Whilst all gardeners realise that bees are very important for the pollination of fruit not so many know much about the private life of these fascinating insects and how they go about their work. Any deficiencies in their knowledge were entertainingly rectified by our speaker, Geoff Galliver, who gave a most enlightening presentation. He commenced by describing how former bee-keepers would capture a swarm of bees using a basket, known as a skep, made from straw bound together with twine obtained from Old Man’s Beard. He went on to describe the complex construction of bee-hives and the use of cork oak in Portugal as suitable material.
We learnt that each hive is populated by a queen bee, 500 drones (males) and about 60,000 workers, which are the unfertilised females. The queen can lay about 2000 eggs per day commencing in February, over a life-time of 3 years, to maintain a continuous supply of worker bees that live for only about 3 weeks. The workers lead busy lives collecting nectar to produce honey and plants resins, known as propalis, used to weather-proof their hives. The talk was brought alive as the speaker passed around a jar containing some propalis and the wax frames used in beehives for the members to examine.
The speaker also described how bees are maintained over the winter on sugar syrup and fondants after the honey has been harvested. He explained that the geographical origin of honey can be verified by pollen analysis and that some plants, such as oil-seed rape gives rise to honey highly prone to crystallisation and how it can be liquefied by a short treatment in a microwave.
By the end of the evening members came away with both a much improved understanding of how bees work together with the end result, in the form of jars of Hampshire honey.