Meeting at De Montfort Gardens, Summer 1987
|Honey has traditionally been a product of the countryside, but urban beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular. Reporter LYN HEATH and photographer TREVOR GREWCOCK visited a Leicester apiary to find out all about the hobby||
"City gardens are a hive of activity"
As I stood, quaking with terror, in the middle of a cloud of
bees, I marvelled at the enthusiastic group gathered round a hive
containing 50,000 of the creatures.
Clad in suits that would do justice to a character in the film Star Wars, they seemed totally unmoved by the thickening mass of angry bees surrounding us.
This was all part of a demonstration class on bee-keeping taken by Mr. Alistair Reid, a retired deputy city architect from Knighton who started his hobby 11 years ago.
"The countryside is no longer a good source of honey because of the removal of hedgerows and the decline of the number of meadows where natural flowers are left to grow," said Mr. Reid, a past chairman of Leicestershire and Rutland Beekeepers' Association.
"The growing popularity of oil seed rape with its bright yellow flowers did something to compensate for this, but the honey produced from this is not to everyone's liking", he said.
"But there are an abundance of garden flowers and lime trees in cities, which give a lovely green tinted honey that I think is the best in the world."
Evening classes organised by Leicestershire County Council are held throughout the winter for beginners and Mr. Reid has a series of demonstration classes during the summer at an apiary at the back of De Montfort. Hall in Leicester.
Mr. Reid is well known for collecting bees from gardens and attics.
One of his aims is to eliminate ill-tempered bees. "Until the beginning of this century, the British bee had a good temperament but they were wiped out by a disease, and strains brought in from the Mediterranean made the bees here more aggressive."
"By selective breeding, we are trying to return to the native British bee and devise simple techniques for increased honey production," he said.
Mr. Reid thinks the current obsession with healthy eating has contributed to the popularity of bee-keeping. "There is nothing better than pure English honey with the natural pollen and enzymes included. It should be a vital part of any healthy diet," he said.
It costs about £100 to set up a new hive and another £20 for the correct protective clothing. A small nucleus of bees is about £35 and the maintenance costs are in the region of £10 a year. Although the initial outlay is substantial, an established hive can be cheap to run.
To offset the expense, selling honey can be a lucrative business. A hive of around 50,000 bees can produce 6Olb. of honey and, at up to £1.30 a jar, the bees should take in a tidy profit.
But Mr. Reid stresses, anyone setting up a hive must be sensible and take proper precautions, making sure they have learned the craft thoroughly.
"These courses are designed to show people the enjoyment of bee-keeping and how to cope with problems such as swarming, so that they do not cause a nuisance to their neighbours," said Mr. Reid.
Mr. Reid's wife also has a keen interest in the bees, cooking with the honey and advising beginners.
Originated... 18 March 2003,