Becca Bee!

As promised, I spent a fun filled evening with my lovely cousin Becky, aka the Bee Chick, and got to ask her some great questions to share with you. I'll be completely honest, my older sister came over too and we ended up hanging out and having such a fun time that I didn't ask her nearly as much as I'd intended to, so if you want more information about bees, honey, apprenticeships or anything else you'll have to contact her directly or wait for her awesome new website which is coming soon ;-)

We're currently looking at planting more flowers in our orchard, what should we be planting to help our local bees?

Planting flowers in your orchard to help local bees is a great idea! Not only are you helping out the local bees, but the flowers that attract them attract lots of other pollinators too, which means you'll get a better crop from your fruit trees. It might also mean that the local bees will be able to produce a little bit more honey, which means your friendly neighbourhood bee farmer makes a little more income, which means you get access to more local honey. 

Bulbs that are really beneficial early on in the year are crocuses and snowdrops. They come up nice and early in the spring and feed the bees when there aren't too many other flowers available. The bees are also really loving borage at the moment. It creates a really nice mild honey with low flavour but a good sweetness to it. The blossoms on your cherry trees are also a bee favourite, but it creates a much stronger flavoured honey a little later in the summer. It's sweet and runny - I love it. Later in the autumn phacelia is great food for them. It also makes a great green manure for you if your into that stuff, and the beautiful blue colour will make your orchard look pretty. 

Oh, and red clover. The bees love any type of clover, but red clover is pretty. You will get bumble bees all over the lawn with red clover in it. Just be careful not to tread on them!

bee in clover
You mentioned that cherry blossom and borage make different flavours/types of honey. Are there any other honeys that are particularly distinctive?

Bramble, hawthorn and lime tree honey (not limes like you eat, common lime is a deciduous British tree) mix together to make a really nice late summer honey. It's really runny and tastes great, even though I'm not a massive fan of runny honey generally. This is one of my favourites. 

Oil seed rape is another crop that makes a distinctive honey. It's really hard work though. Great early spring food for the bees, but it's a set honey and once it crystallises it's nearly impossible to get it out of the comb no matter how you extract it. Me and my dad left some a little too long this year and it was sooooo hard to get it.

Talk to me about varroa. I watched a documentary on iplayer and they said it was killing all our native bees. 

People get really worried about varroa and I'm not really sure why. It's absolutely controllable. It's probably not great for wild colonies, but for bee farmers it really shouldn't be a big issue. You treat the hives spring and autumn and they're fine. It's just like us getting a cold really. We've never lost a hive. You might lose a little bit of production, but it's really not a big deal, the bees just get on with it and do their job. 

It's not really a cold, it's more like a parasite. Like nits, but for bees. We have a little white stick that we place in the hive in autumn and leave with the bees over the winter whilst they are hibernating. In the spring we remove it and they are all fine. It's really not a big problem. 

Your family have gone through various bee-related activities (by the way I'm still gutted that your mum stopped making those hand creams...) but you are particularly focused on queen rearing. Can you tell us a bit more about that? What is a 'buckfast' bee?

handful of bees
Buckfast is where I get my breeding stock from. They are thoroughbred bees. They breed them on these little islands off the coast of Denmark, really far away from the mainland so there is no chance of any other bees contaminating the gene pool. No one else is allowed to keep bees anywhere near them. Because of the way they breed them, they know which queens have bred with which drones and they can create pure lines. 

When we are queen rearing we buy 'drone mothers' from this special thoroughbred stock. A drone mother is a queen bee who is known to lay good drones. We surround them for three miles with our hives so that they can only mate with our own drones. They don't tend to mate in their own hives because they don't want to become inbred, so we now have the cross bred bees that we want.

I know you recently converted to the ways of 'real food' and swapping out sugar for honey - it's crazy that we grew up around your dads honey farm and we both only stumbled onto this as adults! - how are you finding it?

It's amazing. Since I started swapping out sugar for honey I have had sooooo much more energy. I wake up and feel great, not sluggish at all like I used to. I now get through about 8oz of honey a week by myself, and love making my own granola and enjoying eating good, natural foods. I only wish I'd done it sooner.

Thanks so much Bex. Will you be willing to share your granola recipe with us some time?

Absolutely, but I'm still perfecting it. I'll let you know when it's ready.


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