Ask most beekeepers why they keep bees and with out a doubt, most will answer “honey”. When asked “how did your bees perform last season”, most will answer in terms of honey produced. Undeniably, the amount of honey a colony produces is a measure of that colony’s success but there must surely be more to keeping bees than just honey. In the same way that “one swallow doesn’t make a Summer” surely, one or two highly productive colonies out of say, half a dozen or more, tells the story of only those one or two. What of the others. Also, on my travels I have encountered colonies kept under apalling conditions , hives falling to pieces, combs as black as soot, but when asked how are your bees doing, the answer is invariably, great, had sixty pounds of honey from this one last year, or an answer something similar.
Here at Mendip I have a different philosophy, I suppose it can be likened to the difference between an intensive poultry farmer and a hobbiest with half a dozen hens running around the garden.The farmer sees purely profit when he looks at his hens whereas, the hobbiest cares about them, he enjoys being a part of their little lives, he is as thrilled when he opens the nest box and sees one or two eggs as when he sees a box full. When he loses one of his hens he is genuinely saddened.That about sums up my feelings here at Mendip, yes, of course I get an enormous thrill when I see combs laden with honey, but no more than when I see a perfectly formed comb of brood, or a newly emerged Queen making her way, shakily over the comb.
Have you ever watched young bees about to take their first flight, coming to the hive entrance then turning back, almost as if daring each other to be first to go, then suddenly, they’ve gone. It always reminds me of my own children’s first steps and I find it equally enchanting. Quite simply, I enjoy keeping bees and I hope you will too. Come with me this year, join me here at Mendip as I try to put some of my ideas into effect , let me know if you don’t agree with the way I’m doing something. I know a lot of my ideas will probably be at odds with established views but join me anyway, who knows,you may even enjoy the trip, I do hope so.