So on Tuesday night I learnt four things. Bees are fascinating, in the UK they are in rapid decline, oil seed rape honey is delicious and I look pretty darn amazing in a bee keeping onesie. Who knew!?
On Tuesday evening on the deck of the National Theatre, I attended the The Magners ‘Bee Aid’ Campaign. This is a campaign driven by Magners Cider, who have teamed up with the British Beekeepers Association and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations to help save 1.5 million bees in the UK and Ireland this summer.
Why have Magners chosen this campaign? Well Magners know the importance of the honey bee, after all it’s the bees that pollinate the apples in the Magners orchards which are blended to give Magners its unique taste. I must say I do like a refreshing Magners on a sunny afternoon poured over lots of ice as much as the next person, so without the honey bees we wouldn’t be able to partake in this delightful pastime, and we can’t be having that!
This is the second event that I’ve attended this year to draw attention to the decline of the honey bee so something needs to be done and this Magners campaign is a great way to highlight this issue. They are offering a fantastic opportunity for twenty five lucky Magners Facebook fans to become fully fledged urban beekeepers, by providing them with equipment and training. They will be awarded with an Urban Beekeeping Scholarship from the BBKA and FIBKA and at the end of it will have all the skills and equipment to create an urban hive and look after a bee colony of their own!
The evening started off with an enlightening talk by Tim Lovett from the BBKA, who stepped in for John Corbett (who unfortunately couldn’t come). John is the head beekeeper in Clonmel, the home of Magners Cider, and has been beekeeping for over 50 years and looks after 27 hives at the Magners orchard. He has first hand experience in the decline of honey bees as he used to have over 54 hives, so he has lost 22! He is now trying to build them up again and highlight the issue. Its a shame he couldn’t be there.
To be honest, my knowledge of bees was limited before this and apart from honey the only thing I thought of when it came to bees was the memory of ’My Girl’ when little Macaulay Culkin gets chased by that swarm of them……..I’m welling up at the thought of it. So yes, very naive. They are in fact fascinating, clever, and play an important part in the production of food. Here are some interesting facts about honey bees. Each colony has a queen bee who lays up to 2,000 eggs a day in spring and summer. All of the worker bees are female and they have many different duties such as guarding the entrance, making wax comb, keeping the hive clean, evaporating excess moisture to make honey, protecting the nest cells and just making sure queen bee is happy by feeding and cleaning her. I think in my next life I’d quite like to be a queen bee. Flying bees visit flowers to gather food in spring and summer and the nectar collected by a single bee during its life makes less than a teaspoon of honey!
The male drone bees don’t do any work in the hive, nor do they make honey. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen - it’s a hard life.
I was offered a bee keeping outfit as soon as I walked in the door; I wasn’t too excited about putting it on at first, but once I’d awkwardly climbed into it I wondered why I’d never worn one before. It was very bee-coming. Eurgh, sorry.
If you’re wondering whats wrong with my right hand, I got the last pair of gloves, two left gloves, not that I was worried by that point what I looked like.
While I wandered around the room sipping my cider, I spotted a table with honey pots on it and a pile of spoons, this meant only one thing - free tasting - and I’m one who will never pass up free food. Standing at this table was Paul Longan, another Bee Keeper from Clonmel, who was eager to tell me all about the different types of honey, where they came form and the variety of flavours that were on offer, depending where the bees collected their pollen. They were delicious. I could have spoken to him all night, as he spoke about the honey with such passion, you could really tell that he loved his job.
Cluain Meala means honey pasture in Irish and is also the name of the famous orchards in Clonmel where the Magners is made. The apple blossoms are staggered so the bees can help make amazing tasting honey all summer long. The bees pollinate from different areas, such as Slievenamon Mountain translated as the “Mountain of the Women”. The different honeys had distinctive flavours. One was made from bees who had collected pollen from oil seed rape which gave it a really interesting flavour. The Slievenamon, Anneerville and Tipperary honeys had a slight smokey flavour. They would be perfect drizzled on baked figs, drunk with hot water and lemon or just simply (personally my favourite way of eating honey) on warm toast with lots of butter.
Now it was time to actually see bee keeping in action. I zipped up my suit, tucked my trousers into my socks, donned my left handed rubber gloves and made my way out onto the balcony where the hives were and watched while the Barnaby the professional beekeeper smoked the hive first of all and then removed the bees pointing out the beautiful honeycomb and talked about life within the hive.
Apparently London has over 2,500 bee hives. I had no idea. If you want to get involved and be one of them and be in with a chance of winning the BeeKeeping scholarship visit http://facebook.com/magnerscider where there is an entry form to tell them why you think you have what it takes to become an urban beekeeper. If like me you want to help but don’t think you’re responsible enough to keep your own bees there are other ways you can get involved. Firstly ‘like’ the Magners facebook page on the address above, easy! Also there is a new iPhone app created by Magners that will soon be coming out. It’s called the Android Bee Beard app and its free! You can have your own bee beard like Eamon the fictional Clonmel beekeeper from the Magners TV advert. It’s an easy way to support this campaign and I really think its a campaign worth supporting. So get on it!
And here are the results, I think I suit a beard, I went for the Old Clonmel. No messing about with fancy facial ’dos’ like the goatie.