When you hit your 50’s you can suddenly feel a sense of liberation and opportunity. With experience under your belt, perhaps a bit more money, perhaps a bit more time, but definitely a whole lot of living to do, it could be time to take up a new hobby or learn a new skill.
I met a very unlikely beekeeper, who took it up in her 50’s. A professional photographer more at home in heels than a bee suit. Meriet Duncan stumbled into this hobby as a result of a dinner party conversation with the man sitting next to her, who was at the time, her sister’s partner. He told her about his hobby as a beekeeper and Meriet was fascinated. She thought this could be a great thing to do when she eventually retired, and said as much. But this was taken a bit too literally and the following weekend, he and her sister turned up at her house to her stunned amazement with a gift of 10,000 honeybees! They set them all up and left saying they would return in a couple of days to talk her through everything, but they didn’t. So, she decided Google was her friend and went in search of information on how to care for honeybees. It led her to her local Beekeeping Society, who leapt into action and sent someone round to help her. The two of them got suited and booted in special protective suits, and they lifted the lid on the hive, which up till then had been only a source of intrigue to Meriet. When she saw literally thousands of bees calmly going about their business, she instantly fell in love and knew this was something she had to learn more about. She immediately joined her local Beekeeping Society and the rest is history.
Bee time is me time
‘When I am involved in a hobby, I don’t think of anything other than what I am doing’ she says, ‘Bee time is me time’. It is also a uniquely interesting hobby in that as well as gaining the end products of honey and wax, it has other wider benefits too. Bees provide essential services to humans and the ecosystem. They pollinate our food and keep our natural lands healthy. Put bluntly, no pollinating insects means pretty much no food for us. Honeybee populations around the world are declining due to a number of factors such as diseases and pesticides. So being a beekeeper means as well as doing something enjoyable for you as a person, you are also doing something worthwhile for the planet. It’s rewarding on every level.
Put bluntly, no pollinating insects means pretty much no food for us
The worst thing that can happen is that you will be stung. Honeybees don’t want to sting you, if they do they die. They would rather save their sting for natural predators. The image of Winnie the Pooh being chased by a black cloud of honeybees isn’t true. They will not chase you! Yes they do swarm, because that is how they reproduce, but it is in fact the old queen taking off with her flying bees making way for a new queen to be born and continuing the life of the colony. When they swarm, they are looking for a new place to live and are laden with honey stores, so they are very docile and nothing to be afraid of. A swarm can look like a cow pat on the ground or a black mass hanging off a tree. They are simply regrouping and working out where to go – they should be off and away, but if you would rather they weren’t there, just call your local bee club and they will happily come and remove them.
There is often a misconception that wasps are honeybees. Wasps look different to honeybees, they tend to annoyingly buzz around food and sweet things and sting for the hell of it because they can!
Unlike Meriet’s unique introduction to beekeeping, you actually need to learn about bees as they do need looking after. It isn’t difficult, but they are wild animals and you need to understand what makes them tick, and how to keep them happy and safe. It can be a cerebral hobby trying to work out what they are going to do next. My husband, also a beekeeper, likens it to a game of chess. And if you are a little frightened about the prospect of it all, the more you learn and understand them, the less afraid you will become.
IS BEE KEEPING FOR ME?
How much time is involved?
About 40 mins a week once you are up to speed, depending on how many hives you have. If you go on holiday one of the benefits of being in a bee club is that you will always have someone to come and check on them for you, plus they will be able to give you support and advice.
Where can I keep them?
You can keep them anywhere outside, even on your garage roof as they fly upwards, on wasteland (ask the council), or on someone else’s land. Urban beekeeping is on the up, so there are opportunities to be creative!
I have pets, will the bees sting them?
Pets tend to live in harmony with others (which aren’t their species!). Bees go about their business and are not interested in the animals. I have cats and neither bother the other. Best to keep the hives somewhere out of harm’s way though.
How do I get into bee keeping?
Look up your local bee keeping club, or contact in the UK: British Beekeepers’ Association www.bbka.org.uk USA: American Beekeeping Federation https://www.abfnet.org Australia: https://www.beekeepers.asn.au/ https://www.nswaa.com.au/ https://www.vicbeekeepers.com.au/
What kit do I need?
The best place to start is to ask your bee club for advice, but you will need a protective bee suit, latex gloves and wellington boots, and of course a hive and a few tools. Bee clubs also share equipment such as honey extractors which saves on cost.
About Meriet Duncan
Meriet has got so into beekeeping she has written a children’s book ‘Betsie Valentine and the honey bees’. It’s an informative story with beautiful illustrations. She also tours the UK giving talks about the lifecycle and importance of the honeybee to schools, local communities and businesses. For more information visit www.betsievalentine.com