually we reach a cluster of 24 hives set among stretches of field beans overlooking steep valleys of chalk full of wildflowers. On windy days the bees go down into the valleys to gather pollen, but today we can hear faint humming among the beans, which increases in strength as we approach the hives. ‘Some bees are more irritable than others,’ Wainwright says. ‘You can sometimes get one very irritable bee, but you can calm them with smoke.’ Bangs on the hives and jolts upset them.
Wainwright makes his own beehives – all in different colours so that the queen can find her way back to the right hive. Amid the constant, and now much louder, hum of bees, he opens up one hive, brushes off the dead drones (the allotted lifespan of a drone is two to three months) and reveals sheets of beeswax in wooden frames.
Bees bring in pollen attached like bags to their legs to feed the infant bees or maggots in their honeycomb cells – it takes three weeks to go from egg to bee, and the cell is sealed over before the bee emerges to enjoy a life of work. Pollen comes in different colours depending on which flower it is gathered from, and it is divided up accordingly in the hive – one honeycomb cell for poppy pollen, one for clover and so on. Bees are some of the most studied animals on the planet, but the reason the pollen is divided in this way is still something of a mystery. ‘We should know a lot,’ Wainwright says, ‘but we’re always finding out more.’
Salisbury Plain, Suffolk (Ben Muprhy)
Bees navigate using magnetic fields and search for pollen within a four-mile radius; most pollen is gathered one mile from the hive. The nearer the crop they are the better. ‘We try to put the bees next to the crop so that they don’t waste time and energy flying,’ Wainwright says. ‘Honey is their fuel – they use honey to fly to and from the hive.’ They are very susceptible to the weather. ‘They like sun, not much wind and a reasonable moisture level – if it’s too wet or windy, they can’t do anything.
‘All the honey is gathered in about 10 weeks a year, when fine weather coincides with abundant flowers. For the remaining 40 weeks or so, the bees eat the honey themselves – roughly 265lb per hive a year. On a good day a hive of bees make 20lb or more of honey – so if you get 60lb a year from just one hive, all that could have been made in three days. You need a week of good weather in July – that’s when you get good honey.’
Wainwright’s hives are arranged like stacks of boxes, each containing 10 combs. The queen and the developing bees stay in the bottom box and the honey is in the top boxes. At the end of summer, Wainwright removes some top boxes, leaving enough for the bees to live on for the rest of winter and into spring. On average he can gather 100lb of honey per hive, but the national average is lower.
Wainwright owns 700 hives and moves them around the country according to the locations of different crops. ‘You wait until the evening to move them,’ he explains. ‘When the bees are quiet, block up the entrance to the hive and take it to wherever you want it to be – say a field of borage. You can see them in the morning, emerging. They know they are in a new place; you can see them learning where the crop is, re-orientating themselves, and by 9am they’ll be working hard. You can see if a bee is excited by a crop because they dance on the combs inside the hive – a waggle dance.’
‘Beekeeping has been neglected by successive governments over the last 20 to 30 years.’ (Ben Murphy)
Salisbury Plain is particularly good for bees because of the diversity of the plants – many types of clover, cow parsley, daisies, vetch, orchids, sainfoin. Wildflower meadows produce a lot of honey with a faint cinnamon flavour from the sweet clover. Natural landscapes such as this are vital for the bees, but farmers could help too, Wainwright says, ‘by planting margins with nectar-yielding plants. But there needs to be a plan to help redevelop the bee industry.
‘The Bee Farmers’ Association has set up an apprenticeship scheme open to 16- to 24-year-olds – there are beekeepers with a lot of knowledge that needs to be passed on to a younger generation before it’s too late. There’s a lot of talk about small-scale beekeeping, but nothing on the larger scale. We should be developing the bee industry as a whole.’
Despite much media fuss to the contrary, Wainwright thinks that bee health is pretty good. ‘It’s not the end of the bee, for sure. The varroa mite is just one thing in a long line of problems. But the mites aren’t getting up to high levels, and bees are becoming resistant to them – the amount of treatment needed is reducing, and these days quite a lot of keepers don’t use anything. Nature balances itself out – it’s self-correcting.’
Wainwright’s 700 hives provide six different types of honey: Welsh wildflower honey, Welsh heather honey, Shropshire spring honey, Shropshire summer honey, Salisbury Plain honey and borage honey. ‘Each type has its own properties, derived from the plants it’s made from rather than the bees that make it. For example, some honeys have antibiotic properties, which are good for wound infections.’
Conducting a tasting of all his honeys is revelatory – each has a distinct flavour. The Salisbury Plain version is suffused with the scent of wildflowers and grasses, with a faint cinnamon edge. It is delicious, a world away from the strong African and manuka honeys that have grown so popular – the nostalgic taste of an English summer.
Click here for a copy of the original article.